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by Anne-Marije Rook
September 27, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
WOMEN'S CYCLING BROUGHT TO YOU BY ORBEA
As the top pre-race favourite, there was a lot of pressure for Great Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead going into this race. And even as the fans were biting their nails in a thrilling last lap, Armitstead stayed calm, followed her plan and sprinted to rainbow glory.
“It’s very surreal. I think every cyclist dreams of the rainbow jersey,” commented Armitstead. “It’s the first time I have been a favourite going into the world championships and on this morning, I have never been so nervous in my life. I’m still in shock to be honest. It just went perfectly. I prepared the best I could. Physically I was in the best shape possible and then you just have to have Lady Luck on your side and she was with me today. I had no punctures, no mechanicals –everything went as planned. It even rained. It was perfect.”
Anna van der Breggen once again had to be satisfied with a very close second place, and American national champion Megan Guarnier took the bronze. Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini and Sweden’s Emma Johansson rounded out the honour podium.
It had been a grey and wet day in Richmond, Virginia, and the rain added another element to an already tricky inner-city circuit.
Going into the race, many riders had commented that the circuit was tougher than it looked on paper. It was certainly a fast course with most of the challenging sections taking place in the final four kilometres of the circuit, which riders would cover eight times. The cobbled climbs up Libby Hill and 23rd Street were steep and slippery but it was the 300-metre climb up Governor Street followed by a 680-metre false flat into the finish where the race-winning move was ultimately made.
But that wouldn’t be until the very end of the race…
The racing was conservative at first with only a handful of solo riders getting some TV times off the front.
There were a few crashes early on, one of which included American sprinter Shelley Olds, who then abandoned the race early, ending her rainbow dreams. Defending champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot also had some bad luck. She got taken out by Olds in an early crash and experienced a mechanical later. She was paced back to the lead pack by a teammate but she continued to be a bit on the backfoot. Not the race she’d wanted.
Once the jitters were out of the way and the riders had gotten a feel for the slippery course, the Dutch team started to thin out the pack, sending one rider after another to attack. Australia was quick to respond, using their numbers to cover and counter the attacks.
The workhorses of the bunch kept the pace high. And with the frequent and furious attacking, many riders were shelled off the back.
The Dutch, riding a very smart race, sent Chantal Blaak of the front. She time-trialled off the front for quite a while, taking the pressure off Van der Breggen and the rest of the team.
“That was our plan: to make the race hard,” said Van der Breggen. “We attacked and I had really strong girls around me so we were confident. Maybe the circuit wasn’t as tough as we thought. It was difficult to get a gap on the climbs and maybe that is why it went still to a bunch sprint.”
Blaak was reeled in with two laps to go at which time Australia’s Rachel Neylan took off and got herself a nice gap. With 25 kilometres to go, eight riders joined her and the nine-rider break formed, successfully staying away well into the last lap.
While Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, France, the US and Italy were all represented in the break, all the race favourites were left behind.
The pack did little chasing and it appeared that an unlikely winner would come from the nine-rider breakaway.
“Our plan was to get a group off the front with one of our riders. It worked out kind off. But Amy [the rider in the break] indicated that it wasn’t a good situation for her to be in and said please come help,” Lucinda Brand told Ella CyclingTips. “But with so many countries in the break, no one wanted to work.”
And so the break continued on but Polish rider Malgorzata Jasinska didn’t like her odds and took off, attacking the break.
The chase did not respond and Jasinska got a gap. With the main pack still a minute behind the eight-rider chase group, Italy’s Valentina Scandolara and Aussie Lauren Kitchen took it upon themselves to reel in Jasinska and make a go for it themselves. The main pack meanwhile lingered a minute behind.
“It was very nerve-wrecking and I just had to play poker all the way through the last climb,” said Armitstead, who was safely tucked in that main pack.
The duo of Scandolara and Kitchen had already cleared the cobbled Libby Hill climb when the pack of race favourites finally caught the chase. Then, on the 23rd Street cobbles, Armitstead made a move, kicking the race favourites into gear.
“The team said that if I ended up in a good breakaway I could work and play my cards,” Scandolara told Ella CyclingTips after the race. “With Lauren, when we got away, we were going for it. We thought we could make it. On the second to last climb we saw Lizzie [Armitstead] coming full gas and I tried to stay on her wheel but she was fresher and stronger. But I am happy with my race and my team, I think we did good.”
As Niewiadoma and Armitstead ramped up the pace, Scandolara and Kitchen were caught with just two kilometres left in the race. Aussie Tiffany Cromwell responded with an attack. But at the start of Governor Street, the race was still wide open with Armitstead working at the front.
Armitstead made her winning move on that final climb up Governor Street, leading a group of about 10 riders into the finishing straight. A sprint battle ensued between Armitstead and Van der Breggen.
Although she opened the sprint early, Armitstead narrowly edging the Dutchwoman for the win.
“I attacked up the last climb because I thought I needed to put some distance between me and the real main sprinters there. That was my plan going into the race and I stuck to it,” said Armitstead.
The Brit crossed the line in tears as did defending champion, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, who finished sixth.
Van der Breggen, missing the gold three times this week, was visibly disappointed.
“Of course a medal is good but I came close enough to smell the rainbow jersey. Of course I’m disappointed,” said Van der Breggen. “I needed a bit of a longer sprint than I got. I think I did good. Lizzie, as you know, is a good sprinter and I tried everything to keep her behind me but yeah, it didn’t work out. She was just faster.”