EXCLUSIVE interview with World Champion Elisa Balsamo
We spoke exclusively to World Champion Elisa Balsamo ahead of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift on her career so far and her preparations for this huge race.
Elisa’s father, Sergio, has worked as a guide for Thomson Bike Tours for many years, so it was with great pride that we witnessed her win the Road World Championship last year. Ahead of a busy year for women’s cycling, Elisa gave us some time to discuss her career so far and how life has changed with the rainbow stripes.
Both of Elisa’s parents are passionate cyclists, her father Sergio has been a racing cyclist, sports director and cycling guide – something her mother also helps with. She was given her first bike at a very young age and by 6 was already racing, although a crash left her a little traumatised enough to take year out. Fair enough for a small child! Not that Elisa remained inactive, she tried out cross-country skiing before the pull of cycling was too strong — not a bad decision!
It’s clear that Elisa is a incredibly level-headed, a trait which has allowed her to become not only an elite athlete, but a student of literature, history, linguistics and philology as well as being an accomplished pianist. We wonder whether she ever considered a career in one of those distinguished fields;
“I’ve always followed my passions to see where they would take me. During High School I realized that my sporting career was going way better than the musical one, so I decided to concentrate myself on cycling.”
Lots of cyclists dream of becoming the World Champion and few achieve it, especially so early in their careers. It would be normal to find that change overwhelming, but Elisa’s attitude shows a wisdom that allows her a balanced perspective; “When you win a World Title it is absolutely normal that your life changes. Since last September I have more attention from the cycling environment, but also from "the outside". When I was a child and my parents took me to see a cycling race, I always wanted the world champion to sign an autograph for me, so it doesn't surprise me that at every race out of my team's bus there're a lot of people who wants a photo or an autograph from me.”
“Sometimes it's still difficult to realize that I'm the world champion: my life has changed, but I'm the same Elisa.”
Elisa won the world title in her previous team, Valcar–Travel & Service, before moving to the superstar filled Trek-Segafredo. Far from being daunting, it’s clear that the team have helped her settled in quickly and continue winning races; “Trek-Segafredo welcomed me with open arms, both the staff and the girls. For this reason it was not difficult to immediately find a bond with my teammates that is growing all the time”.
It’s clear that Elisa’s personality allows her to flourish in this new environment “being in such a big and organized team is a pleasure for me and I hope to improve myself even more and I'm sure I'll learn a lot from my teammates.”
In 2022 Elisa has already won Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Classic Brugge–De Panne and Gent–Wevelgem. Winning in the rainbow stripes is an incredible feeling that very few experience, and Elisa is now relishing the opportunity to wear the World Champion’s jersey in the first Tour de France Femmes
“I'm really happy and I feel extremely lucky to wear the rainbow jersey in the very first edition of Tour de France Femmes. I have never done a stage race longer than 5 stages in my whole career so I know I have a lot to learn from this experience”.
The race finishes in the high mountains, but it’s clear that Elisa has her sights set on some early victories. “The first part of the race is suitable for my characteristic, but I like the first stage pretty much so I hope to do my best.”
With her inexperience in racing long stage races, Elisa will take on the Giro Rosa at the end of June, with hopes for a win in her home stage, Sarnico-Bergamo. After that she’ll take a ‘recovery period’ of two weeks at altitude before the start of Tour de France. It’s encouraging to hear of the level of professionalism now afforded to the best teams in the women’s peloton, where parity with the men is all too slowly progressing.
We’re keen to ask Elisa her opinion on the changing face of women’s cycling, particularly with the landmark Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift on the horizon.
“I think we are living in a period in which the women's cycling's movement is growing a lot, especially in recent years: from the point of view of the type of races, the level of athletes, visibility thanks to the numerous live television and also from the salary point of view.” Elisa is positive about the progression, but clear in her view that we have a long way to go. “I think the improvement has only started and I'm sure there is still ample room for improvement. it's nice to see that some races have equated the prize money of women's races to that of men's. The change is there and I am happy to be able to be part of it.”
Whilst still a young women herself, we finished by asking Elisa whether she had any advice for aspiring female cyclists; “Cycling is a tough sport where your head makes the difference, that's why I always suggest that young generations should have fun and learn how to love this amazing sport. You don't have to rush, be in a hurry and stress your body more than you should.”
We couldn’t agree more with the sentiment, cycling should certainly be fun first. We all come to the sport for different reasons and at different stages of our lives, it unites us and introduces us to new adventure. We’ll leave the last word for Elisa and wish her the best of luck for the Tour and the rest of the season.
“Cycling is a school of life, it teaches you how to work hard for a goal and to learn from mistakes and that not all the failures are born to harm.”
Buona fortuna Elisa, grazie mille!
Tour de France Femmes
The first edition of the Tour de France Femmes will feature eight stages, starting in Paris before concluding with two mountain stages and La Planche des Belles Filles. It features two mountain stages, two hilly stages and four flat stages and is set to be a pivotal moment in women's cycling.
Our trip to the race offers you the opportunity for VIP LIVE race-viewing of the opening stage in Paris and the final 3 key mountain stages – plus legendary rides in the Alps including Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Galibier.