It’s four years and counting for the Dutch women’s team at the road world championships.
The Dutchwomen played their first card early on the windswept hills of the Emilia Romagna, maneuvering Amy Pieters into the major break of the day, thus giving their leaders the free pass to let other teams do the pulling in the attempt to control the race.
It was only on the fourth lap of Imola’s attritional five-circuit test that the Netherlanders seized control of the action, with former world champions Marianne Vos and then Annemiek van Vleuten throwing the early haymakers on the Gallisterna climb before van der Breggen made her winning move with just over 40km to go.
“We wanted to make the race hard, and we did,” van der Breggen said. “I knew I felt good and the plan was to try to make the race hard in the fourth lap. It was still a long way but if it didn’t work out, Annemiek was behind. If you have more riders up there it’s easier to try something like this.”
That the Dutch team placed three of its riders in the top four says it all.
The iconic orange jerseys filled the horizon line in the final hour of the race as van der Breggen time trialed her way to victory out front while defending champion Van Vleuten took a free ride in the chase quartet behind. After her group was caught by the bunch, Van Vleuten attacked again on the final climb of the day before outsprinting Elisa Longo Borgini for second place. Vos took the gallop for fourth from a small group 40 seconds behind them.
It's back to TT mode for @AnnavdBreggen 🇳🇱 as she glides through the beautiful countryside of Emilia-Romagna 🇮🇹.
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) September 26, 2020
Despite all racing for different pro teams, Vos, van der Breggen, and Van Vleuten were able to combine seamlessly on Saturday, a testament to both experience and pure racing instinct.
“It couldn’t be better,” said 2012 and 2013 world champion Vos.
“I am very satisfied, especially if you can ride such a race,” she continued of her team’s cohesive performance. “It was great to be able to play this game like this. We were able to keep up with the plan, with Amy [Pieters] who was nicely in the leading group.
“With the dominance of Annemiek and Anna, it is a great game that you can play, but it is also above all the class of those two. I was able to join the group behind it, which was an ideal situation when Anna had a gap.”
Van der Breggen’s hour-long solo escape proved her time trial victory Thursday was about more than just the absence of Van Vleuten, sidelined with a fractured wrist, or Chloe Dygert, who crashed dramatically mid-race. Having forged a gap with her move over the Gallisterna, the 30-year-old paced away to build a 1:20 winning margin.
Although Van Vleuten was racing with a heavily-strapped wrist that she fractured at the Giro Rosa last week, the defending champion was still able to force herself up into her trademark out of the saddle, bike-swinging climbing attacks in the final loops around the Imola circuit.
Though van Vleuten claimed to be less explosive than when at her best, she just seemed happy to just have had the opportunity to race and take the silver medal.
“I think it’s a day to celebrate, being first and second,” she said. “Anna was really the strongest today. Eight days ago, I thought my whole season was over after my crash in the Giro Rosa. I think I’m a lucky girl to be here … It has been an eventful week with a rollercoaster of emotions.”
Van der Breggen’s victory Saturday not only saw her double up her time trial title from earlier in the week, but also rewarded her with the second road title of her career, having won from a similar long break at the 2018 race in Innsbruck.
“It is the second time that I see this [gold medal], but I don’t get used to it,” van der Breggen said. “You don’t get that many chances to win this, I am very happy with it.”
While the Dutch will be delighting after continuing their stranglehold on the rainbow jersey, now stretching back to Chantaal van den Broek-Blaak‘s 2017 win, the only nagging thought in their mind will be how they keep the ball rolling.
While 37-year-old van Vleuten seems as spritely as ever, there can only be so many years left in the tank. Van der Breggen plans to retire at the end of 2021, and Broek-Blaak plans to hang up her wheels in the following spring. Behind them, Vos and Ellen van Dijk are both 33, and their career clock is ticking. It will soon be time for young talents such as Inge van der Heijden and Yara Kastelijn to keep the unstoppable orange march moving.