The Netherlands’ Annemiek van Vleuten claimed her first UCI Elite Women Road Race World Championship title at the end of a performance that will go down in history as she covered 105km – more than two thirds of the distance – alone in the lead! Her compatriot and defending champion Anna van der Breggen finished second to underline the Dutch domination of women’s cycling.
“A one hundred kilometre time trial was a crazy plan,” said Van Vleuten. “It was actually not planned. I wanted to go hard on the climb. I thought it was good for our team. Then I had a gap and I continued. I trained a lot for this. It helped me to be ready for such a big effort today. People know that I do a lot of hours on the bike. It brings me a lot of emotions. It was such a big dream for me to be the UCI World Champion on the road as well because you can wear the rainbow jersey much more than in time trial. The atmosphere when I crossed the finishing line was fantastic with so many people attending here in Yorkshire and cheering for me. I really enjoyed the moment. It gave me goose bumps.”
The Netherlands clearly had the strongest team following two victories in the UCI Women Elite Road Race World Championship via Chantal Blaak in Bergen, Norway, in 2017, and Van der Breggen in Innsbruck, Tirol, 2018, but Van Vleuten surprised everyone by attacking solo as far as 105km away from the finish in Harrogate, way prior to tackling the finishing laps. A chasing group of eight riders was formed quickly behind her, including Van der Breggen, the new UCI Time Trial World Champion Chloé Dygert (USA), Lizzie Deignan (GBR), Clara Koppenburg (GER), Amanda Spratt (AUS), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (DEN), and the Italians Elisa Longo Borghini and Soraya Paladin.
Van Vleuten had a 50’’ lead 20km after breaking free. Her advantage increased to 1’30’’ in the last 60km of racing and reached two minutes at the start of the first of four circuits – it even went out to 2’30’’ with 40km remaining. The 36-year-old showed no weakness even when Dygert reacted 39km before the end. The American attacked three times before she managed to go solo when she recovered 47’’ in one lap to reduce her deficit to 1’50’’ with 28km remaining.
Longo Borghini, Spratt and Van der Breggen gathered behind with the hope of fighting for a medal until the Italian could no longer hold the pace at 19km from the finish following a surge from the Dutch rider. Spratt and Van der Breggen caught Dygert with 12.5km to go and the American had no energy left in the tank. Van der Breggen dropped Spratt at the 5km mark on her way to collect the silver medal. Five minutes after Van Vleuten, Marianne Vos – another pre-race hot favourite following her stage race victories at the Ladies Tour of Norway and the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche – led the peloton home to take sixth place, adding to the Dutch supremacy.
Van Vleuten jumped over a fence to celebrate her historic victory with her mother before going on stage to receive the gold medal and the rainbow jersey she had been dreaming of for several years. Until now the UCI Road Race World Championship was pretty much the only title missing on her record books.