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Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France) has capped a breakout road season with a sprint victory in the world championship road race in Spain on Saturday. Ferrand-Prevot was part of a chase group that overhauled an elite four-rider lead group inside the final kilometre, before sprinting to victory ahead of Lisa Brennauer (Germany) and Emma Johansson (Sweden).
Some 134 riders took to the start in Ponferrada on Saturday afternoon before setting out for seven laps of a 18.2km course for a total of 127.4km of racing. After a reasonably sedate opening lap in which the race stayed together, the first attack of the day came on the 5km climb near the start of lap 2. Shani Bloch, one of two Israeli riders in the race, attacked on the climb and got clear solo. Her expedition was short-lived however and she was caught less than 2km later.
The field stayed together until the fast descent towards the finish of lap 2 when a huge crash took down several dozen riders and affected many more. A rider on the left of the road appeared to drift off the tarmac slightly before crashing in front of another rider. This prompted a chain reaction of falls that saw a handful of riders abandon the race, some taken to hospital.
A chase then loomed for the riders that were caught up in the crash but able to continue. One such rider was pre-race favourite Marianne Vos (Netherlands) who had three teammates nearby to help pace her back to the bunch.
At the end of the lap 2 just 53 riders crossed the finish line in the lead bunch, but the group took it easy, allowing those that were able to chase back on to do so. By the end of the third lap the peloton had swollen back to 74 riders with roughly 40 chasing from behind.
On the first climb of lap 4, with 67km to go, Spela Kern (Slovenia) jumped from the bunch and ploughed ahead on her own. She quickly eked out an advantage that got as big as 40 seconds by the top of the final climb on lap 4. By the end of the lap, the Slovenian — who rides for the BTC City Ljubljana trade team — was 16 seconds ahead of a peloton of roughly 70 riders, the group seemingly toying with the 24-year-old.
Kern was caught with 47km to go as the peloton tackled the day’s longer climb for the fifth time. Sabrina Stultiens (Netherlands) tested her legs on the descent between the course’s two main climbs, stretching out the main field. But by the time the second climb began, the peloton was back together.
When Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain) came to the front near the top of the climb she stretched out the peloton somewhat, as did Trixi Worrack (Germany) when she drove the pace over the top. But it all came back together on the approach to the end of lap 5.
As the 65-strong peloton hit the start of lap 6, Alison Powers (USA) attacked out of bunch and powered on alone. Powers had been one of the riders to hit the deck on lap 2, and as the American built a slim lead she did so bearing the scars of her earlier crash.
Powers was caught with 30km to go as the race took on a sense of urgency that had more or less been missing until that point. As the riders neared the end of the first climb of lap 6 the rain started to fall. A number of riders tried to animate the race — Hannah Barnes (Great Britain) tried her luck, as did Tatyana Riabchenko (Ukraine), but it wasn’t until 2012 silver medalist Rachel Neylan (Australia) attacked with 27.1km to go that the race really started to take shape.
Near the top of the steep, second climb on lap 6, Rosello Ratto (Italy) attacked out of the bunch, dragging the big contenders with her. Armitstead led the group past Neylan, and by the top of the climb an elite selection had been made, including the likes of Vos, Armitstead, Johansson, Tiff Cromwell (Australia) and Chantaal Blaak (Netherlands).
On the flat approach to the start/finish line, where the riders began the final of seven laps, Chantaal Blaak attacked dragging Neylan, Katarzyna Neiwiadoma (Poland) and Ratto with her. The group of four was soon joined by Claudia Lichtenberg (Germany) while the chase group was absorbed a short time later by a much-reduced main field.
The five leaders were caught with less than 15km to go and after a couple of kilometres of calm, the attacks began again. Trixi Worrack attacked on the long, gentle climb with 12.8km to go, stringing out the field. As Worrack was caught Evelyn Stevens (USA) put in a huge attack of her own, and it was last year’s world champion Vos that closed the gap. The move split the race at the front, but a brief lull allowed the bigger group to reform.
Worrack attacked again with 11km to the finish and once again it was Marianne Vos that did the chasing. That move didn’t last long, but it wasn’t long either until Worrack attacked again, this time in tandem with Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands). It was another short-lived move, as was the effort by Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) who chanced her arm with 9.5km to go just before the top of the penultimate climb.
Marianne Vos led the group down the descent between the two main climbs on the circuit, and when they hit the final climb the pace seemed to be off. At least until Trixi Worrack tried another two unsuccessful attacks and Evie Stevens went again as well.
Emma Johansson made her move with 5.1km to go, just before the top of the climb, and when she was marked by Armitstead, Vos, and Longo Borghini, the winner of the race looked to be coming from the elite four-rider group that had formed at the head of affairs.
Emma Johansson tried to get clear on the final descent with just 3.3km to go, and Elisa Longo Borghini tried as well with 1.7km to go, once the road had flattened off. But with 1.2km to the finish the four leaders were back together and the pace was off. No-one was willing to to work at the front and the four riders began looking behind them. This allowed a chase group of seven riders to make contact with the front of the race, with sprinters Shelley Olds (USA) and Giorgia Bronzini (Italy) back in contention.
Marianne Vos launched her sprint early, with her Rabo-Liv teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prevot in her slipstream. The Frenchwoman hit the front some distance from the line, but was able to hold off a late charge from newly crowned world ITT champion Lisa Brennauer who pipped the ever-consistent Emma Johansson for second place.
Ferrand-Prevot celebrated half-heartedly as she crossed the line, seemingly unsure whether she’d taken the win or not. It had been close, but a photo finish confirmed that the 22-year-old from Reims will wear the rainbow bands for the next 12 months.
The victory sees Pauline Ferrand-Prevot become the first Frenchwoman to win the road race world championship since Jeannie Longo won the final of her five titles back in 1995. In addition to her world title, Ferrand-Prevo is also the French national champion in the road race, time trial, MTB and cyclocross.