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Elisa Longo Borghini: It’s still possible to target Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France

Italian champion wants to build on overall performances after taking first GC win in 2022.

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Despite the increasing specialization in women’s cycling, Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) believes that it’s still possible to take aim at the cobbled classics and grand tour GCs.

Long gone are the days when Marianne Vos could win any race on any parcours, with even the so-called “GOAT” of cycling focusing on a smaller number of races.

While succeeding in one-day races and targeting major stage races is becoming a finer line to balance, Longo Borghini says that proper planning can see you find success across both.

“The more years we will pass, the more we will see specialized riders, but I will tell you with periodization you can do well in the spring, and then you can do well in stage races. Maybe you want to focus a little bit more on stages instead of the GC, but you can still do well,” Longo Borghini told VeloNews.

“I think the key [for me] was to take a good rest after the after spring and to build up again in May, on altitude, and then preparing well for the summer.”

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Longo Borghini put her money where her mouth was last year with big performances across some drastically different terrains. She took a solo win at Paris-Roubaix in April, having finished on the podium the year prior, and would go on to win the GC at the Women’s Tour before scoring fourth and sixth overall at the Giro d’Italia Donne and Tour de France Femmes respectively.

The Paris-Roubaix win was a complete surprise for the Italian as she had been suffering from illness throughout the spring and almost pulled out of the race before the start.

“I look back there with a lot of emotion to be fair, and I still smile when I look at it. I still get emotional when I see the pictures,” she said. “With the victory of Paris-Roubaix in 2022, it took me another way, I don’t know how to explain it. From then on, I think it was really successful, and I think I can put it among the top three of my best seasons.”

Ahead of the 2022 season, Longo Borghini had told VeloNews that she wanted to be more surgeon-like in her approach to racing. In her mind, that meant targeting her attacks with more precision in an effort to mop up some major victories.

While she did rack up an impressive win tally, the season did not go as she had hoped when she was making her plans last winter.

“That’s something I completely failed at because all the goals that I set disappeared. But 2022 was crazy and I won in many different ways and unexpected ways because I won the Women’s Tour with a sprint,” Longo Borghini said, referencing her final stage sprint at the Women’s Tour to beat Grace Brown on bonus seconds.

“It was a great year. It was really strange, but in a nice way because I did not achieve anything of what I set as a goal. But I achieved a lot of other things in different ways, and they have been amazing.”

Getting more GC wins

Despite a career of big results, which has seen her podium at the Giro d’Italia Donne, the Women’s Tour success was Longo Borghini’s first-ever general classification success. Though she still loves her one-day racing, the 31-year-old would like to build on her GC success and has her eyes set on a return to the Tour de France Femmes to better her sixth-place finish in 2022.

“I think I can be a good GC rider because I’m always up there and I’m pretty steady with my performance,” Longo Borghini said. “I would surely try to focus more on the main goals. We have such a strong team that we can split all the goals between many riders, and I can have my races and I can help in other races.

“I would really like to do well at Strade Bianche because it’s one of my favorite races, and then the Tour de France.”

The 2023 Tour de France Femmes route will be a very different challenge to what she and her rivals faced last season, with a 90km stage to the top of the Tourmalet and a 22km time trial into Pau to finish the race off.

As a six-time Italian national time trial champion, the addition of a test against the clock will play into Longo Borghini’s hands as she looks to gain time on the purer climbers in the pack. While she’s got a good chance of ascending the GC on the final day of racing, she believes that much will have been decided on the brutal climb up the Tourmalet.

“I think it’s a very interesting route also because the last the last stage is a time trial so you can win or lose some position in the GC,” she said. “We have the Tourmalet stage and there the GC will be dictated already, but then, for some other positions in the top 10, it can really change in the time trial.”

It will be the first time the women’s peloton has raced up the Tourmalet with few races even going near the Pyrénées. The 2,115-meter giant is an icon of the men’s race and has featured almost 100 times. Its inclusion in the eight-day route would be enough to strike fear into many a rider, but Longo Borghini is not afraid.

“I have never made and maybe I will go and recon it, but I’m not scared of it. We are training and racing for the Tour de France,” she said.

One thing she is happy not to see come up again is a long valley road between the climbs, with just a short flat section between the Col d’Aspin and the Tourmalet. Longo Borghini’s GC challenge almost exploded, along with her legs, on the penultimate day of the 2022 Tour de France when she made an ill-fated decision to chase down an attack by Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering.

She was left in no women’s land for kilometer after kilometer before she hit a wall and lost almost seven minutes.

“It is still a nightmare. Sometimes I think about the valley, and I think about Death Valley. It was never-ending,” she said with a wry smile.