Three days after breaking her elbow in the team time trial, Annemiek van Vleuten surprised her rivals in the final kilometre of the women’s World Championship road race to win the rainbow jersey for the second time.
After 160km of racing, having assisted the successful chase to catch the five climbers out front, Van Vleuten sprang from behind, got a gap and held it to the line.
Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky won the sprint for second place, with Silvia Persico of Italy taking the bronze medal.
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Niamh Fisher-Black of New Zealand finished in the same group to become under-23 world champion, that competition taking place concurrently with the senior race.
The complexion of the race was affected before the start by two pieces of news out of the Netherlands’ camp. The first was that Demi Vollering had tested positive for Covid and would not take the start. Also hampering the Dutch chances of taking a fifth set of road rainbows in six years were the injury carried by Annemiek van Vleuten. The Tour de France Femmes winner fractured her right elbow in a crash during the team time trial on Wednesday. Although she was able to start the road race, she told the media that she was unable to ride out of the saddle, and would therefore struggle on the climbs and could not sprint.
Unlike the junior and under-23 men’s race, the women’s senior and under-23 course (both races taking place simultaneously) included a 60km lead-in loop and a single ascent of Mount Keira ahead of the 17.1km Wollongong finishing circuit.
The early stages of the race, which meandered along the New South Wales coastline towards the Mount Keira climb and the finishing circuit in Wollongong, were peppered with attacks.
Coralie Demay of France, Josie Talbot (Australia) and Nicole Koller (Switzerland) was the first that failed to stick but a solo surge by Gladys Verhulst was the most successful of the early moves.
Verhulst’s lead, as she headed south in a straight line, was close to two minutes at its highest and 1’40 at the first passage of the finish line in Wollongong. While a number of riders struggled off the back, The gap came down quickly as the road rose upwards, before stabilising at around 40 seconds.
The rain came in as the race moved onto the descent. Verhulst took it carefully and was caught by a small group of chasers with 120km to go. Van Vleuten struggled to stay in touch
Back on the flat and a group of three riders, Julie van de Velde (Belgium), Elynor Backstedt (Great Britain), Caroline Andersson (Sweden) escaped the clutches of the peloton, working together to build a lead that eventually topped out at just over one minute.
On the first ascent of Mount Pleasant, as riders casually discarded their bottles, Lotte Kopecky one of the favourites to take the title, was clipped and went down in a slow speed crash. Though uninjured it required her to unclip and was forced to expend extra energy getting going and getting back up to the front of the race.
At 90km to go, Aude Biannic (France) went on the hunt and quickly caught Andersson, who had been unable to keep up with her Belgian and British colleagues. Despite holding a meaningful lead of more than 30 seconds over the peloton, the wide straight roads meant the chasers were never really out of sight.

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They were brought back into the bunch shortly after the fourth crossing of the finish line, with four to go and 69km of the race remaining.
De Velde and Backstedt, both contenders for the under-23 title, pressed on but as the peloton turned the screws, their lead fell to less than ten seconds over Mount Pleasant. That inspired a counterattack by Elen Cecchini (Italy) with the trio going just a few kilometres further before being restored to the bunch.
Nearing 40km to go a few important riders, including Australia’s Grace Brown and reigning champion Elisa Balsamo (Italy) lost contact with the leaders.
The home nation looked to light things up with first Grace Brown going, then Sarah Roy making a move on the way back around to the finish for the third from final time.
Onto the penultimate lap and the rain began to fall. On the steepest early section of Mount Pleasant Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland) launched a massive acceleration that saw multiple riders struggling to stay in touch.
Germany’s Liane Lippert kept the pressure on towards the top and flew over the summit with Elisa Longo Borghini on her wheel. Niewiadoma, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) were the only other riders within reach.
20km left of the race found five similar riders at the front with the clock showing a lead of 30 seconds from a reduced peloton being powered by Ellen van Dijk.
Ahead of the final ascent of Mount Pleasant it became clear that the move was not going to stick, thanks to the efforts of the Dutch and Australian riders behind.
12km from the finish Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) went clear with an all-or-nothing move.
The same set of five riders went after her on the hill and got away again, knowing they had to make as much of their uphill advantage as possible.
There could be no messing around with 5km to go and the gap no more than 12 seconds. The chase group of seven, including Kopecky and Van Vleuten, the only Dutch rider left, were coming up fast and causing the impetus to drain from the front group.
At the flamme rouge Elise Chabbey (Switzerland) was the one to close the gap completely before Van Vleuten took everyone by surprise. The rider, who turns 40 next month, sat on the back of the bunch briefly, before accelerating wide and leaving everyone in her wake. By the time the rest realised what was happening they were in no position to do anything about it, failed to organise a chase and were racing for runner-up spot.

Pre-race Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) was the fastest finisher from that group to take the silver medal, with Silvia Persico finishing in bronze medal position.
Fisher Black of New Zealand finished in 12th overall and best placed young rider to take the under-23 title, with that race taking place alongside the senior one.
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