As others unclipped and were forced to run up the Koppenberg in the Tour of Flanders, Silvia Persico was one of two riders in the entire peloton who was able to ride on. Initially, it might have looked like a spot of good luck that meant the Italian rider wasn’t caught behind Liane Lippert who was the first rider to lose traction on the cobbles, but there was far more to Persico’s performance than good fortitude.
As she said after the race, “I was in the front before the Koppenberg because my teammates helped me get there”. Persico hadn’t arrived in that prime position because she just found herself at the front of the peloton, it had been a calculated and important goal for her and her teammates to place her there when it mattered. After she powered over the summit of the Koppenberg, it became clearer and clearer that Persico had not found herself there by accident, she was here to win the race.
She aimed to win despite being an underdog in a peloton that has been dominated by Team SD Worx for months, despite having only raced a couple of times so far this season, and despite being without a team of super talents to help her to victory. This is the type of rider Persico is: brave, confident and above all, supremely strong.
Image: Sprint Cycling Agency/UAE Team ADQ
After that ascent of the Koppenberg, Persico found herself in a group with Lotte Kopecky, Marlen Reusser and Lorena Wiebes (all of Team SD Worx). Kopecky’s strength on the cobbled bergs was supreme, but Persico fought to remain on the Belgian rider’s wheel even as Kopecky dropped her own teammates from the front group. It took Kopecky to put in a last, stinging attack to distance Persico on the final ascent of the Kwaremont. The 25-year-old Italian had made things tough for SD Worx, though.
“I think this was the hardest race in the last months. I tried to stay with Lotte [Kopecky] but on the Kwaremont she attacked so I lost her wheel,” Persico explained after the race.
Even after her efforts earlier on the bergs, Persico still managed to sprint to fourth place in the race overall from the chasing group, her best ever result at the Tour of Flanders.
“I tried to do my best but in the sprint, I used all of my energy and then finished fourth. It's not the best place when you arrive so close to the podium, but you don't take the podium,” she said. “I'm really happy with my feelings and I hope to do more good races in the next month.”
As she spoke, Persico shivered from the cold and was clinging to a tupperware of pasta that she had been given by her team’s soigneurs. Despite her impressive race and finishing in the top-five in De Ronde after putting up a real fight against SD Worx, Persico seemed far from elated with her performance. She was left wanting more.
“I don’t think I made mistakes, I did my best and I need to be happy. Maybe now I’m not so happy but maybe tomorrow I will be,” she said.
Image: Sprint Cycling Agency/UAE Team ADQ
The fact that Persico is still striving for more, despite being likely the second strongest rider in the race in Flanders, is a testament to her competitive spirit and speaks volumes about why she is such a high-performing athlete. At just 26-years-old, Persico finished third in the World Championships Road Race last year, second in a stage of the Tour de France Femmes and fifth on the overall GC, not to mention her third place at the Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville last winter and two consecutive Italian National Cyclocross Championships. Be it off-road, on cobbles, on mountain-top finishes or the steep bergs of Flanders, Persico seems to be a rider who can do it all, and she has the mentality to match her physical capabilities.
The UAE Team ADQ rider even admitted after the race that she felt like she wasn’t yet on her top form after just completing a camp at altitude. “My feelings were not really the best,” she said. “For sure I need more races in my legs. I hope that for Amstel and also Brabantse in 10 days, I can be okay,” she explained.
If a fifth place finish in Flanders is Persico not yet on her best level, it begs the question, how good can this rider be when she’s on her top form? Could Persico be a real challenger to the likes of Kopecky, Vollering and SD Worx in the races to come?
Persico herself seems to have the necessary confidence that she could be. “SD Worx now is the best team but I know that in the next month we can fight. Maybe now they are one step ahead of the others but I really hope that we can take this same step and fight with them soon,” she explained.
The Italian rider also hinted that she may not continue with cyclocross in the winter to come, perhaps opting to switch fully to the road. With more race days in her legs, improved form, a razor sharp on road racing alone and an better team performance, Persico has all of the ingredients to become one of the best cyclists in the world. Her performance in De Ronde might have just been a small taste of what is to come from the Italian.
Cover image: Getty