After a series of setbacks with illness and injury, Elisa Longo Borghini is returning to racing at the UAE Tour Women, hoping she can just be “the real Elisa” in 2024 as she targets the Ardennes Classics, Olympics and all three Grand Tours.
Longo Borghini had one of the hardest seasons in her 13-year professional career as a long bout with COVID-19 in spring preceded a dangerous crash taking her out of the Giro and a nasty skin infection ending not only her Tour de France Femmes and World Championships challenge but her season as a whole.
“I’m a rider, I’m an athlete, so I have to take into account that setbacks are most likely going to happen and that’s part of the job. I try to keep focus and I always try to rebuild, but this year has been extremely hard for me,” said Longo Borghini to Cyclingnews at Lidl-Trek’s December training camp.
“Also mentally, in fact, the last infection that I had was sepsis. It put me in a corner because I just couldn’t come back. I tried but my body was really done with it, done with the season.
“For me, it was like a bell ringing saying ‘Okay, I need rest’. I tried to build up but it was impossible and I was really far from form. Mentally I was there and I was again resetting myself and refocusing but it was mostly my body that left me apart.”
Longo Borghini cites the problems starting with her prolonged time with COVID-19 which forced her to miss important home races at Strade Bianche and Trofeo Alfredo Binda, after which she would never make it back to 100% in 2023.
“I have never had so many illnesses and injuries and I’ve never had any bacterial infection before this year. So I don’t know it’s been just a crazy year,” said Longo Borghini.
“I think everything started with COVID. I was positive for 17 days and that probably already put a lot of stress on my immune system so all the rest was just a consequence in my opinion, but here I am and another year is approaching.”
When Longo Borghini was on the start line and healthy she was taking big results, winning both the road race and time trial at Italian national championships, a Giro stage and the inaugural UAE Tour Women. However, for a rider with nearly every big race on her pamarès, it’s no surprise that a rollercoaster year with big highs and low lows has left her raring to get back to her former self.
“The most important thing for me this year is to be Elisa, like the real Elisa,” she said.
“To be at the races and losing a race…