Elisa Balsamo: It’s going to be really hard for me to stay with the front group in Flanders

The Italian sprinter is expecting a tough and aggressive race on Sunday

Elisa Balsamo has good memories in Flanders. It was three years ago that the Lidl-Trek rider sprinted to a rainbow jersey in Leuven, raising her arms in the air after a spectacular display of teamwork from the Italian squadra. Since that life-changing victory, Balsamo’s career has only excelled and the 2024 season has, so far, been one of her best yet. If there was talk ahead of the Classics season that it would only be Team SD Worx-Protime on the top step of podiums, Lidl-Trek and Balsamo have been doing their best to firmly change that narrative.

The first win of this year for the 26-year-old came in the rolling Italian hills at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, where she pipped SD Worx’s world champion Lotte Kopecky to the line – a result that few expected ahead of the race. That result kickstarted a run of impressive form for the Italian and she went on to win Brugge-De Panne and finish second in Gent-Wevelgem.

“I'm very happy and satisfied about my spring now,” Balsamo told Rouleur on the eve of the Tour of Flanders. “I worked really hard this winter. Also the team was really supporting me – they are team victories and team podiums. I really want to say thank you to all of them.”

It’s true that Lidl-Trek have impressed so far in 2024 with their cohesive racing style and collective strength. Riders like Elisa Longo Borghini and Shirin van Anrooij have proven themselves extremely competitive in the Classics – not just from a physical standpoint but also with their tactical prowess. In other teams with so many riders who have the potential to win races, there can often be tension surrounding who will be the designated leader and risks of infighting, but this rarely seems to be an issue with Lidl-Trek.

“Our strength is that we race as a team and we trust each other. We know how important that is in cycling and we believe in each other and try to do a good tactic with the same goal for everyone,” Balsamo explained. “This makes a big difference during the race – we can have different scenarios that are all good for us. We can sprint, we can attack on the climbs, we can be in the breakaway.”

Balsamo adds that becoming the number one team in the UCI ranking and toppling SD Worx has never been a goal for Lidl-Trek, instead they go into every race with a goal to win, and this has been evident in the team’s racing style.

“Last year, we had a lot of bad luck and also a lot of injuries. It was a really hard season for us. During the training camp this winter we worked hard and we really wanted to show to everyone that we are good riders and we are strong team,” Balsamo says. “Everyone is really committed – we just want to do good races and enjoy them as a team. I think that this is the most important part to be successful, the good atmosphere inside of the team.”

The Italian rider doesn’t shy away from the fact that Lidl coming on as title sponsor has also been crucial for the team’s funding and explains that having such a strong support system around the riders is especially motivating. 

Looking ahead to the Tour of Flanders, Balsamo explains that while the race is a big goal for the team, as a sprinter, she isn’t putting too much pressure on her own shoulders to go for victory.

“I think it is going to be really hard for me to be in first group. But for sure, I will give everything, I'll try and then we never know what can happen in the final,” Balsamo says. “It is going to be a really hard race, maybe even before the Koppenberg, and afterwards it’s definitely going to be crazy.”

Keeping the top-end speed that gives Balsamo the ability to win bunch sprints, while also ensuring that she has the ability to get over short bergs in races like the Tour of Flanders is a constant balancing act. The Italian rider explains that the work she does on the velodrome aids her sprint, but equally she understands that if she wants to contest the finals of Classics going forwards, she needs to get more comfortable on climbs.

“I really need to train for these because I'm fast, but in a lot of races, this is not enough because I need to survive to sprint at the finish,” Balsamo says. “I’ve been training hard for this but I also really hope that in the next few years I can improve more and more.”

With the results she has so far this season and less than 24 hours until she takes to the start of the arguably biggest one-day race in the world, Balsamo appears calm and confident. While she’s realistic that winning the Tour of Flanders will be difficult, the Italian rider is also bolstered by her Lidl-Trek teammates and the success they have already had this season. This, combined with the history and happy memories that Balsamo has in Belgium, gives the feeling that even if the odds are against her on Sunday, anything could happen.

“It's a really good memory winning the World Championship in Leuven,” Balsamo says. “Riding these races is just amazing – I always love racing in Belgium.”

Shop now