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UCI Road World Championships: Zoe Bäckstedt sends warning shot to rivals with TT win ahead of pro debut

The British rider will turn professional next season with the EF Education-TIBCO-SVB team.

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WOLLONGONG, Australia (VN) — Zoe Bäckstedt confirmed her status as one of the most promising young riders in women’s cycling with her dominant victory in the junior women’s time trial at the UCI Road World Championships.

This was the 17-year-old’s second bite at the cherry after coming painfully close to taking the title 12 months ago in Bruges. Bäckstedt was just 11 seconds shy of taking the junior TT title in 2021, but there was nobody close to getting that near her in Wollongong on Tuesday.

With another year under her belt and an impressive run of results that earned her a full pro contract with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB for next season, Bäckstedt had her eyes set firmly on taking the rainbow jersey and there was heavy expectation on her young shoulders.

“Last year it was painful getting second but it was also my first championship event so I was really happy with being on the podium,” Bäckstedt said. “This year, I knew that I wanted to win it. I came in hoping to win it and I pulled it out of the bag on the day, so I’m really happy with that, but it was really tough.

“There was a lot of people saying she’s the favorite. I tried to keep all of that pressure away from me and to focus on myself and just focus my mind on doing my warm-up correctly, being at the start line on time, making sure my helmet was sat comfy and keeping cool, and then starting on the start ramp.”

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Once out on course, it was clear that only a disaster would prevent Bäckstedt from finally claiming the title after she blasted through the opening time check over 50 seconds up on the next best rider. She would grow that to a massive 90 seconds by the finish line.

If Bäckstedt’s ride was not impressive enough, her pace in the opening half of the lap was enough to better the elite women’s winner Ellen van Dijk. The second half of the course was slightly different for the juniors and Van Dijk had to pace herself for a much longer course, so it is impossible to directly compare the two, but it was a small insight into the potential of the 17-year-old.

“It would have been interesting, I would have loved if the elites had done the same lap as we had and they just did two laps so that we could kind of compare times,” she said. “It gives me some good markers for how I’m going and hopefully next year I’ll get some good time trials in on the road. I reckon I could have done a decent time in the elites, but we’ll never know because the conditions are different, and I have to pace it differently and everything like that so I can’t fully say.”

It’s well known that Bäckstedt comes from a cycling dynasty with a father that won Paris-Roubaix and a mother that won the British road race title, while her sister Elynor is developing into a top WorldTour rider.

Coming from such a strong family of riders has no doubt given her the good genetics and already lengthy experience to be able to put in a performance like she did Tuesday. However, it appears that it has also helped her develop a wise head and relaxed disposition that makes her seem older than her years.

Bäckstedt will need that as the pressure around her will only ramp up as she progresses through the cycling ranks and, hopefully, delivers on the great promise she has shown as a junior. She is already well attuned to making sure that she doesn’t get caught up in the hype growing around her.

“If I’m honest, I just try to ignore a fair bit of it. You get things coming from social media saying she’s the favorite and she’s going to do this or that and comparing my time to other riders,” Bäckstedt said.

“I just try to ignore it and to focus on what I need to do and especially when it’s coming into world champs, you don’t really need the stress of what people are saying. I just try to stay away from things like that and focus on the good things. My coach has taken us to see some kangaroos and things like this to keep all of our minds at ease and it’s like we’re on a bit of an adventure.”

Bäckstedt will now have three days of rest before she looks to defend her junior road race title. The Brit beat American Kaia Schmidt in Leuven in a thrilling breakaway finale.

She will, of course, be the big favorite again.

“The road race will be good. We have a strong team and some good cards to play. There is no way of telling who can win because anyone can go at any point and if someone doesn’t chase it, or something like that, that’s the race gone. I can’t say too much about what’s going to happen but I’m looking forward to it,” Bäckstedt said.