Anna van der Breggen took her second gold medal in three days at the Imola Road World Championships, soloing to a fantastic win in the women’s road race to follow up on her time trial victory.
The Dutchwoman attacked uphill with 40km to go after being set up perfectly by her team-mates, and former world champions, Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten.
Once she’d hit the front of the race her rivals wouldn’t see her again, the gap growing and Van der Breggen having the time to allow herself a smile coming into the finish, taking her second set of road race rainbow bands following her win in Innsbruck in 2018.
She soloed across the line with a minute to spare, as Annemiek van Vleuten battled an injured wrist and Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini to take silver in the scintillating sprint finish for second place.
Marianne Vos finished fourth 40 seconds later, taking the second chase group across the line, with Britain’s Lizzie Deignan in sixth.
Van der Breggen continued her remarkable run of form, having won both the world and Dutch national road race and time trial titles as well as the overall classification at the Giro Rosa in the last month. Her national road race title was the first of her career, and she only wore the Dutch champion’s jersey for nine race days before she now replaces it with the rainbow bands.
How it happened
Belgium’s Valerie Demey was the first to hit out on the five laps of Imola course, going off the front before Canadian Alison Jackson also tried her hand as the race ticked under 100km to go.
10km later, Australia’s Grace Brown made her move, with both Demey and Jackson having been reeled in but Jackon having the legs to go again.
Other riders saw their chance and a front group soon formed, with Spain’s Mavi Garcia then coming across to join the likes of Amy Pieters (Netherlands), Lisa Brennauer (Germany), Hannah Barnes (Great Britain), Katia Ragusa (Italy) and Christine Majerus (Luxeumbourg). They would all survive the initial selection as the group was reduced to nine with 70km to go.
Slovenia’s Eugenia Bujak, who was Lizzy Banks’ breakaway companion during the Brits’ Giro Rosa stage win, then decided she didn’t want to miss out on the fun off the front of the race, setting off as a lone poursuivant as the gap went out to two minutes, the Dutch and Italians happy for now with their riders up the road and wanting to force other teams to chase.
As concern began to simmer that the front group were being allowed too much freedom, the race sprung into action as the Netherlands’ Anna van der Breggen, who had suffered a mechanical early on in the day, hit out at the foot of the climb, the Trek-Segafredo pair of Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan keeping a close watch.
This obliterated the gap between the bunch and the leaders, bringing it down to around 20 seconds, just as Bujak caught up to the head of the race, and the peloton now reduced to around 30 riders.
With 43km to go Marianne Vos then hit the front, ending the breakaway’s hopes for glory, the Dutchwoman sailing past with Anna van der Breggen on her wheel and the others scrambling to get on terms.
Annemiek van Vleuten then took over, riding with a broken wrist but looking to make a further selection in aid of defending her rainbow bands or, failing that, a victory for one of her compatriots.
As Van Vleuten continued to turn the screw, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Longo Borghini were right on the defending champion’s wheel, with Van der Breggen fourth in line.
Further back, Brennauer and Deignan fought hard to keep on terms, dropping slightly from the quartet, who kept the pressure up as those in front approached the summit.
Van der Breggen then made her move, easily gapping the other three in the front group, as Van Vleuten chucked her bike all over the course, trying hard to keep on terms with her team-mate.
Over the summit with 40km to go, Van der Breggen had a 35-second gap over Longo Borghini, Van Vleuten and Uttrup Ludwig, with Deignan chasing just behind.
Deignan rejoined the three chasers on the descent, but Van der Breggen’s gap continued to grow, nearing a minute with 34km remaining.
The chase group were swept up by the peloton with less than 30km to go, bringing many more riders back into the fold for the medals as Van der Breggen’s lead looked unassailable heading into the final lap.
Van der Breggen took on a couple of gels as she kept her minute and a half lead over the peloton heading into the final 20km of the race. The gap was up to two mintues with 16km to go, motoring along at nearly 40km/h before the final climb.
Lucy Kennedy and Uttrup Ludwig hit the front of the peloton on the climb, not wanting to tow Deignan or Vos to the finish line, both possessing a faster finish, as the bunch began to think about silver and bronze.
Uttrup Ludwig then launched her own attack, Longo Borghini coming over the top as Deignan followed and Van Vleuten scrambled for her wheel.
Van Vleuten soon caught up to Longo Borghini, the pair cresting the summit together, and Deignan leading a small group of chasers just behind.
However, the duo took turns pulling to ensure they would take the medals, as Vos marked the second chase group on the road.
After Van der Breggen had cherished her performance and sailed across the line in first, Van Vleuten and Longo Borghini unleashed their sprints for second place, Van Vleuten doing well to stay upright as Longo Borghini edged her closer to the barriers. Van Vleuten took silver on the line, a remarkable performance she had surgery for a broken wrist just last week.
Marianne Vos then won the sprint for fourth from the chase group behind, another day where the women’s peloton was forced to succumb to the dominance of the Dutch.
Imola 2020 World Championships, elite women’s road race: Imola to Imola (143km)
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned), in 4-09-57
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned), at 1-20
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita), at same time
4. Marianne Vos (Ned), at 2-01
5. Liane Lippert (Ger)
6. Lizzie Deignan (GBr)
7. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Pol), all at same time
8. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den), at 2-41
9. Lisa Brennauer (Ger), at 3-08
10. Marlen Reusser (Sui), at same time