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UCI Road World Championships: Annemiek van Vleuten wins stunning elite women’s road race

Dutch rider comes back from a fractured elbow to take incredible road race win as Niamh Fisher-Black claims the U23 crown.

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Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) roared to an emotional victory in the women’s elite road race Saturday at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia, after a last-ditch attack inside the final kilometer.

Van Vleuten came into the race with a fractured elbow following her crash earlier in the championships but timed her attack to perfection, going clear just after a dangerous five-rider move was nullified in the closing stages of a pulsating race.

It looked as though a group of 12 would contest the win in a reduced bunch sprint, but Van Vleuten had other ideas and jumped clear from the back of the group having been dropped previously on the last two laps of the race. She tore through the final bends, unable to get out of the saddle due to her injuries, but managed to hold off the sprinters who simply waited too long before unleashing their final kicks to the line.

In the end, a frustrated Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) picked up silver, with Silvia Persico (Italy) taking the bronze.

The win marked Van Vleuten’s second road race world title after she claimed the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire back in 2019. Back then the Dutch rider attacked with 100km to go, but this victory was entirely different in both nature and style.

“I still can’t believe it. I’m still waiting for the moment when someone will tell me that it’s not true. I was working for Marianne [Vos] and I suddenly found myself in the group. Then I felt that she wasn’t coming back, so I knew that I couldn’t sprint with my elbow, and I was waiting for the moment to attack from behind,” Van Vleuten said at the finish.

“That was the only chance that I had and I was waiting, and waiting until they came with a sprint over the top of me but they didn’t catch me.”

The Dutch team was weakened by the loss of Demi Vollering due to COVID-19 ahead of the race, while Van Vleuten started with a huge question mark hanging over her after she failed to take medal in the individual time trial and then crashed heavily in the mixed relay TTT, fracturing her elbow.

On the last three laps, the veteran Movistar rider was dropped each time the favorites hit the pivotal climb of Mount Pleasant. The 39-year-old fought back each time and even turned her hand to working for Vos on the final ascent after the Dutch sprinter was distanced.

However, when a group of five consisting of Liane Lippert (Germany), Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland), Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy), Ashleigh Moolman (South Africa), and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) went clear for the second and final time, it looked as though the Dutch would miss out on a medal.

A strong chase from Van Vleuten alongside the Belgians and Australians eventually caught the leaders on the final rise before the line.

Just as the leaders readied themselves for a sprint, van Vleuten shot out from the back of the group. Hesitation seemed to grip the rest of the riders and those vital seconds were all Van Vleuten, with her heavily strapped elbow, needed to create her winning gap.

When asked at the finish how painful her condition had been during the race, Van Vleuten replied: “It was hell. I couldn’t go out of the saddle, so I had to do everything seated and my legs were exploding on the climb. Normally I really like to go out of the saddle. I had such a different plan. I wanted to go on Mount Keira and I was just the domestique today, with a broken elbow. Now I’m world champion.”

In the U23 category, Niamh Fisher-Black (New Zealand) took the title after finishing 12th.

Annemiek Van Vleuten of Netherlands crosses the finish line to win the women's road race cycling event at the UCI 2022 Road World Championship in Wollongong on September 24, 2022. - -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by WILLIAM WEST / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
Annemiek van Vleuten of Netherlands crosses the finish line to win the women’s road race cycling event at the UCI 2022 Road World Championship in Wollongong (Photo: Getty Images).

How it unfolded

With Demi Vollering out with COVID-19, the Dutch team started the race without one of their favorites but it didn’t take long for the attacks to come after the start with a number of riders keen to kick clear before the all-important ascent of Mount Keira.

Gladys Verhulst of France put in the first major move, before Elynor Bäckstedt (Great Britain) and Caroline Andersson (Sweden) were the next to try. The duo were soon joined by Aude Biannic (France). With 58km to go the race had reformed but a thinned out bunch hit the final laps with Italy, Germany and the Netherlands patrolling the front in a bid to mark any dangerous moves.

With 41km to go, the heavens began to open and heavy rain greeted the riders as they hit Mount Pleasance for a third time. Grace Brown and defending champion Elisa Balsamo were surprisingly dropped, and although they made it back to the front group their inability to remain in contention was a sign of things to come.

As the race began to break up, Australia hit the front with a volley of attacks from Amanda Spratt and Sarah Roy both attempting to go clear. Roy managed to create a small gap and force the Italians to chase but she too was reeled in with 26km to go.

On the penultimate lap, Niewiadoma and Lippert lit up the race with series of imposing attacks on the main climb with Balsamo, Brown, Vos and Van Vleuten all distanced on the steep 12 per cent gradients. 

Lippert and Longo Borghini moved clear on the top of the climb with the Germany looking particularly strong, while Niewiadoma, Moolman and Uttrup Ludwig formed a chasing trio. With 20km to go the group became a five as Australia and the Netherlands joined forces in the chase. The gap held at just under 30 seconds but with 13km to go the bunch reformed.

Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) put in a huge attack almost immediately with the TT specialist creating a 20-second gap as the final climb approached. Once more it was Lippert who jumped from the pack, creating a move from the exact same riders who jumped clear on the previous lap.

