Longo Borghini on fire: Why Demi Vollering will struggle to repeat her Ardennes hattrick

The Italian showed supreme strength at Brabantse Pijl proving she is flying before the Ardennes – something that SD Worx should be worried about

When Elisa Longo Borghini announced that she would skip Paris-Roubaix to focus on the Ardennes classics, some questioned the Lidl-Trek rider’s decision. She’s a former champion in the Hell of the North, and her recent Tour of Flanders win was proof that Longo Borghini is arguably the strongest rider currently in the women’s peloton, even up against a team of SD Worx-Protime superstars. Her form at Brabantse Pijl this week, however, shows that the 32-year-old knows what she needs better than anyone.

It seems that Longo Borghini is on a mission to win races she hasn’t won before, and the Ardennes Classics sit high on that list. Flanders and Roubaix are ticked off, as was Strade Bianche in 2017, but races like Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège have, so far, been tricky ones to crack for the Italian champion. Riding in Roubaix would have come with a high risk to Longo Borghini given the precarious nature of the race, and it’s unlikely that she would have taken a sprint win if she came to the finish with a rider like Lotte Kopecky (the eventual 2024 Roubaix victor). Skipping the race she's already won before for added freshness going into the Ardennes, combined with her current stupendous form, makes race wins later this week in Belgium's hilly region very likely indeed for Lidl-Trek.

Looking at last year’s results, you might assume that the biggest challenge to Longo Borghini’s dreams of winning in the Ardennes would be SD Worx’s Demi Vollering. Last year, the Dutchwoman did the historic triple, winning Amstel, Flèche and Liège within one season. Back then, Vollering looked unstoppable, pedalling with the same fluidity and unflappable calm as her former teammate turned sports director, Anna van der Breggen, who was similarly dominant in the Ardennes during her career. A year on, however, and things have changed in the women’s peloton.

Longo Borghini’s recent win at Brabantse Pijl saw the Italian ride away from Vollering with 7.6 kilometres of the race remaining, proving herself the stronger climber of the two by a significant margin. It wasn’t just the Lidl-Trek rider’s performance at that particular moment that made her the better rider in Brabantse Pijl, either. She’d ridden a smarter race throughout, with her Lidl-Trek teammates using their strength in depth to launch attacks and put others under pressure, ensuring Longo Borghini didn’t have to use energy until it was the right moment. Vollering, on the other hand, made her first, unsuccessful move with 65km of the race still remaining and continued to use energy throughout the race at points where it wasn’t wholly necessary. When Longo Borghini launched her big move in the finale, Vollering paid for all of her earlier efforts.

It should be noted that SD Worx didn’t have their strongest line-up at Brabantse Pijl, with Kopecky choosing to sit out the race following her Roubaix win. This was a contributing factor to Lidl-Trek appearing by far the strongest team in the race at Brabantse Pijl, constantly storming the front with their yellow and blue jerseys at crucial moments where SD Worx were relatively anonymous. If the American squad bring this same cohesive and tactically astute approach to the Ardennes, it’s going to be tricky for SD Worx to execute more solo wins for Vollering as they did last year – they won’t be able to isolate her rivals as they have in before.

It’s fair to say that the racing in the women’s peloton last season, at times, was getting a bit predictable. Vollering’s three Ardennes wins were impressive but could be boring – SD Worx were monopolising podiums to such an extent that the results could often have been written before the race had even played out.

The same can’t be said in 2024, however, with the likes of Longo Borghini and Lidl-Trek taking a serious step up this year. It’s made things much tricker for riders like Vollering, who no doubt will be wishing can mimic her performances of last season over the next week, but for cycling fans, it’s leading to better racing than ever.

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