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Marianne Vos stayed quiet until the last minute — then won

Vos said the Italians and Americans made defending her world road title a tough job — but she managed to get it done anyway

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Defending the rainbow stripes proved a tough task, but Marianne Vos (Netherlands) was unstoppable in a flawless performance Saturday to win her third career world crown.

The 26-year-old countered a last-lap attack from Evelyn Stevens (United States), who rode to a top-American fifth, and soloed home to glory.

“It’s great to defend the title,” Vos said. “They always say it’s hard to win one. To do it two times in a row is even more difficult, especially with such strong competitors.

“The Italians made it a tough race for us, and the Americans, too. They made it hard on the first circuit. It was a really good race from the team. They gave me the opportunity to stay as quiet as possible, until the last lap. I knew I had a chance on the last climb.”

Vos had a target on her back, but it didn’t matter. Vos stands head and shoulders above the field, and her rivals admit it.

Runner-up Emma Johansson (Sweden), who sprinted to a career-best second at 15 seconds back, said beating Vos is an elusive goal, but one that’s she’s getting ever closer to.

“I also want that rainbow jersey, that’s no secret,” Johansson said. “[Vos] is an amazing rider, and she’s hard to beat. Today she was stronger, and the way they played it, I knew it was going to be hard to beat her. When she’s stronger, all you can say is congratulations.”

Yet Vos had to give everything she had to win. Stevens made brutal attacks on the final two laps, putting everyone on the rivet. Dutch teammate Anna Van Der Breggen did great work to cover the attacks, but Stevens did Vos a favor. The American’s accelerations eliminated two of three Italians in the select, 11-rider group in the final lap.

When Vos surged clear late in the final lap, Stevens didn’t have the legs to respond. Joining Johansson in the chase was Rossella Ratto (Italy), the promising young Italian. The pair got enticingly close, within seven seconds with 800 meters to go, but Ratto didn’t have the same legs as Johansson, and Vos stayed clear to defend the stripes.

“Until the last lap, I didn’t feel too confident,” Vos said. “I felt good, but on the longer climb, I wasn’t the best. On the steep climb, I could attack. That’s when you could make tactical moves. I knew with one lap to go, this has to be the best moment to go.”

The 26-year-old is a female Eddy Merckx, winning at will in just about everything, on all terrain, in all disciplines.

Vos has won world titles in road racing, cyclocross, and track. Last summer, she won the Olympic gold medal in London. All that’s missing now is a rainbow jersey on the dirt.

Despite being so prolific, Vos had trouble with the worlds. She won in 2006, but finished second an incredible five times in a row. It was if she had a rainbow curse that didn’t last a season, but half a decade.

Last year, still flying high from striking Olympic gold, she roared into Valkenburg to take an emotional victory on home roads to break the drought.

The only discipline to so far elude Vos is mountain biking. She dabbled in some mountain bike races earlier in the year, but concedes that she has some work to do there.

“I don’t know if I can win the world title in mountain biking,” Vos said. “I still have a lot to learn. It’s not easy to step from one bike to another.”

Regardless, she is the superstar of women’s cycling, and with the arrival of new UCI president Brian Cookson, Vos said she’s hopeful there will be changes for the good.

“Women’s cycling is growing. … Today showed that it is a great sport, it’s great to watch, and the level is really high,” Vos said.

“I hope that he [Cookson] can work together with athletes and teams. I hope he will listen to what the riders want and the teams want.

Vos, who sits on the UCI athletes’ commission, noted in meetings this past summer that Cookson “was enthusiastic about us.”

“I know it’s not going to change in one month or one year,” she said. “I think we can make the change together.”

Women’s cycling might be up for some changes, but what won’t change is Vos’s dominance. She proved that yet again Saturday.