Wiggle High5’s Elisa Longo Borghini will start the race with number one on her back as the winner of last year’s edition. But the 24-year-old Italian knows that it will be anything but easy to repeat her stunning victory of twelve months ago.
Last year’s race saw Longo Borghini escape the rest of the race favourites with more than 30km to go, and ride alone over the final climbs to finish 43 seconds ahead of the sprint for second. That sprint was won by team-mate, Belgian Champion Jolien D’hoore, to make it a one-two for the black and orange team in what is arguably cycling’s most prestigious one-day race.
“I'm excited to race this weekend,” Longo Borghini said. “It's a beautiful feeling to start with number one on my back on Sunday, but I know how hard it is to ‘do the double.’”
While her defending champion status obviously makes Longo Borghini one of the riders to watch on Sunday, coupled with the fact that she had finished fourth in the two previous editions, the Italian is remains realistic about her chances.
Having been forced out of her home race, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, through illness two weeks ago, the 24-year-old has recovered sufficiently to be a protagonist in last weekend’s Gent-Wevelgem.
While she was one of the most aggressive riders in Wednesday’s Pajot Hills Classic, whose climbs included the mythical Muur van Geraardsbergen, she knows that “Vlaanderens Mooiste” on Sunday will be a different challenge entirely.
“I've been sick for long time and my shape it's not yet at the top,” Longo Borghini said. “On my side I have strong riders that can make the race hard, so let's make the best out this race!”
At Longo Borghini’s side will be the big name missing from last year’s edition, in close friend Audrey Cordon-Ragot, who was forced to withdraw at the last moment through illness. The Breton rider has struggled with illness and injury in recent months, but she too was an aggressive presence in the Pajot Classic; particularly showing off her new, custom, Breton “Gwenn-Ha-Du” flag detailed Colnago C60.
Following her second place of last year, many local eyes will be on Wiggle High5’s Belgian Champion Jolien D’hoore, who carries the flag of the nation on her back. The 26-year-old from Gent has found her road legs again, after spending the winter on the track, and is sure to find the passionate Belgian crowds an inspiration to try to go one better this year.
Almost as local as D’hoore, since she makes her home during the season on the race route itself, is Wiggle High5’s Swedish Champion Emma Johansson.
The 31-year-old was almost forced to sit out the 2015 race with a broken collarbone but took the start less than three weeks after sustaining the injury. This year Johansson will start the race injury free, and will be striving to improve on her three podium spots in the race to date.
Having finished fourth in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, Dutchwoman Amy Pieters takes the start full of confidence in her ability to either support her team-mates or take a result herself.
The final rider of the black and orange team is Australian, Chloe Hosking, who won the Tour of Qatar in 2015,. She, too, comes into the race buoyed by her performances in support of her team-mates in recent weeks.