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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — American Evelyn Stevens rode impressively at the world road championship on Saturday, but not quite well enough to leave with a medal to match the gold she earned last weekend during the team time trial.
Stevens left with a gold medal in the team event, but finished just off the podium in both Tuesday’s individual time trial, where she finished fourth (by a fraction of a second, to teammate Carmen Small), and in Saturday’s road race, where she finished fifth, 46 seconds behind Dutch rider Marianne Vos.
Stevens and Small were the top finishers on the U.S. women’s squad, earning gold medals in the TTT via their trade team, Specialized-Lululemon, rather than the national team.
On a climber’s road course that seemed, on paper, perfect for both Stevens and teammate Mara Abbott, the fact that neither woman reached the podium fell short of the team’s high expectations.
The U.S. team was active at the front for the majority of the 140km race. However, after four of five 16km circuits, Stevens was the lone American among the lead group of 11 riders, which included three Italians, two Dutchwomen, and two Russians.
On the final ascent of the steep, 600-meter ascent of Via Salviati, averaging 10 percent and maxing out at 16 percent, Stevens attacked — but Vos quickly countered, pulling away over the top of the climb. It was a reversal of what took place on the steep slopes of the Mur de Huy, when Stevens dropped Vos to win the 2012 Flèche Wallonne.
Vos stayed clear to win alone, claiming her third elite rainbow jersey on the road — to go with her six world championship titles in cyclocross.
Sweden’s Emma Johansson got the better of Italy’s Rossella Ratto in the sprint for second, while Stevens, who cramped on the final climb for the first time in her career, crossed the line alone, in fifth place.
“Jade [Wilcoxson] and Carmen did brilliant, bringing us into the circuits, and we set pace. It was not exactly what the plan was, but it was somewhat close, and I think once I got outnumbered, I had to cover what I needed to, and play it smart,” Stevens said. “I think we had a great climbing team. We did it almost perfectly.”
Part of that plan was to have a double-pronged attack with Mara Abbott, the overall winner of this year’s Giro Donne, there in the final.
However, Abbott struggled throughout the day, both with subpar legs and a frustrating series of mechanicals — she switched from her race bike to her spare bike, then went back to her race bike, and finally finished on her spare bike. She put in a big effort on the fourth of five trips up the 4.3km San Domenico climb, reeling in a two-rider breakaway that had slipped off the front, but from there, her day was done.
“I was able to bring them back, and I was hoping to get a little bit of a gap, but I didn’t have the best legs today,” Abbott said. “I had some bike trouble at the beginning. I got to practice my bike changes; I’m real good at them now. The first time, I almost got run over. By the third time, I had it down. I came off on the big climb on the fourth lap. I attacked, and it was my last hurrah. It was a quiet hurrah.”
Abbott, a two-time national road champion and two-time Giro Donne winner who has yet to have a top result at worlds, was philosophical about her performance.
“Worlds is one of those races where everyone is on their top form, and if you’re not on top of your game, there’s not anywhere to hide,” Abbott said. “That’s why being world champion is so special, and that’s why it’s something we all aspire to.”
Small, whose role was to keep the race together during the first 50km from the start in Montecatini Terme to the circuits in Florence, did not finish. Still, after earning gold and bronze, she said she could only leave her third road worlds satisfied.
“I’m going home with a gold and a bronze,” Small said. “It’s pretty unbelievable. The team raced well today, but it’s worlds. It’s the world championships. Everyone is on their best form.”
Stevens acknowledged that she was happy with her performances against the clock, but had hoped for more in the race that mattered most.
“It’s disappointing, because the U.S. hasn’t won a medal in years, and on this course, I think we could have done it,” Stevens said.