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It has been, by any metric, quite a week for Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo). Already winner of the Trofeo Alfredo Binda last weekend and the Classic Brugge-De Panne midweek, the world champion completed an impressive hat-trick by sprinting to victory at Gent-Wevelgem.

The Italian was backed by a strong Trek-Segafredo squad throughout the afternoon, though after making it safely across the final ascent of the Kemmelberg, she endured a late scare when the front group briefly split with 12km remaining.

Teammate Ellen van Dijk was called back to help Elisa Longo Borghini and Shirin van Anrooij stitch the two groups back together and Balsamo proceeded to hold up her end of the bargain on Vanackerestraat by outsprinting Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling Team).

“We panicked a little bit but our coach in the car was so good, she was speaking with us and Ellen stopped too: she was in the front group and she stopped to help us close the gap so we did a great team job,” said Balsamo.

“I have a little bit of pressure because such super strong riders are working for me. We knew this could be a hard race with a sprint in the end, and I’m feeling good, so we decided to go all for the sprint.”

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A year ago, in the colours of Valcar–Travel & Service, the 24-year-old Balsamo placed fourth at Gent-Wevelgem – “my favourite race,” she said –  but returned as the favourite after her string of recent successes. Despite the star names in the Trek-Segafredo line-up, her form over the opening phase of the 2022 campaign meant that the squad’s Gent-Wevelgem challenge was built around her.

“We are a really strong team and also we believe a lot in each other. I really think we won these three races because we were the best team, so I really want to say thank you to all my teammates,” said Balsamo, paying tribute to their unity of purpose. “We really like to help each other, we really feel like we are just one team going for just one big result and I think this makes the difference.”

Balsamo’s sequence of success makes her an obvious contender for the Tour of Flanders next Sunday, even if she deflected a question on her place among the top echelon of favourites. “Now I don’t want to think about it, I only want to rest a little bit,” she said.

Balsamo has now won five times since she was crowned world champion in Leuven last September, and she will seek to emulate teammate Lizzie Deignan by landing the Ronde in the rainbow jersey. The famous garment, it seems, has been an inspiration rather than a burden.

“It’s not an easy jersey to wear, but when I’m racing I almost forget I have it, because I’m totally focused on the race,” Balsamo said. “It’s a little bit difficult before and after the race, but during the race I almost forgot I had this jersey.”

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: Barry Ryan
All copyrights for this article, including images, are reserved to the original source and/or creator(s).
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