There’s gold at the end of this rainbow.
The UCI Road World Championships will roll into Flanders this Sunday with a star-studded list of riders looking to bag themselves one of the coveted rainbow jerseys.
This year’s contest sees a revamped order of events, with the individual time trials kicking off proceedings, though the elite road races remain in their showcase spots on the final weekend.
Due to the reworked program, the elite women who duke it out in the TT will have an extra day to recover for the road race. That will come in handy as there will be several major contenders competing in both.
The competition for medals will be tough with a long list of potential contenders, but here are five of the nations vying for glory in the elite women’s time trial and road race at the world championships.
It would be hard not to start this list without the Netherlands. The Dutch squad has dominated the season with multiple riders and has twice the number of points of any other nation in the world rankings.
The team also has extra spots in the time trial and the road race thanks Anna van der Breggen’s sweep of the worlds in 2020 and Annemiek van Vleuten’s dominating win in the TT at the Olympic Games in July.
Winning a clean sweep in 2021 will not be easy with TT and road race courses that provide very different challenges.
In the race against the clock, van der Breggen has confirmed she will not defend her title. You should never count van Vleuten out of any contest and she is still a major favorite, but the flat parcours means it is recently crowned European road champ Ellen van Dijk that provides the country with its best shot at glory.
Van Dijk finished second in the European TT last week and has been in fantastic form since missing Olympic selection over the summer.
Picking the favorite from the team when it comes to the road race is a much more difficult prospect. Van Vleuten will be the foremost name on most people’s minds but van Dijk, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering, and Amy Pieters are all serious contenders on a course that opens itself to many types of riders.
Of course, van der Breggen will also be pumped to end her career with a bang and can also be counted among the key players.
While the Swiss squad doesn’t pack the same depth as the Dutch, it still has some very strong riders that could come away with at least a medal in both events.
Against the clock, there have been few that can match the pace of rising talent Marlen Reusser. A latecomer to the sport, Reusser has risen the ranks quickly to become one of the most formidable time trialists in the bunch.
She was the only rider to get within a minute of Annemiek van Vleuten at the Olympic games and she took a convincing win in the TT at the European champs last week. Van Vleuten beat her again at the recent Challenge by La Vuelta but the flatter route will give the Swiss star the advantage in Flanders.
Reusser will also be an outside bet for the road race alongside her Swiss teammate Elise Chabbey. The duo isn’t within the top tier of favorites for this contest but, between them, they can cause some trouble and maybe upset the form book.
United States of America
It has been over 40 years since Team USA won a women’s road race gold at the worlds, after Beth Heiden took the rainbow jersey in 1980. The country has been much more successful in the time trial with Chloé Dygert winning in 2019, three years after Amber Neben took her second world win, in 2016.
There will be no Dygert in Flanders this month after she ended her season early while she continues to recover from the lasting impact of her crash at last year’s worlds.
Nevertheless, the USA will still have the 46-year-old Neben and an in-form Leah Thomas.
Neben has had a pretty low-key season, but she bad been hitting the mark when it counts with second at the U.S. nationals in June and fifth at the Olympic Games in July. The Flanders route suits her well, but she broke her pelvis at the start of September so she faces a struggle to make the start line.
With a recent stint of strong form, Thomas has a chance of getting into the medal mix in the worlds time trial. However, she has an even better chance of it in the road race at the end of next week. Her aggressive racing style will suit the potentially unpredictable race and could help her get up the road.
Team USA brings a squad that will be prepared to get stuck in and break the race up with Ruth Winder, Tayler Wiles, Lauren Stephens, and Kristen Faulkner all listed to start.
Meanwhile, Coryn Rivera provides the team with a dual-threat should the race break up or end in a reduced bunch sprint. The Team DSM rider has shown that she’s on good climbing form at the moment and should be able to handle the tough terrain.
The host nation will be going all out at the worlds to give the home fans something to cheer about and it has a serious chance at securing a rainbow jersey in the elite women’s events.
Julie van de Velde will be the only representation in the time trial with national champion Lotte Kopecky fully focused on the road race. Van de Velde looks to be in strong form after a solid ride in the European road race and she will surely get a home boost, but a medal will be hard to get.
The road race will be where it’s at for the Belgian squad and it will be looking for success with Kopecky and Jolien D’hoore.
In recent weeks, Kopecky has emerged as a standout favorite for the road race win. After competing at the Olympics, where she raced to fourth, the 25-year-old returned to racing at the Challenge by La Vuelta and took an impressive victory on the final stage.
D’hoore’s form is much harder to predict as she hasn’t raced on the road since June after taking some time out after the Olympics, where she competed with Kopecky in the Madison on the track. The time off may well pay some dividends when D’hoore lines up next week, but she may also be missing the race sharpness that some of her rivals will have.
Only time will tell.
It would be hard to write a list like this and not include Italy, specifically Elisa Longo Borghini. The 29-year-old double national champion will be among the favorites in both the time trial and road race events.
Longo Borghini was part of the Italian squad, alongside Filippo Ganna, that smashed the competition in the Mixed Time Trial Relay at the European champs. She secured a bronze medal in the road race at the Olympics and took an impressive solo win at the GP de Plouay earlier this month.
Longo Borghini has two bronze medals from the worlds in the past, in 2012 and in 2020, but she’ll definitely be looking for an upgrade here. The uphill stretch to the line in the road race could help her out, but she doesn’t have a strong sprint finish and she’ll want to do something similar to Plouay for a shot at the rainbow bands.
Marta Cavalli and Elisa Balsamo will be strong support riders for Longo Borghini that could also strike out for a medal in Flanders.