Determination, intelligence and teamwork: We can all learn a lesson from Lidl-Trek at Trofeo Alfredo Binda

Elisa Balsamo’s victory in the Italian WorldTour race was a culmination of a stunning display of teamwork

“If it is a dream, then please don't wake me up,” Elisa Balsamo gushed just a few moments after outsprinting world champion Lotte Kopecky to take the second Trofeo Alfredo Binda win of her career. While the Lidl-Trek rider’s victory felt like a dream come true for her, a similar sentiment was also shared among women’s cycling fans everywhere. The 2024 edition of Trofeo Binda signified a final, definite shift in the dominance of SD Worx-Protime that has shaped the narrative of the sport for the past season.

The simple truth is that Lidl-Trek were the best team in the race at Trofeo Binda, and they’re steadily putting themselves in contention to be classed as the best team in the women’s peloton altogether. It’s true that they have long had an affinity with the Italian one-day race, having now won the last four editions of Trofeo Binda, but today’s victory was especially significant. For all the talk of Kopecky being subbed into the race at the last minute for SD Worx and the discussion around the strength of the Dutch squad, Lidl-Trek proved themselves to be smarter, stronger and more motivated than ever.

During the race, flurries of attacks came from the likes of Niamh Fisher Black (SD Worx), Neve Bradbury (Canyon//SRAM) and Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck), but there was barely a moment where the team in yellow, red and blue looked in danger of throwing away their race. Gaia Realini and Amanda Spratt were there for Lidl-Trek on the climbs, attentive to the moves of other climbers, but it was Shirin van Anrooij’s performance as a domestique for Balsamo that especially set Lidl-Trek apart from the rest.

The 22-year-old rider, a former winner of Trofeo Binda herself, gave an exhibition in how to ride for a teammate, selflessly pulling turns throughout the day and constantly remaining attentive to the presence of Balsamo in the bunch. Van Anrooij’s monstrous effort in the approach to the finish line ensured that Movistar’s Mareille Meijering was brought back into the jaws of a sprinting peloton, allowing Balsamo to have a shot at going for victory. It was an example of the camaraderie and teamwork that Lidl-Trek have managed to foster in their set-up – they backed Balsamo for a sprint win, and every single rider committed to the plan. There would be no talk of infighting or tension (despite Van Anrooij being acutely aware she has the capabilities to win Trofeo Binda herself on her day), and everything was put behind one leader.

It was a contrast to how other teams approached the race, with outfits such as SD Worx-Protime launching attacks with Marlen Reusser and Fisher-Black, and UAE Team ADQ riding aggressively on the front, but seemingly without a real plan of who they were working for. The aggression exhibited by other teams made the race entertaining to watch, but Lidl-Trek’s calm and collected ability to monitor moves and use up riders only when it was completely necessary was an example of the American squad’s tactical maturity.

Inspiration can also be taken from Balsamo’s own journey over the last two seasons in the lead up to this WorldTour win. The Italian rider suffered a serious crash at the RideLondon Classic last year and had to have surgery to correct fractures of the left scaphoid bone as well as fractures of both the left and right mandible (lower jaw). It took Balsamo some time to recover from the accident, and she only began to look like her former self on the bike in September last year when she took a stage victory at the Simac Ladies Tour. Since then, however, Balsamo has appeared stronger and stronger in each race she starts – pre-race talk is often centred solely around the likes of Kopecky or Wiebes ahead of many Women’s WorldTour events, but Balsamo has proven herself to be every bit the contender for victories in the biggest showdowns of the season, even if she’s sometimes classed as the underdog.

Above all, Lidl-Trek’s win today should be highlighted as an example of impressive perseverance. It would have been easy to become disheartened by the stranglehold that SD Worx-Protime have had over the peloton in the last couple of years, but the American squad’s plucky, brave and intuitive racing style has never faltered. While there have been races where some might have counted them out against SD Worx’s powerhouses, Lidl-Trek have always held on to the belief that they can match the dominance of the Dutch team, and that’s starting to pay dividends. The American team's clear strategy, alongside the openness of every rider to completely back Balsamo for victory was what won Lidl-Trek the race today at Trofeo Binda. If they keep it up, this won’t be the last victory for Lidl-Trek this season.

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