Wiebes’ and Balsamo’s intertwined sprints

Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Comune di Cittiglio last Sunday 20 March, taking the lead of the UCI Women’s WorldTour ranking, a week after Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) edged her in the previous UCI Women’s WorldTour event, Miron Ronde van Drenthe.

Lorena Wiebes (NED) and Elisa Balsamo (ITA) have two of the biggest smiles in professional cycling, large expressive grins with which they share their bliss as they so often storm to victory. Most recently, they have both taken popular victories in front of their home crowds.

A serial winner since she joined the professional peloton in 2018, the Dutch sprinter has imposed her pure speed in the three races she’s participated in so far in March, including the UCI Women’s WorldTour race Miron Ronde van Drenthe, where she took victory… ahead of Balsamo, who quickly bounced back to victory with a thunderous sprint in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Comune di Cittiglio last weekend.

The two young stars - Wiebes turned 23 last week, Balsamo celebrated her 24th birthday at the end of February - have often seen their destinies intertwined. They’ve both claimed impressive shares of success.

And more battles await them this spring, as they are set to line up with strong hopes of victory in the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne (March 24), Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields (March 27), Ronde van Vlaanderen (April 4) and Paris-Roubaix Femmes (April 16).

A “dream” debut for Balsamo

Balsamo and Wiebes had both gone into the winter with the confidence built in their late season performances. At the end of October, the Dutch sprinter was the strongest in the Ronde van Drenthe, after having taken two stage wins in The Women’s Tour (Great Britain) earlier that month.

But she had to settle for second on the final day of The Women’s Tour – a privileged position from which to see Balsamo take her first victory in the rainbow jersey, a couple of weeks after dominating the Women Elite race in the 2021 UCI Road World Championships!

The two women met again very soon in 2022. Both had returned to competition in the Spanish Setmana Valenciana-Volta Comunitat Valenciana Fémines mid-February. And Balsamo was the first to display a winning smile, sprinting to victory in stage one as part of a reduced bunch where Wiebes didn’t feature.

“A debut like that was in my dreams, but not really in the day's expectations,” Balsamo reflected as she took her first victory with her new team, the UCI Women’s WorldTeam powerhouse Trek-Segafredo. “Last night, in the pre-race meeting, Ina [Teutenberg, Sport Director] raised the possibility of such a finish. A lot would depend on my ability to hold out on the last climb. And then the team would do the rest to allow me to sprint. Ina's prophecy came true, and my teammates did an impressive job. It was a perfect day!”

Stepping up to Trek-Segafredo after she grew up as a young cyclist with the team Valcar Travel & Service, Balsamo has joined a squad that dominated the UCI Women’s WorldTour Team Ranking in 2020 and finished second to SD Worx last year.

Among her elite teammates (Ellen van Dijk, Chloe Hosking…), she notably joins her Italian compatriot Elisa Longo-Borghini, who perfectly accompanied her to victory in the UCI Worlds. Things are clicking well with the American squad’s jersey on their shoulders!

Wiebes shows her speed

After the Spanish starters, Balsamo headed to her first Belgian Classic of the year, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – Vrouwen Elite. Wiebes did the same, and they were naturally vying at the front in Ninove, where Annemiek van Vleuten edged Demi Vollering for the win, 25 seconds before Wiebes outsprinted Balsamo in the battle for third.

Their roads briefly separated, with Balsamo tackling the first UCI Women’s WorldTour event of the season (45th in Strade Bianche, won by Lotte Kopecky) while Wiebes kept chasing her first win of the year in Belgium: finishing 10th in Craywinckelhof - Omloop van het Hageland, 1st in GP Oetingen.

The stage was set for another battle between the two young stars, at UCI Women’s WorldTour level, in the Miron Ronde van Drenthe. Wiebes survived the cobbles, the ascents of the VAM-berg and the echelons to eventually sprint to victory. Balsamo was second, making it the 13th time they both stepped on the same podium since turning professional.

“I chose the wheel of Balsamo because my teammates were chasing the break,” Wiebes explained. “I went a bit earlier than her and that was my plan, to go on the left. And I still had the space there to the line.”

In Hoogeveen, Balsamo just couldn’t hold off Wiebes, winner of the Ronde van Drenthe for the second year in a row. The Dutchwoman went on to take another win in Danilithe Nokere Koerse, and the Italian replied with a supreme effort and a roar of joy in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Comune di Cittiglio.

On these last two occasions Wiebes and Balsamo didn’t face off directly, but their next battles for glory will be anticipated with excitement.