Road World Championships 2021:Italian Elisa Balsamo outsprints Marianne Vos to take the rainbow jersey

The 2016 Junior champion comes of age beating Marianne Vos to rainbow glory

Elisa Balsamo beats Marianne Vos to take elite women's world title
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Twenty-three year old Italian Elisa Balsamo took a remarkable win at the World Championships on Saturday. 

Balsamo out-sprinted Marianne Vos to the win after a savage lead out by national champion Elisa Longo-Borghini. Three time winner Vos was out-classed in the final, unable to close her rival down and finishing second.

The ever-aggressive Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma took the bronze medal.

Balsamo benefited from excellent teamwork throughout, coming onto the final 800m metres on the back of an azure train of three compatriots, Maria Giulia Confalonieri handed over to Marta Cavalli before Longo-Borghini’s brutal final effort.

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The victory came at the end of a complex day, with multiple attacks and small breaks coming after a benign opening. The race came to the boil for the final 50km which produced what will be remembered as a simmering pulsating race.

Team GB had an excellent race, with Jos Lowden doing a lot of early work, before Pfeiffer Georgi and especially Anna Henderson were ever present in the closing 50km. Champion in 2015, Lizzie Deignan was the top finisher in 14th place.

How it happened

After rolling out from the centre of Antwerp onto the 157.7km route the peloton of 162 women tackled the nine kilometre neutral section which caused the Under 23 men such problems on Friday. However, despite a few mechanical issues, there were no such issues for the women.

Once out of town the bunch were set to race south to the finish town of Leuven for one and a half laps of the 15.5km closing circuit in before heading further south to the Flandrien circuit for one full lap around Overijse, before a further two and a half laps of the Leuven loop.

Women's elite road race

(Image credit: Flanders 2021)

There was little in the way of early action, only with six kilometres ridden did anyone attack, Slovenian Urška Bravec riding off the front alone before being joined by Luciana Roland (Argentina).

With a slight headwind the pair made little progress and were caught when a series of attempts to bridge brought the race back together. Later Bravec was in another move, this time with Luxembourg’s Nina Berton, but they seemed to lack conviction and they were caught as the race approached the day’s first climb, the Wijnpers on the Leuven circuit, as one, the pace lifting as the stronger teams began jockeying for position.

After Annemiek van Vleuten led up the climb for the Dutch, Team GB took to the front taking a good look at the circuit while simultaneously stretching the peloton.

With the pace momentarily off as the race left Leuven for the Flandrien circuit, Michaela Drummond (New Zealand) attacked and quickly gained 30 seconds. However, she was never allowed more space, as behind her, lead-out trains formed for the first ascent of the Smeysberg, the sixth of 20 climbs, where she was caught.

As the race tackled the circuit both the British and Dutch teams again became more obvious, and, though the orange squad lost Demi Vollering to an ill-timed mechanical, they pushed on over the cobbled Bekestraat and into the final 50km, the race coming to the boil.

On the second ascent of the Smeysberg a huge move from South African, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio split the group and prefaced a period of ultra-aggressive racing which only ended at the finish. 

At one stage pre-race favourite and home rider, Lotte Kopecky was distanced from a leading group of around 30 women which was driven by the Dutch who had seven of their eight riders present. However, the race was characterised by huge but short-lived attacks, the pace waxing and waning, the leading group repeatedly shrinking and growing, Kopecky getting back on. 

Attacking just after the race returned to Leuven, Aude Biannic led over the finish line with 31k to go, the French woman just off the front of a group of 45 women which contest the win. 

A move from European time trial champion Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) brought Biannic back, only for Mavi García (Spain) to get away with only 24km to go, and by the time the peloton reacted the Mallorca based rider led by 30 seconds.

That lead was reduced when Niewiadoma attacked on the Wijnpers climb, though the Spanish rider was only finally brought back when world time trial champion Ellen van Dijk and her Dutch team-mate, Olympic time trial champion Annemiek Van Vleuten closed the gap with 10km to go.

The attacks continued until the flamme rouge when finally Italy took control, with Maria Giulia Confalonieri leading into the last 1,000m, she handed over to Longo-Borghini to deliver Balsamo to a famous and emotional victory. 


1. Elisa Balsamo (Italy) in 3-52-27
2. Marianne Vos (Netherlands) at same time
3. Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland) at 01 sec.
4. Kata Blanka Vas (Hungary)
5. Arlenis Sierra (Cuba)
6. Alison Jackson (Canada)
7. Demi Vollering (Netherlands)
8. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark)
9. Lisa Brennauer (Germany)
10. Coryn Rivera (USA) all at same time.

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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.