UCI Road World Championships: Annemiek van Vleuten wins stunning elite women’s road race
Dutch rider comes back from a fractured elbow to take incredible road race win as Niamh Fisher-Black claims the U23 crown.
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Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) roared to an emotional victory in the women’s elite road race Saturday at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia, after a last-ditch attack inside the final kilometer.
Van Vleuten came into the race with a fractured elbow following her crash earlier in the championships but timed her attack to perfection, going clear just after a dangerous five-rider move was nullified in the closing stages of a pulsating race.
It looked as though a group of 12 would contest the win in a reduced bunch sprint, but Van Vleuten had other ideas and jumped clear from the back of the group having been dropped previously on the last two laps of the race. She tore through the final bends, unable to get out of the saddle due to her injuries, but managed to hold off the sprinters who simply waited too long before unleashing their final kicks to the line.
In the end, a frustrated Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) picked up silver, with Silvia Persico (Italy) taking the bronze.
The win marked Van Vleuten’s second road race world title after she claimed the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire back in 2019. Back then the Dutch rider attacked with 100km to go, but this victory was entirely different in both nature and style.
“I still can’t believe it. I’m still waiting for the moment when someone will tell me that it’s not true. I was working for Marianne [Vos] and I suddenly found myself in the group. Then I felt that she wasn’t coming back, so I knew that I couldn’t sprint with my elbow, and I was waiting for the moment to attack from behind,” Van Vleuten said at the finish.
“That was the only chance that I had and I was waiting, and waiting until they came with a sprint over the top of me but they didn’t catch me.”
The Dutch team was weakened by the loss of Demi Vollering due to COVID-19 ahead of the race, while Van Vleuten started with a huge question mark hanging over her after she failed to take medal in the individual time trial and then crashed heavily in the mixed relay TTT, fracturing her elbow.
On the last three laps, the veteran Movistar rider was dropped each time the favorites hit the pivotal climb of Mount Pleasant. The 39-year-old fought back each time and even turned her hand to working for Vos on the final ascent after the Dutch sprinter was distanced.
However, when a group of five consisting of Liane Lippert (Germany), Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland), Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy), Ashleigh Moolman (South Africa), and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) went clear for the second and final time, it looked as though the Dutch would miss out on a medal.
A strong chase from Van Vleuten alongside the Belgians and Australians eventually caught the leaders on the final rise before the line.
Just as the leaders readied themselves for a sprint, van Vleuten shot out from the back of the group. Hesitation seemed to grip the rest of the riders and those vital seconds were all Van Vleuten, with her heavily strapped elbow, needed to create her winning gap.
When asked at the finish how painful her condition had been during the race, Van Vleuten replied: “It was hell. I couldn’t go out of the saddle, so I had to do everything seated and my legs were exploding on the climb. Normally I really like to go out of the saddle. I had such a different plan. I wanted to go on Mount Keira and I was just the domestique today, with a broken elbow. Now I’m world champion.”
In the U23 category, Niamh Fisher-Black (New Zealand) took the title after finishing 12th.
How it unfolded
With Demi Vollering out with COVID-19, the Dutch team started the race without one of their favorites but it didn’t take long for the attacks to come after the start with a number of riders keen to kick clear before the all-important ascent of Mount Keira.
Gladys Verhulst of France put in the first major move, before Elynor Bäckstedt (Great Britain) and Caroline Andersson (Sweden) were the next to try. The duo were soon joined by Aude Biannic (France). With 58km to go the race had reformed but a thinned out bunch hit the final laps with Italy, Germany and the Netherlands patrolling the front in a bid to mark any dangerous moves.
With 41km to go, the heavens began to open and heavy rain greeted the riders as they hit Mount Pleasance for a third time. Grace Brown and defending champion Elisa Balsamo were surprisingly dropped, and although they made it back to the front group their inability to remain in contention was a sign of things to come.
As the race began to break up, Australia hit the front with a volley of attacks from Amanda Spratt and Sarah Roy both attempting to go clear. Roy managed to create a small gap and force the Italians to chase but she too was reeled in with 26km to go.
On the penultimate lap, Niewiadoma and Lippert lit up the race with series of imposing attacks on the main climb with Balsamo, Brown, Vos and Van Vleuten all distanced on the steep 12 per cent gradients.
Lippert and Longo Borghini moved clear on the top of the climb with the Germany looking particularly strong, while Niewiadoma, Moolman and Uttrup Ludwig formed a chasing trio. With 20km to go the group became a five as Australia and the Netherlands joined forces in the chase. The gap held at just under 30 seconds but with 13km to go the bunch reformed.
Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) put in a huge attack almost immediately with the TT specialist creating a 20-second gap as the final climb approached. Once more it was Lippert who jumped from the pack, creating a move from the exact same riders who jumped clear on the previous lap.
Once more it was down to Australia, Switzerland and the Netherlands to chase and with 1km to go a group of 12 came together.
Then Van Vleuten made her move and the rainbow jersey was hers.
Results will be available once stage has completed.