Elisa Longo Borghini doesn’t win many races. But, whenever she does, she wins big. Her expression at the finish line of the Strade Bianche said it all: it was a huge burst of emotion. You don’t win everyday on home roads and that was special for the Wiggle-High5 leader.
But the 2017 edition of the young but already iconic Strade Bianche was also special for another reason: it was shown live. Even if it was only on Eurosport Player, which means it would only reach a limited amount of spectators, it was remarkable. Hopefully it’s only been the start of something. The race was thrilling, the reactions of the people watching it enthusiastic.
It was at some point halfway through the race that things started to become interesting. The longest, 9.5 km section of gravel roads shattered the peloton and created a first selection of abour 40 riders. Three of them then formed a breakaway: Lauren Stephens (Tibco-SBV), Floortje Mackaij (Team Sunweb) and Lara Vieceli (Astana). The trio got a maximum of near one minute and a half of advantage but that was about it.
As the main chasing group approached the final, hardest 25 km of the race the breakway’s advantage drastically shrinked. The combination of sharp climbs and white roads quickly defined who were the strongest of the day. Both Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) and Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling), who had crashed earlier in the race, were there, as well as Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) and two Orica-Scott riders: Annemiek van Vleuten and Katrin Garfoot.
Garfoot was dropping and rejoining all the time, which made it hard for Orica-Scott to play their advantage in numbers. Moreover, Van Vleuten didn’t look too comfortable on the sharpest hills either. Eventually the five-strong group would become seven as both Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope) and Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) were able to reach them inside the final 3 km. Gillow attacked instantly and Brand followed with an even stronger attempt.
In a moment of hesitation by the chasers Brand and Gillow reached the lower slopes of the final climb in Siena with a small gap. It wouldn’t be enough, though. Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini surpassed them first, then Deignan, with Van Vleuten a couple of metres behind and Garfoot further back. Longo Borghini was strong enough to be in front before the final corners and that’s all she needed to become the worthy winner of the Strade Bianche. It was an epic day under the rain.