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This weekend Balsamo’s Trek-Segafredo teammates will set off in the 113th edition of the Italian monument with Jasper Stuyven defending his 2021 title. However, there hasn’t been a women’s version of the event for nearly 20 years.
The Primavera Rosa only ran between 1999 to 2005 before it was canceled by the organizer RCS. With women’s cycling on the up and up and more organizers getting involved, Balsamo would like to see a return of the race to the women’s calendar.
“I really hope that they can have a Milan-San Remo for the women. Of course, is not from Milan to San Remo because that’s very long, but I think that they can do a very wonderful and also exciting race in the last kilometers of the men’s race,” Balsamo told VeloNews.
“It is a hard one, especially with the Cipressa and the Poggio in the last part, but I really hope that I can do one Milan-San Remo for the women.”
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What would a women’s Milan-San Remo look like? Despite carrying the name, it would be unlikely to start in Milan — as Balsamo points out — due to the distance that would need to be covered.
The short-lived Primavera Rosa started in Varazze, shortly after where the men’s race negotiates the Passo del Turchino. The route was roughly 118 kilometers, but women’s cycling has come on a long way since the race was disbanded in 2005 and that distance wouldn’t truly make for a proper classic.
Balsamo believes that something just over half the length of the men’s would make for an attractive race.
“I think 165 kilometers is okay for us,” she said. “In the men’s calendar, Milan-San Remo is one of the longest races and so we can also make it the little bit longer, but we don’t need more than 160km, I think. The most exciting part is the last part.”
At 165km, it would make it the longest one-day race on the women’s calendar at this time.
It’s not just Milan-San Remo that Balsamo would like to see added to the women’s calendar. She says that up to three big classics should include a women’s race in their portfolios — including San Remo — and she has at least one more in mind.
“We have a very full calendar, but we need also I think about two or three really important classic races that now are not in our calendar, I think maybe two or three because all the others are in so we are waiting,” Balsamo said. “I think also Il Lombardia is an important one in Italy, and then I don’t know maybe another in the rest of the world.”
Balsamo may not be racing Milan-San Remo this weekend, but she will be competing in her native Italy, at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda in support of teammate Elisa Longo Borghini. The one-day race in Cittiglio is, like San Remo, an often-unpredictable contest where the winner can just as easily be decided from a reduced bunch sprint as it can be from a breakaway.
“Binda is a very open race and we can play different cards and different options and so I think it is good for us because we have climbers, sprinters, and TT girls and so it’s okay,” Balsamo said. “I really like this race, but maybe it’s a little bit too hard for me. It all depends on how the race goes. If they don’t go full gas on the last climb, I can have a chance but if the climbers go full gas, of course, it will be too hard for me.”
Making gains in women’s cycling
There have already been plenty of new races added to the calendar in recent years, with one of the most recent additions a Tour de France Femmes. Balsamo will be racing at the Tour with the intention of helping Longo Borghini to overall victory.
Before that, she will also be making her debut at her home grand tour of the Giro d’Italia Donne. After some years of struggle and a demotion out of the WorldTour last year, the Giro d’Italia has stepped up its game for this season with five times the prize money available and a boost in TV coverage.
Whether or not it all works out as planned remains to be seen but Balsamo is very pleased about the improvements. She also believes that the Giro and the Tour can benefit each other.
“Yes, I think so,” she said when asked if the introduction of the Tour could push the Giro forward. “I really believe that one of the most important things that women’s cycling needs is more television coverage and streaming. So I really appreciate this decision of the Giro d’Italia, and I’m very happy about this. I think that there are a lot of people that love cycling and it’s beautiful if they can follow also, the women’s races on the TV, and it is also important for us for our sponsors.”
The women’s WorldTour calendar is as big as it has ever been this season with 71 race days across 25 events. With a whole host of other competitions just below that level, the calendar is getting very busy.
Balsamo doesn’t think that is a bad thing and says it allows riders to diversify their racing programs.
“I think that now we are a lot of girls. So it’s okay that we have double activities and a one can race every week,” Balsamo told VeloNews.
“It’s also good, because we can choose which races are the best for our preparation and for us, and so all of the girls don’t have to choose only one way, but we can follow a different way for our season.”
While she is just 24 years old, Balsamo is already a stalwart of the women’s peloton after turning professional in 2017 following her junior road race world title the year before. Over the last five seasons, she’s seen women’s cycling change dramatically and she is looking forward to seeing where it can go over the course of her career.
“I think that women’s cycling is on the right way of improving. For me, one of the most important thing is the TV coverage,” she said. “If we can have, maybe not all the race, but a lot of hours on TV, we can improve a lot because sponsors can come because they can have a lot of visibility and also the teams can make more steps in women’s cycling.
“I think that our races are not so long and so watching them is very exciting. Maybe there is not a breakaway with a lot of minutes, but the race is more open and with a lot of suspense and the solution.”