Friday feature: An interview with Elisa Longo Borghini

At VeloVoices we don’t feature much women’s cycling, largely because of the lack of television coverage. However, every year I do get to see the women race in the World Championships, so I’m uber-delighted to be sharing an espresso with the 21-year old bronze medal winner from Valkenburg 2012, Elisa Longo Borghini.

Sheree: Elisa, welcome. I know you come from a sporting family. Your mother was an Olympic cross-country skier and your elder brother Paolo’s a professional rider with Cannondale. So, so was it inevitable that you too would become a professional athlete?

Elisa:  Hi Sheree, first of all thank you for interviewing me, it is always a pleasure. Having a sporting family has been really important for me and my career. My mother and my brother know what it is to be an athlete and they are always ready to give me wise tips. But they are not the only ones involved in sport. My father has been responsible for the technical support of the Italian national cross-country ski team. He was the first one to support me and my brother. I think it wasn’t inevitable that I too would become a professional athlete, but my family has played an important role!

Ladies podium from Valkenburg 2012, Elisa's on the far right (image courtesy of Elisa Longo Borghini)

Ladies podium from Valkenburg 2012, Elisa’s on the far right (image courtesy of Elisa Longo Borghini)

Sheree: You’re being too modest, Elisa. I have it on good authority that you could also have been a world-class cross-country skier! Whenever I ride on the roads in Italy, I’m always impressed with the number of young girls I see riding. What support have you received as your career has progressed through the ranks?

Elisa: The Italian federation supports young cyclists trying to create a good base for the future. I think this is the right way to go.

Sheree: I agree. Grass roots support is vital for the development of any sport. Who – if anyone, and why – among the world of women’s cycling has most inspired you?

Elisa: As everyone can see, Marianne Vos (Rabo Women) – Olympic and world road race champion, world cyclo-cross champion – is a classy example of professionalism. But another rider I’ve been inspired by is Beijing silver medalist Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS). She too is a great model of professionalism and I admire her consistency. [Elisa rode with Emma in 2012].

Elisa Longo Borghini

Sheree: You started your career in 2011 with Italian team Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo but now ride for Norwegian squad Hitec Products-UCK. You’re in your second season with the squad – tell us a bit about them and your role on the team?

Elisa: I’ve had a nice 2012 with Hitec so I decided to stay with this team. I think the 2013 squad is a good mix of girls with different but complementary characteristics. We have good sprinters, good climbers and some all-rounders.

Sheree: I’d definitely put you in that last category Elisa.

Elisa: As a team we can compete in every kind of one-day and stage race and aim for a top result. Concerning my role, I’ll be supported by my teammates in the races where I’d like to race well and I will be a help in the competitions that don’t suit me or where other girls will be the race leader.

Sheree:  I think it might be fair to call 2012 your break-out year given the excellent results you achieved which, interestingly, were in a mixture of stage races, one-day races and time trials.

Stage winner Elisa (image courtesy of Elisa Longo Borghini)

Stage winner Elisa (image courtesy of Elisa Longo Borghini)

Here’s a summary of Elisa’s 2012 highlights:

  • 7th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
  • 2nd in national individual time-trial championships
  • 9th overall in Giro D’Italia Donne
  • 5th overall in Thuringen Rundfahrt, winner stage 5 and 2nd on stage 6
  • 3rd in European under-23 individual time trial championship
  • 3rd in GP Ouest France
  • 3rd in stage 6 Holland Ladies Tour
  • 3rd in World Championships road race, Valkenburg

What are your targets for 2013?

Elisa: I’d be glad to have another season like last year. But, like every rider, I’d like to improve, of course! I’d like to get better in the time trials and stage races. I like the Classics and I hope to have a nice Spring this year.

Elisa in time-trial mode (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Elisa in time-trial mode (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Sheree: How would you like your career to progress?  Are there any particular races you would like to add to your palmares?

Elisa: As I said above, I like the Classics. Ronde Van Vlaanderen is the Classic and I hope one day to be able to win it. If I have to think big I would say: Giro d’Italia and a World Championship. But I think I still need to work a lot if I want to achieve these results!

Sheree: Gotta aim high, Elisa! I’ll keep a look out for you on the pavé this spring and thereafter, who knows? I’m no expert but I think you might just achieve your dreams. How are your communication studies in Varese progressing? Is it easy to combine the two: studying and professional road racing?

Elisa: I still live where I grew up, in Ornavasso. When I have to attend lessons, I drive to Varese. My studies are progressing slowly, I have to admit. Unluckily I find it hard to combine cycling and studying but I really want to finish the university course.

Sheree: There’s been a lot of discussion in the media about women’s cycling, largely with a view to making it a more financially viable sport for all concerned. Al Jazeera televising both the women’s and men’s Tour of Qatar was surely a step in the right direction, wasn’t it?

Elisa in recent Tour of Qatar

Elisa in the recent Tour of Qatar

Elisa: Having the Tour of Qatar televised by Al Jazeera has been amazing and I have noticed that ‘our’ race has been appreciated by a lot of people. Women’s cycling is ready to be shown on television. I think we really need this for having more visibility.

Sheree: I totally agree. After all the women’s Olympic road race was a much more entertaining spectacle than the men’s. And the women’s world championship road race was equally exciting. Finally, I just have to ask. How come you know how to milk a cow?

Elisa: I know it might sound strange that a girl of 21 is able to milk a cow, but my father’s hobby has always been agriculture. He has some fields and some cows. When I was younger I was really curious to know how to milk a cow and he simply taught me. That’s why I know how to do it!

Sheree: Elisa, many thanks for chatting to us and good luck for the rest of the season, particularly on the pavé. I may just have to touch base with you again …

Elisa and her Hitec teammates have begun the year on a high at the recent Tour of Qatar, where they won the first stage, spent three days in the leader’s jersey and finished runners-up – largely on account of an inopportune puncture – and winner of the best young rider competition. I’m sure that this is just the start of another successful season for them and Elisa. We’ll be keeping an eye on them. Finally, VeloVoices would like to thank Alberto Celani for facilitating the introduction to Elisa.

Unless otherwise stated, all images are copyright Hitec Products-UCK.

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