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WOLLONGONG, Australia (VN) — This weekend’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships will be a “whole different race” if Annemiek van Vleuten is unable to ride, according to medal contender Juliette Labous.
Van Vleuten fractured her elbow in a freak crash in the opening meters of the mixed team relay Wednesday. She has been cleared to ride her bike but will make a decision on her participation depending on the level of pain she has as a result of the injury.
The Dutchwoman is many people’s favorite for the gold medal this weekend and, if she is fit, she is expected to shape how the race develops. If she doesn’t start Saturday, Labous and her French teammates will potentially have to rethink their strategy.
“I think it’s a whole different race and then we will have to look at different strategies and to what can be possible,” Labous said after finishing seventh in the mixed team relay.
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Labous is one of the pre-race favorites for a medal in Australia and she will be backed by a strong French squad that includes former national champion Evita Muzic, up-and-coming sprint talent Marie Le Net and the very experienced Aude Biannic.
The 23-year-old is developing into one of the peloton’s best climbers and this season has seen her take a string of top results, including the overall win at the Vuelta a Burgos, a stage win and top 10 at the Giro d’Italia Donne, and fourth overall at the Tour de France Femmes.
Labous has the full backing of the French squad in Australia this week and she is feeding off that support.
“I just want to go for a medal and I want to give everything. It’s a world championships and I think we have to try and see what we can do,” she said.
“[The team has] the confidence in me, and they will try to save Evita and me as long as we can and Evita will be there in the final for me. Everybody is super motivated, and I feel that confidence and it gives me extra motivation.”
The worlds road race is very much a tale of two parts with the Mount Keira climb dominating the opening section of the route before the Wollongong loop that is marked by two punchy ascents.
Labous usually thrives on the longer climbs like those seen at the Giro and the Tour. She is hoping that the repetitive nature of the finishing circuits around Wollongong will help thin out the group as the race develops and take the sting out of the faster finishers.
“It’s hard actually,” she said of the course. “I have been to see Mount Keira and I think that it will actually explode over there. If Annemiek is feeling good then she will probably go there. I think it will be tough, but I like the course. I think if we had only one time the steep climb, I would say that it’s not for me but after six times the puncheurs will have a little bit less so I’m excited.
“It’s not like a climb of one hour so it’s also not my favorite, but I think it can be good if I am in good shape.”
There has been debate about how much of an impact the Mount Keira climb will have on the final result of the race as it comes so early on in the day. Some of the big sprinters are more than likely to be distanced up the long ascent, but the race could come back together to some extent afterward.
Labous is skeptical about how much the bunch will regroup and she believes that the quick run from the top of Mount Keira into the circuits will prevent many from coming back.
“It’s maybe a smaller group,” she said. “For sure it won’t be a big group because Mount Keira is really hard and it’s only 10 kilometers to go down into the circuit so I think it will be really fast.”