Will any team be able to challenge Lidl-Trek's Trofeo Alfredo Binda reign?

The American team have won this spring Classics race for the past three years running

SD Worx might be undisputed patrons of the peloton, conquering all before them and last year attaining a level of superiority rarely seen in the history of cycling, but there is one WorldTour Classic that has eluded them of late. It’s now been eight years since the team last won Trofeo Alfredo Binda, during which time they’ve won multiple editions of virtually every other major Classic. This Italian race might not boast the fame of a Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders or Liège–Bastogne–Liège, but it nevertheless has considerable prestige in women’s cycling as one of the biggest spring Classics, with a prime spot the Sunday after Ronde van Drenthe and before Gent-Wevelgem. 

Where SD Worx have failed, Lidl-Trek have stepped into the void, and have made Trofeo Alfredo Binda their Classic. Shirin van Anrooij’s victory here last year was the team’s third in successive editions, a record unmatched by any other team in the race’s 17-year history as an international event. They might have grown ever more exasperated and out of ideas on how to combat SD Worx in most races, but the hills here in Lombardy have proven to be a happy hunting ground for Lidl-Trek.

The manner in which Lidl-Trek won those races is also notable for how dominant they were. Last year, they even pulled off a one-two with Elisa Balsamo holding back and following wheels in the chase group before finally winning the sprint for second, while Van Anrooij soloed to victory after an attack 25km from the finish that no rider, SD Worx or otherwise, marked. In 2022, Lidl-Trek took it upon themselves to control the race and keep things together to ensure a sprint finish for their leader Elisa Balsamo, no mean feat in a race as hilly as this one that is rarely decided by a sprint. Yet, they managed to do just that, shutting down multiple attacks from a variety of quality puncheurs, including then SD Worx’s Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Marlen Reusser, and still retaining Van Anrooij, Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk in the final kilometres to help protect Balsamo and guide her to sprint victory. And the year before, they triumphed with a completely different approach, with Borghini going all in with a solo attack 25km from the finish, and soloing to a massive 1-42 victory over Marianne Vos in second. 

So what is it about Trofeo Alfredo Binda that makes it such a strong race for Lidl-Trek? The significance of it being an Italian race should not be underestimated. Along with Strade Bianche, it’s one of only two Italian Classics in the WorldTour, and, despite being an American-registered team, Lidl-Trek is home to some of the top Italian riders in the world in the form of Borghini, Balsamo, and recently emerged Gaia Realini. For them, this race is one of the key targets of the spring.

Other teams and riders don’t prioritise Trofeo Alfredo Binda to the same degree. It’s notable how SD Worx have not sent their best riders here for the past few editions. Moolman and Van den Broek-Blaak shared leadership duties for the team in 2021 and 2022, followed by Lorena Wiebes last year; on no occasion has either Lotte Kopecky or Demi Vollering represented the team here, and the team’s former talisman Anna van der Breggen neglected to ride it in the last four years of her career. The same applies for many of the peloton’s biggest stars — Annemiek van Vleuten, for instance, did not appear in any edition from 2018 until her retirement last year, having done so in every prior season of her professional career. 

It’s still a prestigious race, but has gone a little out of fashion since other, newer Classics have been added to the spring that carry with them more prestige due to their history in men’s cycling, such as Amstel Gold Race, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and, of course, Paris-Roubaix. Having to negotiate a more intense spring schedule, it seems many riders have felt that they are better off resting this particular weekend in anticipation of Flanders Week and the major cobbled Classics that begin with Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday, and the full week of Ardennes Classics that follow. 

That looks like it will be the case again this year. If either Vollering or Kopecky are to ride this year, it will be as last-minute additions, as neither were listed on SD Worx’s incomplete startlist, as of two days before the race. In any case, the fact that this race hasn’t been locked in as part of their schedules indicates that it’s less of a priority for them than other Classics during the spring. Instead, Marlen Reusser is down to start for the team, and has before flourished when freed from super-domestique duties to ride as leader. 

To win, Reusser will likely have to go clear on either the Orino or Casale, the two short climbs that feature in the race’s finishing circuit, tackled five times. Neither are especially hard in isolation, but the frequency of the climbs generally weighs the race in favour of puncheurs over sprinters, and Reusser’s lack of a finishing kick, plus the expected lack of either Kopecky or Wiebes, means SD Worx will likely be relying on one of her trademark powerful solo attacks.

The same applies to many other teams. Canyon//SRAM are typically very aggressive, and will have Elise Chabbey and Soraya Paladin to try and animate the race. Fenix-Deceuninck’s young cyclo-cross star Puck Pieterse has also caught the eye with her aggressive racing in the early races of what is her first full programme of spring Classics, and was especially determined to avoid a sprint finish at last weekend’s Ronde Van Drenthe, where she attacked relentlessly. And though UAE Team ADQ do have Sofia Bertizzolo to fall back on in the event of a large group sprint, their best bet for victory looks like her fellow Italian Silvia Persico, who is perfectly suited to this kind of hilly parcours. 

Once again, though, Lidl-Trek are best-poised to defend their title. Both the riders who sealed their one-two last year, Van Anrooij and Balsamo, will be present again, and will provide the team with the tactical advantage of having a plan for whatever shape the race takes, with Van Anrooij capable of winning a selective race from a break, and Balsamo from a sprint. They’re both in great form, too, with Van Anrooij making the elite selections at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche to finish in the top five, and Balsamo already winning two sprints during her season debut at Volta Femenina de la Comunitat Valenciana. Add to that the quality of Gaia Realini and Lizzie Deignan, who, depending on circumstances, could either be used in super-domestique roles to control the race or as attackers to disrupt it, and the team has all bases covered. They’ll be confident of extending their winning run here to a fourth year.

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