Dutch masterclass as Van Vleuten makes history
By the way everyone was talking pre-race, there wasn’t much point completing the 149km course from Leeds to Harrogate, instead picking one of a handful of Dutch names out of a hat to crown the new world champion. Turns out, this was largely correct.
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At first, it looked like the Dutch might have messed it up, leaving behind Marianne Vos as well as the rest of their team, as Annemiek van Vleuten surged ahead on her own and Anna van der Breggen marked the chase group behind.
Indeed, having only two Dutchwomen to deal with was the best chance Lizzie Deignan and the others were going to get. Unfortunately, this was two too many, as Van Vleuten stayed away for a 100km solo ride that will go down in history while Van der Breggen dispensed with the rest of the chase group after they had delivered her onto the Harrogate circuit to take silver.
The Dutch played a blinder, and Annemiek van Vleuten fills a gap in her palmarès, her road rainbow jersey now sitting beside her two time trial world titles taken in 2017 and 2018.
Lizzie Deignan has the legs but not the tactics
The pre-race discussion, Dutch favourites aside, mostly centred around Lizzie Deignan and the fact she’d be riding through her hometown of Otley, with a rare chance to take gold on home roads.
Things were looking positive, too, as Deignan got herself into a select chase group early on, with only one rider up front and the peloton lethargic behind.
Unfortunately, the rider up front was Annemiek Van Vleuten and Deignan was all too aware of this, marshalling the chase group to keep them in shape and maintaining the chase.
The Brit probably expended a fair amount of energy in this endeavour, but looked sprightly throughout, desperate to claim gold on home roads. However, within an instant her chance was gone, as American Chloe Dygert attacked before Van der Breggen countered and Deignan failed to grab a wheel as the race went up the road without her.
The 30-year-old battled on but was eventually swept up by the peloton as she crossed the finish line for the final lap of Harrogate. With 2019 being Deignan’s first season back after giving birth to her daughter, there have been many positives to take from not only today, but her comeback season. 2020 offers up opportunities of Olympic glory that will keep Deignan hungry over the winter period.
Chloe Dygert misses out despite spirited ride
After blowing away the rest of the field in the time trial earlier in the week, America’s Chloe Dygert was a dark horse going into the road race.
Her strength helped her into the chase group that set off in pursuit of Van Vleuten, and she started to test her rivals with 40km to go. Dygert’s initial attack distanced Deignan, getting rid of one rival, before keeping the pace up until she eventually broke away from Van der Breggen and Spratt with 34km remaining.
Over the first few kilometres of her attack, the American looked like she was riding into a silver medal, with the slim possibility of bringing Van Vleuten to heel, taking the gap down to under two minutes.
However, Dygert’s inexperience of European road racing, at such lengths too, began to show, as the American tired and started to go backwards.
This meant Van Vleuten had the gold in the bag, as Dygert was caught with 12km to go by Van der Breggen before being dropped 2km later. The 22-year-old fought on to finish fourth, holding off the peloton, and has shown her class over a tough week of racing in Yorkshire. At such a young age we should get ready to hear her name a lot over the coming years.
Spratt quietly rides into bronze
The less you see of a rider during a race the better they’ll often go at the finish, having hidden away and conserved energy, and Amanda Spratt did just that in Yorkshire.
The Australian had the tactical nous to get into the chase group while Van Vleuten went up the road, doing a fair amount of the work alongside the Italians and Deignan to keep the peloton at bay.
Spratt was runner-up to Anna van der Breggen last year in Innsbruck, and found herself fighting the Dutchwoman for the silver medal on the final run-in to Harrogate, having dispensed of the rest of the chase group with 10km to go.
Unfortunately, Anna van der Breggen, having given up her dreams of defending her world title, wasn’t about to also relinquish second place. The Dutchwoman kicked with 5km to go, Spratt seemingly not inconvenienced by the increase in speed. However, Van der Breggen then found another gear and Spratt cracked in an instant, the Dutchwoman sailing away to take silver.
The 32-year-old kept on, though, chasing Van der Breggen to the line, claiming the bronze medal. A downgrade on last year but a great ride nonetheless.
A more exciting race tomorrow, hopefully
As impressive as Annemiek van Vleuten’s incredible solo ride was, it soon became clear during the race that it was going to take an almighty effort to catch her, and not long after this became an insurmountable task.
With half of the course still remaining, the chase group behind started to think of silver and bronze, and a steady whittling down of the group commenced, culminating in Van der Breggen dropping Spratt in the closing kilometres. Ultimately, this did not make for the most exciting racing. This is the price we sometimes have to pay for sporting excellence, which the Dutch have in bucket-loads.
In the men’s race tomorrow, the final event of the Yorkshire 2019 World Championships, the supremely talented Belgian squad headed by Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet should be equally strong on paper.
In reality, let’s hope for a much more unpredictable race to close off what has been excellent week of racing.