After a race that the Belgian commentators dubbed ‘more entertaining than a Tour de France stage’, Marianne Vos, the most winningest cyclist of all time, added a new title to her lengthy palmares: the elite European road race champion.
Part of the race winning break, the multi-discipline world and Olympic champion outsprinted her old rival, Giorgia Bronzini (Italy) for the win. Russia’s Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia) rounded out the podium.
How the race unfolded
The same wet and windy weather conditions that characterised all the races throughout this European championships week were once again present as a star-studded women’s peloton lined up for the elite European road race.
It didn’t deter riders from attacking straight from the gun, however, offering the public nearly three hours of action-packed racing. After several attacks were neutralised, the Dutch team tried to set up echelons in one of the windy sections of the course and the peloton briefly split in two.
When it all came back together, several riders started attacking individually.
Vos launched the first attack, which was countered immediately by Elise Delzenne (France). The duo got a small gap as they hit the feed zone, but the Italian contingent in the race closed the gap just before the third lap was completed.
Dutch riders Chantal Blaak and Amy Pieters countered, showing that the eagerness of the Dutch team to keep the European title within their country.
Halfway through the fourth lap, nine riders finally were able to get some leeway. Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Aude Biannic (France), Christine Majerus (Luxembourg), Pieters, Julie Leth (Denmark) and Anna Maria Stricker (Poland) were off the front first, but were soon joined by Romy Kasper (Germany), the European time trial runner-up Ann-Sophie Duyck (Belgium) and Katarzyna Wilkos (Poland).
The peloton hesitated and it was enough for the lead group to break away.
But the Dutch team clearly wasn’t happy to have just Pieters in the lead group. The Olympic champion, Anna van der Breggen herself helped to reduce the gap, along with Vos, Blaak and Lucinda Brand. With two laps to go, the leaders were caught.
As the peloton was back in one piece, the orange-clad riders Janneke Ensing and Ellen van Dijk continued the attacking.
A new breakaway potential formed when Blaak accelerated and was joined by Boels-Dolmans teammate Majerus, Danish road champion Camilla Møllebro, Lourdes Oyarbide (Spain), Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) and Eugénie Duval (France).
Meanwhile in the peloton, the Belgian road champ and team captain for the Belgian team, Jolien D’Hoore, suffered a flat. The Belgian team was not represented in the lead group, but the danger of this particular lead group was taken away when the group was caught in the feed zone.
After not even a minute of rest, Anna Plichta (Poland) was the next to try her luck. Martina Ritter (Austria) reacted, but as the race entered the final 30 kilometres, the attempt was neutralised.
Van der Breggen, Blaak and Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia) were the next three riders to attack consecutively, Zabelinskaya creating a lead group with serious staying power. She got the company of Longo Borghini and teammate Bronzini, Sheyla Gutierrez (Spain), Charlotte Becker (Germany), Vos and Kasia Pawlowska (Poland)
It was a very dangerous group and proved to be the race winning move, the gap increasing to half a minute almost immediately. It wasn’t just the quality of the riders at the front, but also the fact that the Italian and Dutch team gave their blessing to this break.
Belgium, Denmark and France had missed the split and tried to set up a chase. But with only one more lap to go, they had to work hard to stand a chance.
At the front, Gutierrez struggled and got dropped as the other six leaders powered on in a windy section.
With 15 kilometres to go, the peloton finally got their chase organised. But in the meantime, the gap to the leaders had gone up to 46 seconds.
All six remaining riders in the break did their turns, understanding they had to keep pushing to reach the finish line ahead of the pack. At ten kilometres to go, they still had a 40-second lead.
The lead group hit the city centre of Herning, signalling the last five kilometres of the race. But it would not be a group of six that contested the race win; Pawlowska crashed when she touched the back wheel of the rider in front of her, and the crash caused Becker to drop from the lead group as well. Only four riders left. At 2km to go, the gap was still well over half a minute and it was clear that the winner would come from someone at the front.
Zabelinskaya attacked at the flamme rouge. Vos and Bronzini got into her wheel, while Longo Borghini got dropped.
Instead of starting to look at each other, Zabelinskaya pushed on, clearly satisfied with a podium place at the European road championships. Vos and Bronzini, who sprinted against each other in numerous races before, including the 2010 and 2011 World Road Championships, made it a very short sprint, Vos opening her sprint at 150 metres to go.
Vos held the lead until the finish line, and took the win in the 2017 European championships road race.
Of all the titles that Vos has already won, this is a new one. Only last year an elite race was added to the European championships and while Vos (obviously…) did win the U23 European road race in 2006 and 2007, the elite title is a new one.
— CyclingHub (@CyclingHubTV) August 5, 2017
“It’s a flat course and that makes it difficult to race and you don’t really know what to expect,” said Vos about the race in the press conference. “We came here with a strong team and we wanted to make it a hard race. That’s why we started early, with the echelons.”
“That didn’t work out and then we tried to get into a breakaway,” she said. “In the end, I was the lucky one to be in a good break, with strong riders.”
“I got a little worried in the final, with Bronzini, she’s very strong,” Vos said of approaching the final of the race. “She beat me several times, so it’s not easy to win against her. But with such a strong Dutch team behind you, you sort of have to.”
European championships elite road race – top ten
- Marianne Vos (The Netherlands)
- Giorgia Bronzini (Italy)
- Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia)
- Roxane Fournier (France)
- Amalie Dideriksen (Denmark)
- Jolien D’Hoore (Belgium)
- Kirsten Wild (The Netherlands)
- Lotta Lepistö (Finland)
- Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Italy)
- Emilia Fahlin (Sweden)