Once more it was down to Australia, Switzerland and the Netherlands to chase and with 1km to go a group of 12 came together.

Then Van Vleuten made her move and the rainbow jersey was hers.

World Championships WE - Road Race Results

Stage
RankNameTeamTime
1VAN VLEUTEN AnnemiekNetherlands4:24:25
2KOPECKY LotteBelgium0:01
3PERSICO SilviaItaly0:01
4LIPPERT LianeGermany0:01
5LUDWIG Cecilie UttrupDenmark0:01
6SIERRA ArlenisCuba0:01
7LABOUS JulietteFrance0:01
8NIEWIADOMA KatarzynaPoland0:01
9CHABBEY EliseSwitzerland0:01
10LONGO BORGHINI ElisaItaly0:01
11MOOLMAN AshleighSouth Africa0:01
12FISHER-BLACK NiamhNew Zealand0:01
13REUSSER MarlenSwitzerland0:11
14VOS MarianneNetherlands0:13
15MANLY AlexandraAustralia0:13
16GEORGI PfeifferGreat Britain0:13
17BERTIZZOLO SofiaItaly0:13
18JACKSON AlisonCanada0:13
19GHEKIERE JustineBelgium0:13
20BAUERNFEIND RicardaGermany0:13
21CHAPMAN BrodieAustralia0:13
22BOILARD SimoneCanada0:13
23EWERS VeronicaUnited States0:13
24VAN DIJK EllenNetherlands0:13
25GARCÍA MaviSpain0:13
26SHACKLEY AnnaGreat Britain0:13
27SPRATT AmandaAustralia1:25
28PATIÑO Paula AndreaColombia4:50
29YONAMINE EriJapan4:50
30SANTESTEBAN AneSpain4:50
31ZANARDI SilviaItaly4:57
32RÜEGG NoemiSwitzerland4:57
33SCHREMPF CarinaAustria4:57
34DE WILDE JulieBelgium4:57
35BROWN GraceAustralia4:57
36MACKAIJ FloortjeNetherlands4:57
37BARIL OliviaCanada4:57
38THOMAS LeahUnited States4:57
39MOHR Mari HoleNorway4:57
40WYLLIE EllaNew Zealand4:57
41MUZIC ÉvitaFrance4:57
42PINTAR UrškaSlovenia4:57
43VAN DE VELDE JulieBelgium5:01
44ZABELINSKAYA OlgaUzbekistan7:37
45WLODARCZYK DominikaPoland7:37
46KIRCHMANN LeahCanada7:37
47MARKUS RiejanneNetherlands7:39
48CECCHINI ElenaItaly7:39
49BALSAMO ElisaItaly7:39
50HENDERSON AnnaGreat Britain7:39
51VAN ANROOIJ ShirinNetherlands7:39
52ERIĆ JelenaSerbia7:39
53LE NET MarieFrance7:39
54SHAPIRA OmerIsrael9:30
55YSLAND Anne DortheNorway9:32
56BUJAK EugeniaSlovenia9:32
57KASPER RomyGermany9:32
58ROY SarahAustralia9:54
59LELEIVYTĖ RasaLithuania9:58
60JASKULSKA MartaPoland12:07
61FAULKNER KristenUnited States12:07
62BORGSTRÖM JuliaSweden12:07
63HARTMANN ElenaSwitzerland12:23
64SKALNIAK-SÓJKA AgnieszkaPoland12:42
65KERN ŠpelaSlovenia12:42
66HERNÁNDEZ Lina MarcelaColombia12:42
67GÅSKJENN IngvildNorway12:42
68DEMAY CoralieFrance12:42
69PEÑUELA DianaColombia12:42
70HOLDEN ElizabethGreat Britain12:42
71BASTIANELLI MartaItaly12:42
72KOCH FranziskaGermany15:51
73BERTON NinaLuxembourg15:51
74PREEN HayleySouth Africa15:51
75FRANZ HeidiUnited States15:51
76EKLUND NathalieSweden15:51
77LETH JulieDenmark15:51
78NASH KateřinaCzech Republic15:51
Stage
RankNameTeamTime
1FISHER-BLACK NiamhNew Zealand4:24:26
2GEORGI PfeifferGreat Britain0:12
3BAUERNFEIND RicardaGermany0:12
4BOILARD SimoneCanada0:12
5SHACKLEY AnnaGreat Britain0:12
6ZANARDI SilviaItaly4:56
7RÜEGG NoemiSwitzerland4:56
8DE WILDE JulieBelgium4:56
9MOHR Mari HoleNorway4:56
10WYLLIE EllaNew Zealand4:56
11WLODARCZYK DominikaPoland7:36
12VAN ANROOIJ ShirinNetherlands7:38
13LE NET MarieFrance7:38
14YSLAND Anne DortheNorway9:31
15JASKULSKA MartaPoland12:06
16BORGSTRÖM JuliaSweden12:06
17KOCH FranziskaGermany15:50
18BERTON NinaLuxembourg15:50

Results provided by ProCyclingStats.