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Longo Borghini conquers la Planche des Belles Filles to cement la Route de France lead

Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s Elisa Longo Borghini took an incredible solo victory on the summit of la Planche des Belles Filles, in the fifth stage of the Route de France, to cement her overall lead in the seven-day race. The Italian crossed the finish line 45 seconds ahead of Amber Neben (BePink-LaClassica), with Claudia Lichtenberg (Liv-Plantur) another 18 seconds back, to take her second stage win in three days.

“It was really, really nice because it’s one hill that they are doing in the Tour de France; that the guys are doing,” Longo Borghini said. “[Vincenzo] Nibali won here, so I’m really happy to get another Italian victory for my country.

“The team was really amazing today because they all brought me to the front for the whole day,” she added. “We were really acting like a pro-team, and it was really nice.

“It was just a short stage, but it was tough enough!”

After the peloton started largely together for the first half of the stage – with the only meaningful attack coming from Neben’s teammate Ana Maria Covrig – the peloton was all together as it approached the top of the 1st category Col des Chevrères with 18km to go.

Mayuko [Hagiwara] attacked on the Col des Chevrères and it was really nice for her, and she kept pacing with her rhythm and she got up in a good position as well,” Longo Borghini explained.

“It was about 500 metres before the GPM, and I just wanted to pace a bit more because I thought that [Inpa-Sottoli’s Tetiana] Riabchenko was about to sprint for the GPM, so I just kept speeding up and I suddenly felt myself alone. I just looked behind me and there was nobody – there was a bit of a gap – so I just kept going.

“I did the descent, and the part in between the two climbs, really fast. After two kilometres of la Planche des Belles Filles I saw that I had a big gap, so I just controlled. I didn’t go full gas because for me it made no sense. I’m here to prepare for the second part of the season, so I need to train, and I don’t want to just go crazy deep.”

Despite Longo Borghini pacing herself over the final kilometres of the climb, the Italian managed to hold off the attentions of Neben – a former Route de France winner and a two-time Tour de l’Aude winner – and 2009 Giro d’Italia winner Lichtenberg on the climb. With gradients touching 13% in the final kilometre, the Tour of Flanders winner rode within herself to take victory on the famous mountaintop finish.

“I did the first two kilometres quite hard, and when I saw the gap I can just manage myself,” she explained. “I could go – I won’t say easy – but for sure under my threshold uphill, and it was really good.”

Longo Borghini now leads the race by a minute and ten seconds over Neben, with Lichtenberg third at 1’18”, with only one stage to go, and looks set to win the biggest stage race of her career. Unsurprisingly, after leading the race over both 1st category climbs today, she also holds a commanding lead in the mountains classification.

With tomorrow’s final stage based on four laps of a 26km circuit, which includes the climb of the Col de Bannstein each time, the 23-year-old Italian is taking nothing for granted.

“For sure tomorrow we have to pay attention to the other teams because it is a tough race and rain is predicted,” she said. “We can always get in trouble, just because it is the last day it doesn’t mean it will go smooth. I think it will be completely the opposite, and they will start attacking us, so we really need to be focused and try to race as a team; as we have the whole week long.”

1. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling)

2. Amber Neben (BePink-LaClassica)
3. Claudia Lichtenberg (Liv-Plantur)


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