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WOLLONGONG, Australia (CT) – There’s taking control of a bike race, and then there’s what Zoe Bäckstedt did at Worlds on Saturday morning.
Just 10 km into the U19 women’s road race, on her 18th birthday, the defending champion rode away from the rest of the bunch … and that was it. The Welshwoman powered away, rode solo for 57 km, and won the race by more than two minutes.
Behind her, Eglantine Rayer (France) beat Nienke Vinke (Netherlands) in a two-up sprint for the minor medals after the two joined forces on the final lap. The remnants of the peloton surged across the line a brief moment later.
Bäckstedt had made her move after cresting the steep Mount Pleasant climb on the first lap.
“I never planned to go that early, but yeah, the moment was there, so I took it, you know?” Bäckstedt said in her post-race press conference. “You have to do that.“
When prompted by CyclingTips, Bäckstedt explained more about the decisive moment.
“We came down the first little bit of downhill and up the little climb and I managed to get on the inside of some of the girls and basically kept pushing on the first bit of downhill,” she said. “When I was watching my Wahoo it was like 65 km/h so I just made sure that I was spinning as much as I could because I knew that you’d make up some speed there.
“I was confident in my cornering. I took those corners on the downhill on the first lap … quite sketchily. I rode them as fast as I could and I tried to brake as little as possible and managed to get a gap on the little downhill. And then after the last corner kicked up the little climb and that was pretty much it.”
Bäckstedt had started as the unbackable favourite, having repeatedly proven herself stronger than the rest of the U19 field, across multiple disciplines.
She won this race in Flanders a year ago, beating American Kaia Schmid in a two-up sprint. In January this year, in Fayetteville, USA, she rode to a comfortable victory in the junior women’s cyclocross world title. At the Junior Track World Championships in Tel Aviv, Israel, in August, she claimed the junior madison world title with Grace Lister. And earlier this week she won the Worlds time trial by more than 90 seconds in an effort less than 19-minutes long – simply in a league of her own.
As of this week, Bäckstedt is the world champion in four different disciplines – a feat that’s seemingly unprecedented by a rider of any gender.
When you consider her family history, it’s perhaps little surprise Bäckstedt has proven so dominant. Her father Magnus is a Paris-Roubaix and Tour de France stage winner. Her mother Megan Hughes is a former British road champion. And her 20-year-old sister Elynor has raced at the WorldTour level since joining Trek-Segafredo in 2020.
Zoe will follow her sister into the WorldTour next year, joining EF Education-Tibco-SVB at just 18 years old. She’ll likely have to condense her ambitions to just a couple disciplines as she makes that step up.
“Probably less on the track just because it’s my first year with EF and I’d like to just focus on the road and the cyclocross,” she said. “But yeah, if the option is there, the moment is there, I’d, yeah … it’s racing my bike. I kind of do what makes me happy.”
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