As a lead group hesitates en route to the line, the race is lost, and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot surges in the final meters to take the victory

PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France) launched a late surge from a reduced peloton to win the women’s road race at the UCI World Road Championships here on Saturday.

As a lead group containing Emma Johansson (Sweden), Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain), defending champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands), and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) stalled headed into the finale, a chase led by Germany swept them up, and it was anybody’s race as the sprint unfolded.

But Ferrand-Prevot — the French national cyclocross, cross-country, road, and time trial champion — proved strongest in the end, while Germany’s Lisa Brennauer took second in a photo finish ahead of Johansson.

Vos could manage only 10th.

“I never expected to win. I was lucky that the German team rode for me, and I had a very good leadout from them, thank you!” said Ferrand-Prevot. “The front four girls were almost stopped. At first, I did not think it was possible. Now I realize that I am world champion. It is just super.

“I don’t think she [Vos] was less strong today. Everyone was watching her today, so it’s not easy for her. I learned a lot from racing against Marianne the past three years. I want to say thank you to all the teammates at RaboLiv team, they’ve taught me a lot.”

Photo gallery.

A nasty, early-race pileup created havoc in the bunch. Scores of riders hit the pavement, including USA Cycling’s Mara Abbott, who was sent to a local hospital.

The U.S. team animated the closing laps. Alison Powers, who also went down in an early crash, surged clear with two laps to go. Midway through the second-to-last lap, rain started to fall, creating treacherous racing conditions. The group was reduced to about 40 riders, with two-time champion  Vos suffering at the back. Shelley Olds and Lauren Hall covered moves to keep the pack under control.

Rachel Neylan (Australia) surged clear with 25km to go over rain-slickened roads, holding a narrow gap heading toward the bell lap. About 14 riders pulled clear over the last hard climb on the penultimate climb, setting up the thrilling final lap.

Speeds hit 80kph on the steep drop back to the start-finish line as Vos came to life, leading the front group down the descent. Olds snuck into the lead group with one lap to go.

On the final lap, five riders nudged ahead, with Vos and company lurking just a few seconds back. Another chase group was scrambling in their wake.

Neylan followed out Chantal Blaak (Netherlands), Claudia Lichtenberg (Germany), Rosella Ratto (Italy), and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) to create a promising gap past the Ponferrada Templar castle for the last time. Stevens regained contact just as the leaders regrouped heading toward the penultimate climb.

With 12km to go, Stevens bolted clear, quickly drawing out favorites Vos, Armitstead, and Cromwell, causing a split in the lead group. Yet again, it regrouped with 11km to go. With 10km to go, Ellen Van Dijk took a dig, but it was impossible to break the elastic. Lucinda Brand (Netherlands) surged over the top of the penultimate climb to string out the peloton heading down the tricky descent to the reservoir, with Olds on the fifth wheel.

Stevens ramped up the speed on the final climb when Emma Johansson (Sweden) countered, with Armitstead, Vos, and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) carrying four seconds over the top. USA Cycling was leading the chase.

Johansson surged again with 3km to go to make sure the medals were going to come out of the leading four. Longo Borghini attacked with 1.6km to go, quickly marked by Vos.

Then, with the chase group closing in, the lead quartet inexplicably sat up, with Germany closing down the gap to set up the mass sprint.

“I was on the wheel of Vos for the sprint,” said Ferrand-Prevot.”The wind came from the left side, and I went to the right side. I sprinted, and I didn’t look back. I didn’t expect to win a sprint in the world championships.”

Going into the final kilometer, said Johansson, “we could see the group coming from behind. When the group came back, I just had to reassess and go for the sprint.”

“I went for gold (but) I feel like taking bronze is a like a bonus after how I rode on the last climb,” she said. “I don’t know what else I could have done. Considering that I did ride a perfectly tactical race, the only thing that is missing is the rainbow jersey. Considering I dared to do what I did, and come here with 100 percent, I am proud to bring back a bronze medal with me back home. It’s a bonus.”

Olds was the top American, finishing sixth.

Full race results.