Van der Breggen claims historic double in Imola

Imola was once again a land of success for Dutch cycling on Saturday as Anna van der Breggen dominated the Elite Women road race of the 2020 UCI Road World Championships. The oranje star took her third gold medal at the Worlds in Italy, after claiming victory in the 2018 road race in Innsbruck and in the individual time-trial this Thursday in Imola. She's only the second rider to win both events the same year, 25 years after France’s Jeannie Longo's double triumph in Duitama (Colombia).

Half a century after her Dutch compatriot Keetie van Oosten-Hage powered to victory in the same place, the 2016 Olympic Champion claimed her historic victory with an impressive performance in front of the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, who attended the race in Imola. Van der Breggen’s teammates controlled the first challenges of the day and she went solo with 42km to go, eventually winning the race with a gap of 1’20’’.

Annemiek van Vleuten (the Netherlands) outsprinted Elisa Longo Borghini to take the silver medal and Marianne Vos finished 4th (+2’01’’) to complete the Dutch domination. Riders from the Netherlands have now claimed seven of the eight gold medals awarded in individual Elite Women events in the UCI Road World Championships since 2017.

“It’s incredible”, Anna van der Breggen rejoiced after her victory. “It was a really hard race, we were fighting from the beginning. The climbs were really tough. In the fourth lap, I felt strong. We made the race hard and I just went for it. I felt good but it was really hard. The circuit had some flat parts but it was very hard. I never expected this. This season is pretty good for me so far.”

A 145-rider peloton started from the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari with a beautiful sun shining along their first pedal strokes. They immediately tackled the circuit that would later crown the 2020 UCI World Champion: a 28.8km loop with two climbs to be faced five times, for a total of 143km of racing and 2,800m of elevation.

The climbs up Mazzolano (2.8km at an average of 5.9%, with 13% slopes at the bottom) and Cima Gallisterna (2.7km at 6.4% and a maximum of 14%) wore down a peloton which was quickly reduced to around 100 riders.

The pack stretched in a fast downhill towards the return to the Imola racetrack and Van der Breggen suffered a mechanical. Two of her Dutch teammates, including the 2017 gold medallist Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, waited to pace her back to the group.

Belgium’s Valerie Demey and Canada’s Alison Jackson successively led the way in the second lap but neither of them couldn’t open much of a gap. The race opened up in the third lap, with a move from the Australian Grace Brown (5th in the time trial) followed again by Jackson.

A group of nine riders eventually got away with Jackson accompanied by Amy Pieters (Netherlands), Katia Ragusa (Italy), Lisa Brennauer (Germany), Christine Majerus (Luxembourg), Tayler Wiles (USA), Hannah Barnes (Great Britain), Mavi Garcia (Spain) and Juliette Labous (France). Italy started pacing behind them with 63km to go and a gap up to 2’. Meanwhile, Eugenia Bujak (Slovenia) bridged the gap to the front group on her own.

The oranje train increased the tension in the penultimate lap. First, Anna van der Breggen seriously upped the tempo in the Mazolano climb. Over the top, the gap was down to 10'' and some 30 riders were still in the bunch. The attackers were caught in the next climb, with Marianne Vos (UCI Road World Champion in 2006, 2012, 2013) and Annemiek van Vleuten (winner in 2019) accelerating.

Then Van der Breggen attacked with 42km to go; only Elisa Longo Borghini and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) managed to stay with Annemiek van Vleuten in a small chasing group. The gap was up to 35’’ when Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) joined them in pursuit, 39km from the finish.

The chase group was caught by the bunch just ahead of the last lap, which Van der Breggen started with a 1’43’’ gap over a 35-rider group. Anna van der Breggen pushed her advantage with a steady pace in the final lap, riding to her third rainbow jersey. Longo Borghini and Van Vleuten proved to be the strongest when the chasers battled it out on the last climb, with Van Vleuten taking the silver medal 10 days after abandoning the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile - and her pink leader's jersey -  with a broken wrist.