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Lizzie Deignan out as Trek-Segafredo braces for high-stakes women’s Strade Bianche

'Every race matters more than ever.' Risk of rain, canceled races and high-powered SD Worx cranks pressure for women's WorldTour opener.

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It may not be the high summer of last year’s edition, but Trek-Segafredo women’s team is feeling the heat ahead of Strade Bianche.

After seeing SD Worx slam a purple and red hammer onto the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last week, and with the race calendar as uncertain as ever, Trek-Segafredo – even more so with the absence of team anchor Lizzie Deignan due to illness – is braced for a high-stakes race on the white roads of Tuscany on Saturday.

“Every race matters more than ever,” Trek-Segafredo director Giorgia Bronzini told VeloNews. “The average level of the girls was really high at Omloop, and it was all through last year. Riders are really motivated to start fast and hard, there’s worries that maybe COVID is going to impact again and maybe the season might stop or cancel more races.”

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The women’s race calendar is again feeling the impact of the pandemic. With a number of Spanish races canceled through February, and the Women’s Itzulia and Ride London also off the May calendar, early-season opportunities are limited and teams are looking to score bragging rights and sponsor smiles early.

“The races you’re getting now, you have to get them,” Bronzini said on a telephone call. “It’s more like racing day-by-day rather than looking at longer objectives.”

Last weekend’s calendar-opening Omloop and the midweek Le Samyn saw a stack of purple and red SD-Worx jersey dominating the front of the peloton, dictating which attacks went, and which were suffocated. Trek-Segafredo, last year’s top-ranked WorldTour squad, was notable by its absence.

Elisa Longo Borghini sprinted home disappointed with 10th in Ninove on Saturday after seeing her co-captain Deignan distanced in the final hour when SD Worx and race-winner Anna van der Breggen cranked the pace. Chloe Hosking sprinted to third to salvage a result for Trek Segafredo after both Liv Racing and SD Worx controlled the final of Le Samyn.

Bronzini, speaking from Siena after leading her team on a recon of the white roads ahead of this weekend’s Strade Bianche, was impressed but not intimidated by SD Worx’s hot start.

“They are super-strong already. All the team [SD Worx] is in a really good shape,” she said. “But we’ve started a bit slower to be in shape for the Ardennes. The girls still have time to be in shape, and there’s always a question mark in the first race of the season. Lizzie [Deignan] was sick, and Lucinda Brand was taking some recovery after the cyclocross season – missing those riders at the front of the team made a big difference.”

Lizzie Deignan has withdrawn from Strade Bianche with sickness and will be a big loss for the team.

Brand will be back in action Saturday having cooled her jets after an all-conquering cyclocross season, but former Strade Bianche victor Deignan is out, still struggling with the illness she carried into Omloop.

The ‘cross world champion Brand will co-headline a strong Trek-Segafredo team alongside 2017 Strade winner Longo Borghini and classics star Ellen van Dijk. However, with team centerpiece Deignan off the startsheet, the rest of the team shoulders a little extra burden as it faces down an on-form van der Breggen and the ever-present threat of Annemiek van Vleuten, who is eyeing a third-straight win in the Siena square.

The answer to the two Dutch powerhouses, both at Strade Bianche and for the months to come? Collective strength.

“For me, numbers at the front makes a difference – and I always say to the girls to act as a team and not individually. Because one against one, it’s really hard to beat those two. And our team strength is to act together – we saw that last year,” Bronzini said.

“If we act as a team, putting together Elisa, Lizzie, Ellen, and Lucinda, then four riders against two; I think we can handle it,” she continued. “And then we have [Audrey] Cordon-Ragot, and Tayler Wiles too this weekend – they’re amazing supporters.”

Risk of rain ramps nerves

Longo Borgini and Luinda Brand will lead the challenge against van der Breggen and van Vleuten.

The threat of rain hangs heavy over Saturday’s race. Though forecasts as of Friday morning suggest only a slim chance of showers, there is some apprehension ahead of the 31 kilometers of unpredictable gravel roads.

“Rain for sure it could change the way it’s raced,” Bronzini said. “It could be really slippery and unpredictable, and it’s certainly more challenging. Also, the girls get nervous because there’s still a mix of disc and normal brakes in the peloton.”

“But the tactics? That will play out according to the race.”

With Strade Bianche carrying the prestige of opening the WorldTour and the pressure on to bounce back, Trek-Segafredo will be all-for-one and all against van Vleuten and van der Breggen on Saturday.