Words by Matilda Price | Photo by Anton Vos/CorVos/SWpix.com
Trofeo Binda is an outlier on the spring calendar. It’s a rare one-day race that doesn’t have a men’s equivalent, it doesn’t take place in Belgium or the Netherlands, and it doesn’t feature any cobbles or even any gravel. And yet despite this, it’s one of the biggest and most important races for the women’s peloton. So what makes Trofeo Binda so special?
A big part of Binda’s prestige is its long and rich history. First run in 1974, it’s one of the longest-running races on the women’s calendar, and by a significant way – many of the other older races, such as GP Plouay and Fleche Wallonne, only date back to the late nineties. For many reasons, history and legacy is not something women’s cycling gets to enjoy a lot of – countless dormant races from bygone eras, results and stories lost possibly forever because no one thought them worthy of recording – and so somehow, having a race that’s nearly 50 years old feels like a luxury.
Trofeo Binda’s list of winners reads like a roll-call of pioneering cyclists, from four-time Binda winner and two-time Grand Boucle winner Maria Canins to Commonwealth, Olympic and World champion Nicole Cooke. In modern times, Marianne Vos has taken victory in Cittiglio four times, matching Canins’ record. With some of the sport’s best riders in its history books, it’s no surprise that Binda is a race almost every rider wants to win. Cycling is a sport that loves prestige, mystique and legend, and Binda is where the women’s peloton really gets a taste of that. Women’s cycling hasn’t settled on a set of Monuments, but if it did, Trofeo Binda would surely be one of them.
For such an important race, it’s perhaps somewhat anomalous that Binda is one of the only one-day races on the women’s calendar that isn’t attached to a men’s race. It shouldn’t be rare that standalone races build such status, but the modern reality is that it is. Races with men’s equivalents have their advantages: a recognisable name, media already on the ground, the audience is already there. However, they’re not the be-all and end-all, nor the only approach. Even races where the organisers do everything they can to elevate the women’s races, the set-up can be a double edged sword: the women’s race benefits from added coverage, yet can often still be seen as second to the men’s race, rather than equal. And so to have a standalone event, a day that is just about the women’s race, organised by people who are passionate about women’s cycling, makes for a refreshing change.
Even when you take away any notions around history or significance, Trofeo Binda is made great by the simple fact of having a great course. This isn’t entirely unrelated by the fact it’s an independent race – they have freedom to design an ideal course instead of trying to construct a shortened or distorted version of a men’s route – but it’s also just a great example of how to put together an exciting race. The amount of climbing sits in a sweet spot, enough to make it hard, but not so much that only the top one or two riders can be competitive. The race’s lap format can result in attritional racing, with the quick succession of providing regular launchpads for attacks. The unpredictability and guaranteed dynamic racing that Binda brings really sets it apart from other Classics – with no disrespect to races like Fleche Wallonne, but no one is winning Binda seven times in a row.
There are few races on the calendar that are as open to as many different outcomes as Binda is. It’s been won by solo moves from some of the best climbers in the peloton, sprinters in a reduced bunch, blistering late attacks from Classics riders. You never watch Binda with a clear idea of how the day is going to go, and this year was no different. With Annemiek van Vleuten, Lotte Kopecky and Marianne Vos all missing from the start line, as well as previous winners Lizzie Deignan and Kasia Niewiadoma, the race was more open than ever. As exciting as it is to watch Van Vleuten and Vos at the top of their game in races like this, there’s also something to be said for the chance to see riders like Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Marlen Reusser, often runners-up, really lighting up a race.
The way the race played out was predictably unpredictable: near constant attacks off the front as the peloton was whittled down behind over the unrelenting circuits, the race regularly breaking apart then coming back together again. Even heading into the final few kilometres, no one could say for certain how the race might finish. The eventual result – a sprint victory for Elisa Balsamo – was not the result of a standard bunch sprint, but the culmination of a difficult day, and a physically and tactically impressive performance from Balsamo and Trek-Segafredo. The all-Italian podium in a race that helped shape women’s cycling in Italy harks back to Trofeo Binda’s early days and highlights this point: it’s not just great racing that makes this a special race.
As happy as Balsamo will be with this victory, there’s another northern Italian Classic she wants to win. Around the time of Trofeo Binda every year, the same conversation comes up around the idea of a women’s Milan-San Remo, whose men’s race takes place the same weekend as Binda. RCS used to organise a women’s race, La Primavera Rosa, which ran for seven editions until 2005, but since then the weekend has been a men-only event. The question of whether there should or could be a women’s Milan-San Remo raises a lot of discussion: what would the route be? Do riders want it? When would it take place? What would happen to Trofeo Binda? That last question seems the most important one. Plenty of riders have expressed their desire to race a women’s Milan San Remo – Balsamo and Marta Cavalli are among those who have said they would love to win on the Via Roma – and a good course could certainly be designed. But what’s key is that Trofeo Binda is not forgotten or pushed aside. It’s clear this race is special, important, and loved by the peloton and fans alike.
Watching Binda today felt like watching the pinnacle of what women’s cycling can and should be. A course that’s tough but still lends itself to aggression, a race that doesn’t have to share any limelight with the men’s peloton, and a winning performance from a rider who will go down in cycling history. A special race that never fails to deliver, and whose long history we hope only gets longer.