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Vuelta a Espana

Elisa Longo Borghini: Expanded four-day Challenge by La Vuelta is ‘even more valuable’

The Italian national champion got her late-season campaign off to a great start with victory at GP Plouay and is building up to rides at the road worlds and Euros.

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Elisa Longo Borghini believes the new extended Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta will be “even more valuable” to the women’s peloton.

The Trek-Segafredo rider got her post-Olympics campaign off to a flying start with a solo victory at the GP de Plouay following an aggressive race. She will now set her sights on the Spanish stage race later this week, where she aims to improve on her second place from 2020.

From its beginnings as a one-day race through Madrid — indeed it was called the Madrid Challenge —Challenge by La Vuelta has grown as an event. This year’s race will feature a record four stages and includes a far more mountainous route, thanks to it being moved to Galicia to coincide with the finale of the men’s Vuelta a España.

Also read: Giro d’Italia Donne a family affair for Elisa Longo Borghini

“I believe it’s really important to have an event like the Ceratizit Challenge at the same time as La Vuelta. This year, there’s a step forward as the race expands over four days, with as many stages, offering a varied course. It’s even more valuable,” Longo Borghini said.

“The new format has a good distribution with mountain stages, on the flat, and the cronoscalata [an uphill time-trial -ed]. It’s exciting. I would like to have even more stages in the coming years to make it an even bigger event that will attract even more contenders but it’s already a success.”

The new-look Challenge race will begin Thursday above 1,000 meters and puts the riders immediately into a descent before taking them over the first-category Alto da Portela. A 7.3km uphill time trial comes Friday and is followed by a medium mountain day before the final sprint stage into Santiago de Compostela.

Her recent victory at the GP de Plouay showed that Longo Borghini has not stepped off the gas pedal since taking bronze in the road race at the Olympic Games. Alongside fellow Tokyo medalists Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen, Longo Borghini will be among the favorites for glory.

Also read: Elisa Longo Borghini to spend Strade Bianche prize money on cycling projects for women

As Longo Borghini heads into a busy autumn campaign, she has some big ambitions and hopes to build on her Olympic success with world and European targets, too.

“I prepared well for the end of the season. I’m ambitious,” Longo Borghini said. “After the Olympic Games, it was an easier month in August, but I trained very well, especially with an altitude camp. I feel ready for the European and world championships that will come right after the Challenge.

Longo Borghini finished second overall at last year’s Challenge by La Vuelta behind Lisa Brennauer thanks to a strong performance in the time trial. Despite the final stage in Madrid being very unfavorable to her characteristics as a climber, Longo Borghini tried to take the lead off Brennauer by going on the attack and mopping up bonus seconds at the intermediate sprints.

It didn’t work out for the Italian, but it was a chance to show off her new national champion’s jersey and she’ll be back in the tricolore this year.

“It was a really beautiful experience. It was the last race of the season, and it truly went well. The last stage was proper fun because Giorgia (Bronzini), our DS, basically told us we had to ride it as if it were a points race on the track, but a bit longer,” Longo Borghini explained. “And when I asked her: “Excuse me, but I’m not fast in the sprint, what should I do?”, she said: “Just like a point race, you lap them.”

“So, I spent three-quarters of the race in the breakaway. It was an interesting experience from a technical point, and mostly, it was a very beautiful weekend because it was my first race with the tricolore jersey [as the Italian national champion]. It was very emotional.”