Elisa Balsamo goes three-in-a-row with Gent-Wevelgem women’s victory
It's another big win for the world champion as Marianne Vos is second in thrilling finale.
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Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) won the Gent-Wevelgem women’s race Sunday in a dramatic bunch finale.
It was Balsamo’s third win in the space of a week after winning Alfredo Binda last weekend and Brugge-De Panne on Thursday as the Italian continues to dominate the spring.
The final hour of the race was alive with attacks. Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) tried to surprise the sprinters with a late-race attack with 3km to go.
Trek-Segafredo worked well with both European champion Ellen van Dijk and Italian champion Elisa Longo-Borghini sacrificing their own chances to make sure it came down to a sprint.
Balsamo powered to victory, with Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) in a close second. Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ceratizit-WNT) crossed the line third.
“I am very happy today. I won my favorite race and a dream becomes true,” she said. “It was hard race and in the last K’s, there were a lot of attacks. My team was perfect and they closed a lot of the attacks. My team did a great job to set up the sprint.”
The victory is the third straight for the Italian world champion, who will start as one of the top favorites at Tour of Flanders next week.
How it happened — exciting from start to finish
The race started in the town of Ypres and took on 159km of racing over the hills, cobbles and gravel of Belgium.
An early break of two riders went away but only managed around a minute over the chasing peloton. Those two riders were Anne van Rooijen (Parkhotel-Valkenburg) and Gulnaz Khatuntseva (Roland-Cogeas-Edelweiss).
They were brought back before the first of the seven climbs of the day. The second climb, the Baneberg, saw an early move with Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) go on the move with Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma), Liane Lippert (DSM) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM).
On the flat after the climb former Polish national champion Marta Lach (Ceratizit-WNT) and Alice Maria Arzuffi (Valcar) managed to bridge across to the leading group before the Monteberg with 54km to go.
However, they only had about 11 seconds on the cobbled climb of the Kemmelberg. This saw Arzuffi and Lach lose touch.
The peloton was led by Coryn Labecki (Jumbo-Visma), Marta Cavalli (FDJ) and Marlen Reusser (SD Worx) but those three riders went clear themselves with 50km to go.
Both Henderson and Kopecky paused in the lead group to chat before the leaders decided to wait for Labecki, Reusser and Cavalli with 45km to go.
Ellen van Dijk was tasked with the chase for Trek-Segafredo and, bizarrely, the leaders sat up and the Trek led peloton easily caught up with 43km to go. SD Worx then took over the push on the front.
At the base of the second ascent of the Baneberg, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx) attacked with Sofia Bertizzolo (UAE Team ADQ) and Elisa Longo-Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) but it was swiftly dragged back by Team DSM.
The kick up and down the Baneberg saw multiple big names get away including Kopecky, world champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), Reusser and 12 others. Jumbo-Visma dragged them back with 37km to go.
Kemmelberg sets the tone
Grace Brown (FDJ) hit the Kemmelberg for the final time on the front of the peloton and immediately gapped the rest and went solo off the front with Lippert leading a very large chasing peloton with 34km to go.
Van den Broek-Blaak let the wheel of her SD Worx team-mate Christine Majrus bridge across with Longo-Borghini. But Niewiadoma also tried a move that unintentionally brought a group of about 30 riders across to the front.
The continued pressure and high pace on the front saw the peloton split into three large groups with Van den Broek-Blaak attacking yet again into the final 30km.
Shirin van Anrooij (Trek-Segafredo), Shari Bossuyt (Canyon-SRAM) and Floortje Mackaij (DSM) joined but Henderson put in a strong chase to bring it back. Wave after wave of attacks followed led by SD Worx riders.
Trek-Segafredo and SD Worx changed their tactics in the final 20km to focus on their sprinters of Balsamo and Kopecky. Lorena Wiebes (DSM) was nowhere to be seen after losing touch mid-way through the climbs of the day.
Labecki countered a move by Rachel Neylen (Cofidis) with Lach and Van den Broek-Blaak following but it was brought back yet again. So the attacks started up again with Reusser kicking off another snipe out front going into the final 15km.
Elena Cecchini (SD Worx) used the lull in action to launch a solo move and the chase didn’t work together until Henderson tried to bridge.
SD Worx returned to their attacking tactic with one going after the other as their leader Kopecky sat in the wheels.
The group split with 10km to go with 13 riders getting away including European champion Van Dijk. But it was the Dutch rider who kept trying to take the pace out of the front so Balsamo could get back in.
Van Dijk sat up and dropped back to the chase group to give her all to bring it back together in the last 8km. Van Dijk made the gap closing look easy but the attacks didn’t stop SD Worx continuing their aggressive tactic.
Lonneke Uneken (SD Worx), Lippert, Neylen, Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) and Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma) tried to get away but Van Dijk, yet again, was the one tasked with the chase bringing it back with 5km to go.
Finally into the final 4km the tactics changed to focus on the sprinters with Balsamo, Kopecky, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) and more moving towards the front.
FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope came to the front en masse with Brown attacking hard, the rest of the riders blocked the peloton and she got a good gap immediately in the last 2km.
Trek and Jumbo-Visma joined forces to drag the Australian rider back just before the flamme rouge. Counter attacks came straight away but it was marked out.
It was a chaotic lead in to the sprint with Kopecky launching first. Balsamo was in the Belgian champion’s wheel and used the splitstream to launch by and to take the win by almost half a bike with Vos finishing fast to take second.
The victory was the third major win on 2022 for Balsamo.
Balsamo gave special praise to Van Dijk, Longo-Borghini and Van Anrooij for their support after the final climb up the Kemmelberg: “They were so so strong and I really want to say thank you to them.”
She played down her chances for the Tour of Flanders saying it is a “very hard race” but didn’t say she won’t ride as she now has a “week of rest” before the monument.
Results will be available once stage has completed.