Ellen van Dijk defied the odds to hold off an elite chasing group on her way to European Championship victory in the women's road race.
Dutchwoman Van Dijk instigated a late breakaway on the hilly 107km course in Trento, Italy, on Saturday (September 11) proving herself the strongest by attacking solo inside the final 30km.
As her Dutch team-mates, including Annemiek van Vleuten, marked out attacks in the eight-rider chasing group behind, Van Dijk held onto a slim 20-second margin in the final 10km to secure the win.
How it happened
The first of the elite road races at the European Championships saw the women compete in national colours, over eight laps of a lumpy 13km circuit around the city of Trento, Italy.
Totalling 107km in total, the women’s road race took on a winding circuit through the city, each lap featuring an ascent of the 3.6km-long, 4.7 per cent average gradient, Povo climb.
The final ascent came around nine kilometres from the finish, featuring a short descent and then a flat run, before the road ramped up slightly inside the final 200m.
Some of the biggest names in the sport competed in Trento, including Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy), Lotte Kopecky (Belgium), Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten (both Netherlands), while their team-mate Anna van der Breggen had decided to skip the race to focus on the World Championships later this month.
As the flag dropped and riders took on the first lap, there was no immediate move to establish a breakaway, as the peloton remained whole for much of the first half of the race.
The kilometres clicked by and a number of riders attempted to attack in the middle section of the race, with still now breakaway getting clear, but the pace was formidable from the start as riders were consistently shelled out the back. The bunch numbered just 40 riders with around 65km to go.
Eugénie Duval from France was the only rider who was able to get a gap on the bunch in the middle section of the race, pulling out a modest 25 second advantage, before she was swept up by the bunch 62km from home, as Norway and Germany controlled the pace.
After a momentary lull, the attacks were back on as the Dutch team pressed on with Ellen van Dijk, Italy and Germany also helping to string out the bunch with 58km to race.
That acceleration resulted in a split, as Van Dijk, Soraya Paladin (Italy), Aude Biannic (France) and Romy Kasper (Germany) slipped clear of the peloton.
Those four riders gained a strong advantage, setting up the first semblance of a real breakaway, with 27 seconds back to the bunch.
Surprisingly Marianne Vos was dropped from the bunch inside the final 50km, as the breakaway managed to extend the gap out to 44 seconds, after Biannic was dropped and went backwards towards the bunch.
Into the decisive section of the race it was Van Dijk who was first to attack inside the final 30km, Paladin then able to close the gap as the bunch sat 45 seconds behind, with around 30 riders remaining in the main group.
In a relentless mood, Van Dijk attacked again shortly after and this time she dropped Paladin, as an acceleration in the reduced peloton split things up even further.
Van Dijk took the bell as she crossed the line to start her final lap, with 52 seconds to the elite eight-rider chasing group behind, which included Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering, Katarzyna Niewiadoma of Poland, and Italy’s Marta Cavalli
The chasers became desperate with 9.5km to race, as Van Dijk still held almost a minute - Liane Lippert put in a huge attack and only Niewiadoma was strong enough to follow immediately, Van Vleuten pacing herself back across over the next half a kilometre.
That attack dented Van Dijk’s advantage, knocking it down to 42 seconds, but Van Vleuten’s bridge across suddenly boosted Van Dijk’s chances, with a Dutchwoman behind able to mark any more attacks from Niewiadoma and Lippert.
The chasing group then came back together 8km from home, Van Dijk’s lead now down to just 22 seconds.
With 3km to go, the chasers had given up all hope as Van Dijk was allowed to pull a minute out on the group, as she relished the final 200m, celebrating her victory.
The chase group came across the line just over a minute down on Van Dijk, Lippert taking the silver medal and Rasa Leleivytė from Lithuania securing third in the sprint.
The European Championships continue on Sunday (September 12) with the elite men’s road race, covering 179km, featuring three additional climbs and eight laps of the finishing circuit.
European Championships 2021, elite women's road race: Trento to Trento (107.2km)
1. Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands), in 2-50-35
2. Liane Lippert (Germany), at 1-18
3. Rasa Leleivytė (Lithuania)
4. Katatzyna Niewiadom (Poland)
5. Demi Vollering (Netherlands)
6. Marta Cavalli (Italy)
7. Marlen Reusser (Switzerland)
8. Alena Amialiusuk (Belarus), all at same time
9. Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands), at 1-21
10. Elisa Balsamo (Italy), at 2-28
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