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Elisa Balsamo (Italy) had the power to better Marianne Vos (Netherlands) in the final sprint to win the world road race title Saturday.
Balsamo, 23, kicked from her teammate Elisa Longo Borghini‘s wheel at 50 meters to go in Leuven, and fended off a muscling charge from Vos to win the first women’s road race title for Italy since Giorgia Bronzini wore the rainbow jersey in 2011.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland) edged out Blanka Vas (Hungary) a split second later to place third.
“I’m totally speechless, I have no words to describe this feeling, it’s unbelievable,” Balsamo said. “It was a dream for me after this long season. My team was so good, without them, this jersey wasn’t possible.”
Balsamo was the junior road race world champion in 2016 and is set to step up to the WorldTour with Trek-Segafredo in 2022 after a standout season with team Valcar Travel & Service. She paid tribute to her future teammate Longo Borghini’s huge pull in the final hundred meters.
“My team made a perfect leadout, and I really believed in them,” Balsamo said. “After the last corner I switched off my brain and said ‘you have to go full gas, don’t watch behind.'”
“I need some days to realize today’s race.”
The Italian team had worked hard to keep their young sprinter in position through the tight final circuit in Leuven.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) had repeatedly attacked in the final 10 kilometers, with Niewiadoma, Winder and a handful of Italian riders always close on the wheel. Niewiadoma was aggressive through the final circuit of Leuven but couldn’t make the difference as the Dutch team used numbers to smother the threats.
Niewiadoma attacked again inside the closing kilometers only for newly crowned TT champ Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) to shut down the move after working tirelessly through the race.
Three Italian riders led the reduced peloton into the grinding final sprint for Balsamo. Longo Borghini started pulling at around 200 meters to go before unleashing Balsamo for her world title-winning kick. Vos responded, but the triple world champ was unable to pull back the charging 23-year-old as the Italian team scored its third gold medal of the championships after Filippo Ganna and Filippo Baroncini.
Defending champion Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) was caught on the wrong side of a split midway through what was her final race before retirement. Van der Breggen worked as domestique through the opening-half of the race as she looked to repay years of work from her Dutch teammates.
Anna Van der Breggen says she wants to give back to her team mates in the last race of her career today. 🇳🇱
It seems she means it.
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) September 25, 2021
The race took some time to break open before an all-attacking back-half. The British and Dutch teams had taken control through the first 90km to reel in a speculative early two-rider break and then pull back Kiwi rider Michaela Drummond.
The racing only kick-started on the Flanders loop as teams massed to the front to keep position, and the Dutch team started to dial up the pressure with van der Breggen, van Vleuten and Lucinda Brand.
An attack from Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Niewiadoma at 48km to go created the first selection. The Dutch squad stacked four riders into a split of around 25 and cranked the pace as home favorite Lotte Lopecky struggled in the chase group. Emma Norsgaard (Denmark) and van der Breggen were also caught on the wrong side of the split.
Riders started piling back into the front group while the Dutch team tried to keep the pressure high, with van Vleuten, van Dijk and Chantaal van den Broek Blaak taking turns to motor on the front.
By the time the race re-entered the Leuven loop, the group had swelled back to around 45 riders with Kopecky back into contention. The Italian unit kept its powder dry through the series of splits and regroupings as their blue jerseys made a constant feature toward the front of the race.
Aude Biannic (France) and Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) were the first to try to go clear from the reformed front group before Mavi García (Spain) managed to kick away at 25km to go.
Niewiadoma attacked hard on the Wijnpers climb to force a split of around a dozen riders filled with Italian and Dutch racers before the action reformed once again just a kilometer later.
García’s brave solo was brought back just 10km from the line as van Dijk and van Vleuten hammered on the front to pull the lead peloton into the final circuit and set the race toward its sprint finish.
World Championships WE - Road Race Results
|4||VAS Kata Blanka||Hungary||0:01|
|8||LUDWIG Cecilie Uttrup||Denmark||0:01|
|10||LABECKI Coryn||United States||0:01|
|11||MOOLMAN Ashleigh||South Africa||0:01|
|14||DEIGNAN Elizabeth||Great Britain||0:01|
|17||LONGO BORGHINI Elisa||Italy||0:01|
|18||VAN DIJK Ellen||Netherlands||0:08|
|19||VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek||Netherlands||0:08|
|21||WINDER Ruth||United States||0:17|
|23||CONFALONIERI Maria Giulia||Italy||0:29|
|25||HENDERSON Anna||Great Britain||0:49|
|26||HARRIS Ella||New Zealand||0:49|
|32||VAN DEN BROEK-BLAAK Chantal||Netherlands||0:50|
|35||GEORGI Pfeiffer||Great Britain||1:21|
|40||SHACKLEY Anna||Great Britain||3:31|
|42||PATIÑO Paula Andrea||Colombia||3:31|
|47||YSLAND Anne Dorthe||Norway||6:23|
|52||FAULKNER Kristen||United States||8:22|
|56||THOMAS Leah||United States||9:13|
|60||MACHAČOVÁ Jarmila||Czech Republic||9:13|
|61||PREEN Hayley||South Africa||9:13|
|64||DRUMMOND Michaela||New Zealand||9:13|
|71||WILES Tayler||United States||9:13|
|84||BARNES Alice||Great Britain||9:13|
|88||TEUTENBERG Lea Lin||Germany||9:25|
|89||VAN DER BREGGEN Anna||Netherlands||9:30|
|91||FISHER-BLACK Niamh||New Zealand||9:30|
|99||SALAZAR Lizbeth Yareli||Mexico||13:21|
|106||STEPHENS Lauren||United States||13:21|
|112||JANSE VAN RENSBURG Frances||South Africa||18:47|
|117||COLMENARES Yeny Lorena||Colombia||22:01|
Results provided by ProCyclingStats.