On the eve of her race debut with Trek-Segafredo, the World Champion speaks about her certainties, ambitions and passions
If she wasn’t a methodical person, Elisa Balsamo might have been overwhelmed by the drastic changes, which in the past five months have characterised her athletic life.
“I like to plan my days and commitments. It gives me peace of mind; it makes me feel more calm in facing any unexpected events. And if I think back to everything that happened from that day in September until now, I don’t know how it would have gone without this approach” Elisa says.
As the reigning World Champion, her off-season has already been well scrutinised: from the first photo with the new jersey and her rainbow Émonda, to the first day with new teammates and her training regime at team camp. Now, a few days before her official debut (Thursday at Setmana Valenciana) with Trek-Segafredo, it’s a time for Elisa to focus solely on racing and the season that is about to begin.
The moment I joined the Team, I immediately felt positive vibes. It helped me a lot to approach this world, new for me, in the right way. Many people say that I make the impression of a very self-confident person, and in part this is true. But in the crucial moments, I feel the need of the support of my loved ones. It gives me the push like, ‘I can do it.’
“It happened last year during the preparation for the World Championships, which began after the tremendous disappointment of the Olympics, an event on which I built a good part of my season. Back from Tokyo, I didn’t want to hear any more about races and bicycles. Then my parents, my partner Davide and my coach Davide Arzeni pushed me to start training again. They gave me the strength that allowed me to be in Leuven with the physical and mental condition to win. A similar feeling I had a few weeks ago, in my first meeting with Trek-Segafredo. Everyone made me feel comfortable; I felt welcome. That’s not a given, but not totally unexpected either.
“Signing with Trek-Segafredo was not a closed-box decision. When Luca [Guercilena] contacted me in spring, I asked Elisa [Longo Borghini], with whom I have a deep friendship and esteemed relationship, to tell me about her feeling. Her words reflected my expectations, and the same happened talking with Giorgia Bronzini, at that time a DS of the Team. It was a pondered choice, because I had quite a few proposals, but also the best [choice] I could make.”
From Trek-Segafredo’s viewpoint, it was a massive gratification to bring her into our highly-successful team, which was done before the rainbow victory we may add. The Team’s concept is to let her talent mature alongside our established athletes, giving her priceless knowledge and make her into a long-time star of cycling.
“It’s a mutual desire,” explains Elisa, “and one of the factors that weighed most in my choice. Even more so, now that I’m World Champ. The experience is a strong point of our team. The closeness of teammates who have been at the center of the scene for years, as it’s happening to me since I’m wearing the jersey, will help me a lot. And then, there is the wealth of knowledge of those who work in the structure of the Team. We’re surrounded by so many experts that we have don’t have to think of anything else but racing to win. For me, it’s an absolutely new and exciting experience,”
“I feel I am in the ideal condition to achieve my goals. In the short term, these are to leave a mark with the rainbow jersey and raise my arms to the sky soon. Which is not so easy when you have lots of eyes on you and the feeling to honor the jersey every time you race. In the long term, however, I want to become more and more a Classics hunter and, generally, of stages. I aim to become a more complete athlete, with resistance on short climbs without losing my fast sprint”
It won’t be long to see Elisa in action on her favorite terrain. After her debut at Valenciana she will fly to Belgium for the Classics opener, Omloop het Nieuwsblad, then to Italy for Strade Bianche and Trofeo Binda and before returning to the Northern Classics: De Panne, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix.
“It’s my dream calendar,” she comments. “Between me and the cobbles there is a kind of love and hate. I can’t wait to race in Belgium but then, when I feel the hardness from the cobbles, in my heart I wonder who made me do it… ? What these Classics make me feel is, anyway, unparalleled: the adrenaline I feel before a sector of cobblestones, the tension I feel in the peloton in the key moments. These are the factors that have conquered me. Then, the fans. In Leuven it was a goosebumps show – I really hope to have the same in spring.”
“For my characteristics, I see the Ardennes Classics as less up my alley, with the exception of the Amstel Gold Race. The Roubaix is a different matter. First of all, I think there is a big difference racing a wet or a dry Roubaix. As well as the materials you have available. This year could be a very different race for me than the debut. I’m still having a hard time to know if it’s a race that suits me. If I have to name it as goal in 2022, I would say no, but in the future it could become one. For sure, it is an epic and charming classic. The arrival in the velodrome, for a pistard like me, is like a dream finale.”
Her goals: race strongly in spring, the first objective, and then look to July and August. “A stage at the Giro d’Italia and one at the Tour de France,” affirms Elisa without hesitation. And then? “Calendar in hand, in September there is the World Championship, but I don’t really want to think about it. There are enough irons in the fire for the moment and I want to enjoy every race with the rainbow jersey, before thinking whether to leave it or try to keep it.”
Last but not least, there is one final goal – a non-racing goal – that Elisa wants to achieve in 2022.
“The Modern and Contemporary Literature degree. I’m missing two exams, History of Journalism and Latin philology. If all goes well, by the beginning of the summer I could graduate and then I could think about enrolling in the master’s degree. For many people studying, this is perceived as a duty; for me it’s a real passion that I don’t want to give up. I believe that in the life of a professional athlete there is time and a way to succeed in study. Maybe with different timing compared to a student who has only to do that,”
“For me, studying is also a good way to take my mind off cycling, a form of decompression. At this stage of my life, cycling is the priority, my biggest commitment, but I think it’s important to have a long-term perspective as well. The career of a pro-rider is not infinite and creating the basis for a future that is not in cycling is a far-sighted choice.”
On and off the bike, we’ll be rooting for you this year, Elisa.