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The Dutch women were the pre-race favorites to win the 2021 UCI world championship individual time trial, and they did not disappoint their fans.
While defending champion Anna van der Breggen did not start, her compatriot and Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Annemiek van Vleuten was a safe bet for a podium — she was third in 2019 and the world champion in 2018.
But the squad from the Netherlands also fielded Ellen van Dijk, who was world champion in this event in 2013, and also looked to be a pre-race favorite on a course that was slightly technical, but very flat, and favored riders with big power.
At the end of the day, after all 49 women crossed the finish, it was van Dijk who put on the rainbow stripes and van Vleuten had to settle for third, while Olympic silver-medalist Marlen Reusser took home yet another second-place medal.
Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands): World champion
The route for 2021 worlds individual time trial looked to have been perfectly suited for van Dijk. A few turns may have slowed van Dijk, but the flat and straight roads between still allowed her to keep her power high and maintain an average speed in excess of 50kph. While van Dijk had come up against her competition in recent weeks in pre-worlds tune-up races, it was the Dutch powerhouse who now wears the rainbow stripes.
“It’s so emotional, it’s been a dream so long to get that world title again” said van Dijk.
“Everything felt so good this year, but there was Marlen Reusser, so strong, so strong. I knew I had a really good level, but I knew also she was super strong. The last couple of weeks she beat me in every time trial and I knew it would be super-difficult to win – I would have to race the best ever time trial.”
“This is my discipline, and this was a really good course for me, and I put everything into it. It’s really a dream come true.”
Amber Neben (United States): fourth, at 1:24
Amber Neben raced to fourth place in what was her 15th world championship TT. The 46-year-old made an incredible comeback from suffering a broken pelvis a month prior to the start in Flanders.
Neben was hit by a car in mid-August and fractured her pelvis in three places. She was a shoo-in for Team USA but as of the start of September was unsure if she would be recovered in time. The two-time world champion never said “never” and made an incredible comeback to finish one minute off the podium Monday.
“It was fast. It was hard. Five weeks ago tomorrow I fractured my pelvis in three places so I was just super excited to be here, to feel as good as I did today, and to be able to put it out there and race with all my heart. I left it all out there,” Neben said.
“The prep coming in, obviously with a fracture it wasn’t a lot of training, just a lot of recovery and rehab, and mentally trying to stay focussed on what I had to do. It was a lot of guts and a lot of heart today.
“I don’t think I knew I’d be here until 10 days ago. Really, that first week I was just trying to walk, then the week after I sat on a trainer and was just turning circles, trying to progress a little bit. Three weeks in I was starting to think about it, my body was progressing really well, and I thought I could make it back. It got floated in my heart just to go for it, even though I couldn’t see it I was just like let’s go do this, I would have been crazy not to do it.”
Juliette Labous (France), 6th at 1:47
The youngest rider in the top placings at the 2021 road worlds TT was French Juliette. No stranger to the race against the clock, she was the 2016 UCI world junior time trial bronze medalist. Following the COVID-adjusted 2020 season, Labous won French national champion in the discipline.
She was thrilled to improve her performances from previous world championships results — 13th and 17th.
“It’s nice,” Labous said. “I prefer other courses but felt pretty good. I managed to hold until the end. Over the years, times for specialists suit me to more and more.”
Leah Thomas (United States), 14th, at 2:50
Thomas just wrapped up an overall win at the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche just last week. She represented the United States at the Tokyo Olympics and was third in the elite women’s time trial at the 2021 USA Cycling national championships.
Thomas came into Flanders with big hopes in the TT, but a mid-race mechanical forced her to make a bike change.
“I am so disappointed. A bike change is not what anyone wants during a world championships TT, and it left me unable to get the kind of time that I know I could have done,” Thomas said. “I think Mike and Aaron handled the situation great, so I want to thank them for that.”
“Today’s ride stings for a variety of reasons, but I will take away mini-lessons from experience, like fighting and digging until the very end and not losing focus. I’m excited to come back stronger and have the opportunity to focus more on time trialing next year,” she added.