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LEUVEN, Belgium (VN) — It was all set up for the Netherlands’ fifth consecutive rainbow jersey until the Italians derailed the Dutch Express.
A near-perfect worlds road race by the powerful Dutch team was only up-ended by a perfect delivery of Elisa Balsamo to the line.
Did the Dutch get it wrong? Marianne Vos said no.
“I knew it was going to be a hard final, but we wanted to make the race hard for me,” Vos said. “The situation was going well into the final lap. I was trying to stay at the front and stay safe, and save energy for the final. I was on the right wheel, she was just faster than me on the line.”
Saturday’s outcome rattled across the Dutch media, especially in light of how the Dutch team mishandled the Olympic road race in Tokyo when a long-distance breakaway stayed clear to foil the favorites.
It appeared that a similar scenario might be playing out when Spain’s Mavi García opened up a promising gap coming into the bell lap.
The Dutch weren’t going to risk it, and put Annemiek van Vleuten on the front to close it down.
“We all wanted a hard race,” Vos said. “We wanted to attack in the final to get everyone tired, and for me to stay as fresh as possible for the final. Of course, it would have been better if we had won, but I think we made a good race.”
Ellen van Dijk, winner of the world time trial title Monday, lit up the final lap. Van Dijk, who tried a late solo flier, said the Dutch team didn’t play its cards right in the closing decisive kilometer.
“The task today was to win it,” van Dijk said. “I think the lead-out went wrong. The Italian team had a great lead-out, and we didn’t. If I was away, I could go for it. When I was away, I also have to make sure I can win, and that’s not easy when there are others on my wheel.
“We said we’d attack until the last time on the final climb, and then if everyone is still there, we go full for the sprint, and that’s what we did,” van Dijk said. “The Italians just beat us.”
The Dutch wanted to make it hard to shed the sprinters. They got rid of many of them, except they couldn’t shake the Italians and Balsamo, a junior world road race champion in 2016.
“We made a great lead-out,” Balsamo said. “My team was really perfect today. I said to Elisa [Longo-Borghini], ‘you have to switch off your brain and go full-gas. Don’t think too hard.’ The sprint was perfect, and I want to watch this sprint again on the TV.”
It’s a finale the Dutch team might be playing out again a few more times as well.
Coryn Rivera: ‘Ruth Winder rode like 10 women today’
Rivera miscalculated and said she thought the Italian team was going to set up former world champion Marta Bastianelli, and she bet on the wrong wheel.
“Going into the last lap, it was all about positioning,” Rivera told VeloNews. “In the last corner, I could see ahead of me there were four Italians lined up. I picked the wrong wheel and I thought they’d be going for Bastianelli today. So that was my mistake as a sprinter to know who to be on.”
USA Cycling came in with a strong team, hoping to win the first U.S. women’s rainbow jersey since Beth Heiden won in 1980.
The narrow roads and stressful racing saw Rivera and Winder as the only U.S. riders still in contention going into the final two laps.
“It’s racing in Belgium and takes a lot of experience and guts. With us two, we did as good as we could do,” she said. “For me, it was fine. I think I can handle my bike better than average. I grew up racing crits, so this was nothing for me.
“Ruth rode like 10 women today,” Rivera said. “She had an awesome last race, and I am really happy for her and her career, and I am happy I could be a part of it.
“It was special today, a little emotional,” said Rivera, choking back tears. “She’s a year younger than me. We’ve been teammates and been going head-to-head against each other since we were 16. I think it’s pretty cool.
“I respect her decision on retiring, and she just had an amazing last race. I think she rode really well — not rewarded with a medal, but you could see that she rode her heart out today.”
And what of her destination for 2022?
A Dutch journalists cited sources linking her to a move to Jumbo-Visma. Rivera — who travels back to the United States to get married next week — said, “we’ll have to wait and see.”
Sixth second place for Marianne Vos
Marianne Vos was a bike length away from a fourth wild title. Instead, she came up short to claim her sixth silver medal of her career.
As always, the Dutch star was gracious in defeat.
“Elisa did a great race,” Vos said. “I was on the right wheel, and I just couldn’t make the speed after such a hard race. Silver was all I could take out of this race. The smile is back.”
It seems the Italians have her number. Vos has also been beaten into second by Marta Bastianelli (2007), Tatiana Guderzo (2009), and Giorgia Bronzini (2010-11).
“I have to admit that I was a little disappointed,” she said. “If you are so close to the world title, it’s obvious I would have liked to have finished it off.”
Vos, of course, already has three rainbow jerseys in her collection.