It has been, by all accounts, quite a week for Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo). Already winner of the Trofeo Alfredo Binda last weekend and of the Classic Bruges-De Panne in the middle of the week, the world champion achieved an impressive hat-trick by sprinting to victory in Gent-Wevelgem.
The Italian was supported by a strong Trek-Segafredo team throughout the afternoon, but after safely traversing the final Kemmelberg ascent, she suffered a late scare when the leading group broke away. is briefly separated 12 km from the end.
Her teammate Ellen van Dijk was called back to help Elisa Longo Borghini and Shirin van Anrooij put the two groups together and Balsamo continued to hold her end of the bargain on Vanackerestraat ahead of Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ceratizit – WNT Professional Cycling Team).
“We freaked out a bit but our coach in the car was so good, she was talking with us and Ellen stopped too: she was in the lead group and she stopped to help us close the gap, so we did a great teamwork,” said Balsamo.
“I have a bit of pressure because super strong riders are working for me. We knew it could be a tough race with a sprint at the end, and I feel good, so we decided to go all out for the sprint. .
A year ago, in the colors of Valcar-Travel & Service, Balsamo, 24, finished fourth in Gent-Wevelgem – “my favorite race”, she said – but came back as favorite after her string of recent successes. Despite the star names in the Trek-Segafredo line-up, her form during the opening phase of the 2022 campaign meant the team’s Gent-Wevelgem challenge was built around her.
“We are a very strong team and we also believe in each other very much. I really think we won those three races because we were the better team, so I really want to say thank you to all my teammates,” Balsamo said, paying tribute to their unity of purpose. “We really like helping each other, we really feel like we are one team for one big result and I think that makes the difference.”
Balsamo’s winning streak makes her an obvious candidate for next Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, although she deflected a question about her place in the top echelon of favourites. “Now I don’t want to think about it anymore, I just want to rest a bit,” she said.
Balsamo has now won five times since being crowned world champion in Leuven last September, and she will be looking to emulate her team-mate Lizzie Deignan by clinching La Ronde in the rainbow jersey. The famous garment, it seems, was an inspiration rather than a burden.
“It’s not an easy jersey to wear, but when I run I almost forget I have it on, because I’m totally focused on the race,” Balsamo said. “It’s a bit difficult before and after the race, but during the race I almost forgot I had this shirt on.”