Van der Breggen victorious
Almost as soon as Anna van der Breggen had made her move stick on the Imola circuit, the game was up, so accustomed we have become to the dominance of the Dutch at the UCI Road World Championships.
The Netherlands have now won the previous four road race titles, and Van der Breggen becomes the first rider since Jeannie Longo in 1995 to win both the road race and time trial in a single year.
"It's incredible, it was a really hard race, fighting from the beginning and the climbs were really tough," Van der Breggen said after the finish. "I felt strong, we planned to make the race hard and we did. I just went for it.
"On the last lap I thought it would be difficult to make a difference so I went before, but I made it."
Van der Breggen took her chance and didn't look back, clearly on the form of her life as she continues a remarkable streak of victories, having now won both world and Dutch national road race and time trial titles, as well as the overall classification at the Giro Rosa, in the space of only a month.
"It's short, it's everything behind each other, but if you're in shape that's also a good thing," Van der Breggen said of the revamped, shorter season. "I'm pretty tired now but hopefully I'll recover soon, this season is pretty good so far."
'Pretty good' is somewhat of an understatement but speaks to a hunger for further victories and should leave her rivals worried, the Classics are of course only around the corner.
Van Vleuten beats broken wrist to take silver
The spotlight for the day rightly goes to the victor, but Annemiek van Vleuten's efforts are as close as you can get to matching the winner without actually taking first place.
The defending champion had broken her wrist and abandoned the race lead at the Giro Rosa a week ago, but lined up in Imola with her lower arm strapped following surgery mere days ago. In the picture above you can see she is unable to properly grasp her podium flowers, putting into perspective exactly what Van Vleuten managed to pull off on the bike today.
Not only did she contribute to Van der Breggen's winning move (more on that later) but she rode to a second-place finish, successfully dropping riders such as Lizzie Deignan and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and working with Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini to secure the final two medal spots.
Van Vleuten edged clear in the two-up sprint to take silver, a remarkable achievement given the circumstances. Speaking of which...
Longo Borghini lucky to take bronze on home roads?
After breaking away in pursuit of Van der Breggen, Van Vleuten and Longo Borghini soon forged a collaboration in order to secure silver and bronze and not let their rivals behind back into the race.
The two-up sprint provided the scintillating finish line action that Van der Breggen's impressive solo win had prevented, the pair gritting their teeth as they emptied their tanks in the fight for second.
Longo Borghini led out and opened her sprint, at first keeping clear of the Dutch rider. Van Vleuten fought back, however, coming through on the right-hand side as Longo Borghini moved over and her right elbow popped out.
Van Vleuten showed measured bike handling to not only stay upright but pip Longo Borghini on the line and make it a Dutch one-two for the second year in a row.
It was de facto justice, as even if the commissaries had given Longo Borghini a slap on the wrist for an irregular sprint at her home Worlds, the penalty would have been last place in her group...which would have given her third place anyway.
Dutch tactics timed to perfection
Despite initial fears that the gap to the escapees was starting to become unmanageable given the talent up the road, the Dutch then turned it on to bring the whole field to heel and set up the race-winning move in one fell swoop.
With just over 40km to go, Marianne Vos drilled it on the false flat section before Annemiek Van Vleuten came to the front and ramped it up as the incline set in, immediately whittling the group down. Just as everyone scrambled to get back on terms, Anna van der Breggen sailed off the front with ease, instantly gapping her competitors.
What followed next was unlikely to have been part of the plan, though, as Van Vleuten fought the gradient to try and follow her compatriot, seemingly unable to give up her rainbow bands without a proper fight, but also having the side-effect of dragging Elisa Longo Borghini back up the road towards Van der Breggen.
The eventual winner was already away, though, and uncatchable.
Just in case any mishap should have befallen Van der Breggen on her journey to the finish line, the Dutch had Van Vleuten in the second group on the road and Marianne Vos in the third. What's more, both riders also led across the finish line, leaving the Dutch with first, second and fourth in the top 10.
Deignan had written off the 2020 Worlds when the course was located in the mountainous Aigle-Martigny region of Switzerland, but one global pandemic later and the British rider had a fighting chance of a second rainbow jersey in Imola, and fight she did.
The 31-year-old came into the race off the back of wins at the GP de Plouay and La Course, and lined up alongside a strong British supporting cast.
Well-positioned throughout the race, British jerseys could be spotted at the front of proceedings throughout the early stages, with Deignan following Van der Breggen's initial hit-out on the climb during an earlier lap, not panicking after being slightly gapped and getting back on during the descent.
The next wave of uphill attacks proved too much, however, and as is often the case Deignan found herself surrounded by rivals unwilling to give her a free tow to the line, eventually finishing in sixth place in the second chase group
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