Some people in the fanbase of professional cycling believe in the curse of the rainbow jersey, whereby the newly crowned world champion finds it suddenly difficult to rack up wins once they are wearing the coveted rainbow stripes. Clearly, Elisa Balsamo doesn’t buy into that, having racked up nine wins in the stripes in 2022, including Ghent-Wevelgem, stage wins at the Giro d’Italia Donne, and capped it off by also winning the Italian national championships. Sadly this meant we never saw the Italian champion’s jersey on the road as the rainbow jersey takes precedence.
While Balsamo has relinquished the rainbow jersey for 2023 to Annemiek van Vleuten she is still very much a rider to watch for the season, and will still carry the rainbow collar and sleeve flashes of a former world champion until the end of her career.
While touring World Teams at their winter training camps in Alicante we were lucky enough to borrow Balsamo’s bike, the new Trek Madone, for a poolside photoshoot.
What is Elisa Balsamo’s bike?
The Trek Madone SLR is the most aerodynamic, and therefore technically the fastest bike the American manufacturer and headline sponsor of Trek-Segafredo makes. It was updated in 2022 to the latest model featuring a pretty radical redesign, and while we saw Balsamo riding an Emonda, the brand’s lightweight bike, last year, it’s no great shock to see her swapping to the new model. Riders typically get to choose between models if the manufacturer makes more than one top-end race model, so it may well be that we see her on an Emonda on particularly hilly races.
While there was no size label on the frame, and we were not permitted to whip out a tape measure, at 5ft 5in tall we expect this to be a size 52 frame. The wheels are provided by Bontrager, the Aeolus RSL 51 wheelset, a sufficiently deep aero set to compliment the frameset aerodynamics. Bontrager is an in-house subsidiary of Trek, so can effectively be considered part of the same package, much like seeing Roval wheels on teams sponsored by Specialized.
The drivetrain is taken care of by another American company, SRAM, in the form of its top-end fully wireless Red eTAP AXS groupset.
|Frame||Trek Madone SLR – 52cm|
|Groupset||SRAM Red Etap AXS|
|Brakes||SRAM Red Hydraulic|
|Wheelset||Bontrager Aeolus RSL 51|
|Tyres||Pirelli P Zero Race TLR – 28mm|
|Cockpit||Bontrager Aeolus RSL|
|Chainset||SRAM Red 12sp 52/39|
|Power meter||Quarq AXS spider|
|Pedals||Time XPRO 10|
|Saddle||Bontrager Aeolus RSL|
|Bottle cages||Bontrager XXX Carbon|
|Bar tape||Bontrager gel cork|
|Computer||Wahoo Elemnt Bolt|
The new frame is the main talking point for Balsamo this season, having previously raced on the Emonda, the top-end Trek lightweight bike. The new Madone SLR features an aero-optimised front end, as you’d expect, but most of the intrigue comes at the rear. Yes, there’s a giant hole in it; Isoflow, in Trek parlance. This supposedly smooths the airflow between the rider’s legs and allows it to gracefully exit into the low-pressure zone behind.
It also has the secondary effect of creating a distinctive, cantilevered seatpost, suspended out over the rear wheel, so there’s no chance of using an aftermarket post here; Madone-spec only.
In an interesting deviation from the factory spec, Balsamo opts to not use the new Madone cockpit, a one-piece unit that has a slight flare to the lower portion of the bars and a narrower upper, as well as integrating more or less seamlessly into the lines of the frame, in favour of her older Emonda integrated cockpit. No flare, but for some pros familiarity is more important that the potential wattage saving.
Deep wheels on a lightweight bike look cool, but lightweight shallow wheels on an aero bike looks like the bike skipped leg day at the gym. Balsamo opts for the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 51, a 51mm deep wheel designed to cheat the wind, and set up tubeless with Pirelli’s P Zero Race tyres and, so I’m told, Pirelli sealant. Sealant is nearly impossible to check, so we will take the word of the mechanics on this one.
The tyres are 28mm in width. Pro’s seem to now be hovering between 25 and 28, with some radical outcasts even going as high as 30 even in non-cobbled races. 28mm is not uncommon and will give her a little more grip and comfort for perhaps a modicum of an increase in rolling resistance. The frame can easily accommodate tyres over 30mm, so in races like Paris-Roubaix expect to see her go wider.
The drivetrain is taken care of entirely by SRAM’s top-tier Red eTAP AXS. It’s entirely wireless, with each derailleur housing an independent universal battery that could be swapped around in an emergency. The brakes are hydraulic, and the chromed callipers are arguably the best-looking on the market. In terms of gearing, Balsamo opts for a 52/39t chainset, complete with a Quarq power meter nestled between the crank arms and the chainrings, and a 10-33t cassette.
The Aeolus RSL saddle and plain black cork bar tape are standard team issue. Though Balsamo does have her saddle further back on her seatpost than many pro riders, perhaps indicating she’s opted to go for the correct size rather than sizing down and slamming the saddle forward to accommodate. The interesting talking point comes at the pedals, with both men’s and women’s Trek-Segafredo squads switching to Time pedals.
You don’t see Time pedals often in the pro peloton, with most teams either being Look or Shimano sponsored. The XPRO 10 carbon models we can see here are certainly a distinctive-looking component. We will have to wait and see how the team adapts over the season.
Finally, upfront, a K-Edge mount holds a brand new (with a sticker on it until I peeled it off because it looked strange) Wahoo Elemnt Bolt cycling computer. Thirsty for some pictures? Remember to take a drink from the Elite Fly bottles held neatly in Bontrager XXX carbon cages. It’s strange, perhaps, that the men’s team get colour-matched bottles, while the women’s team has to use the same red ones.
Elisa Balsamo’s World Champions bike
This season Balsamo appears to be opting for the more aero Madone. Last season however she was on the lightweight Emonda, and not just any Emonda either. It was a white, world champions edition Emonda with the occasional nod to #UnicornPower.
The setup compared to her 2023 Madone is similar in many ways; the same handlebars, wheels and groupset. The swap in the pedal department is sponsor-led, but the decision to swap saddles is not something we see many pros doing. Here she’s using a Bontrager Verse Pro, rather than the Aeolus RSL model.
The main talking point though for any world champion is the paint job. Here it’s not too brash, but it’s no shrinking violet either. Large rainbow stripes dominate the fork legs, and a heavy silver flake is incorporated into the white paint to make it pop in the sunshine. A visual reference to #UnicornPower, to compliment the “Avanti Spingere” (push forwards) motif just below the stem.
Elisa Balsamo’s world championship winning bike
In order to get a rainbow bike you have to ride something else to victory at the world championships, and some victory it was, outsprinting Marianne Vos of all people to take the rainbow jersey in Leuven. In Balsamo’s case, she was riding for a different team at the world championships, the Valcar Travel & Service Team, compared to where she’s employed currently, and so was on totally different equipment to what we see her riding today.
Her bright yellow Cannondale SuperSix Evo HiMod was decked out with Vison Metron 45 tubular wheels, with Veloflex ProTour 28mm tubulars glued onto them. A Garmin Edge 830 is leading the way instead of a Wahoo, Look Kep Classic pedals in place of Time, and a Shimano drivetrain mated to an FSA crankset and power meter take care of the power transfer.
Perhaps most interestingly of all though was a top cap above her stem with a picture of a stuffed toy dog. We have no idea whose dog it is, what it means, or how much it contributed to her victory, but it’s always lovely to see human touches on pro’s bikes; they are human, after all, not the machines we so often view them as.