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Elisa Balsamo to race Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in rainbow jersey season

The Italian world champion has never ridden a grand tour before but she's planning to ride two during her year in the rainbow stripes.

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Elisa Balsamo will ride both the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes this season as she makes her grand tour debut.

The world champion stepped up to the Women’s WorldTour this year after joining Trek-Segafredo over the winter. With track commitments often taking up a lot of her time, Balsamo has never ridden a grand tour during her five years as a professional.

Why do one when you can do two? With two grand tours on the women’s calendar for the first time in nearly 15 years, Balsamo couldn’t miss the opportunity to race both. However, she first has her eyes on continuing her run of form into the classics, which begin for her with the Brugge-De Panne one-day race Thursday.

“The spring classics are coming. I really like them, and I really hope to find some good results in Belgium and then I am going to race the Giro and the Tour, maybe for stage wins,” Balsamo told VeloNews.

“The team asked me to do both because I’m Italian and of course, is a good thing to race in Italy with the rainbow jersey, and of course, the first Tour de France is in an important race. We decided together to do both and try to do our best in some stages.”

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With a lot of racing to be done between now and July, Balsamo isn’t stressing her grand tour debut. However, she is looking forward to showing off her rainbow jersey at the Giro d’Italia Donne.

“I usually see day by day and summer is quite far away. I’m not thinking about these races, but one stage of the Giro will start from my home and so it’s good,” she said. “It means a lot because everyone can come to see the [Giro] and I also think that is also a beautiful present for me, with the rainbow jersey.”

Riding proud in the rainbow jersey

Balsamo has already had a few opportunities to show off her rainbow jersey on home soil this month at Strade Bianche and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the latter which she won with an impressive sprint to blow past her rivals inside the final 150 meters.

Wearing the most prestigious jersey in the bunch means she stands out easily from the rest of the pack and the vociferous Italian supporters aren’t short of a word or two to cheer her on. It’s the same when she’s out training near her home in Italy.

“Sometimes is strange for me, but it is a positive thing not a negative,” she said about the feeling of wearing the rainbow jersey. “When I was a child, it was a dream for me to win this rainbow jersey and now I’m living my dream. I’m very happy and everyone is cheering for the world champion on the road. It’s amazing. Everyone wants to have a photo or has a good word for me, and it is wonderful.

“A lot of people recognize me also on the car or they are riding their bike, and I also racing Strade Bianche and it was amazing. It was my first race in Italy with the rainbow jersey and I really enjoy it. It’s so beautiful because everyone, even when I was at Strade and I was in the second or third group, was cheering for me and say go Elisa and well done.”

New beginnings

Not only is Balsamo learning what it is like to be a world champion she is also settling into life as a WorldTour rider. She had signed the deal with Trek-Segafredo prior to her worlds winning ride after deciding that she wanted to focus on the road following the Tokyo Olympics.

Joining a new team as the new world champion added a little bit of pressure for the 24-year-old, but it didn’t seem to affect her, and she stormed to victory in her opening day of racing at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana.

“I was a little bit nervous and a new team after a lot of years with this jersey is not easy. I really feel like everyone is helping me in the team. Also, all the girls believe in me and want to help me,” Balsamo told VeloNews.

“I’m very happy about the team, and I’m feeling good and welcome. Before the first training camp also, and in the first training camp, I met some of the girls and the staff and Valencia, we started super well. I think we are working in the right way. It is a big team and a very organized team, but I also can feel a good atmosphere, not to stress and we all want to improve and to learn more.”

Signing for Trek-Segafredo meant leaving behind the Valcar-Travel & Service team, with which she had been racing since her days as a junior rider. She had grown up with the team and had firm roots within it.

“Valcar for me wasn’t only a team but a second family,” she said. “I was with Valcar since 2015, and so it’s a long time. But you know, I grow up and I think that this year was the right one to change and to try to go to a WorldTour team and try to make another step in my career. Valcar for me, the girls are still friends, and at the races, we can be together. But I’m happy with Trek-Segafredo.”

While Trek-Segafredo is an international team, it still has a very Italian flavor with the Segafredo sponsorship and Luca Guercilena’s management of the squad. There are also several Italian riders on the roster and the move has allowed her to link up with compatriot Elisa Longo Borghini, who was an instrumental part in the squad that delivered Balsamo to worlds success.

The two Elisas have struck up a good partnership and Longo Borghini has ridden as a leadout rider for Balsamo at times.

“I really like working with Elisa. We are friends and I also think that we have a lot of things in common,” Balsamo said. “We are completely different riders, so I think that we can help a lot each other. She’s Italian, so now she’s also helping me with the team and with my English and yes, for me, she’s an example.

“Elisa is not only a climber. She’s also very good in time trials and this is so important in a leadout. In a big bunch sprint, it will be difficult for Elisa to do the last women, but in a small bunch sprint is pretty good.”