Zöe Bäckstedt took a stunning victory for Britain at the Junior Women’s World Championships road race in Leuven, Belgium after winning a two-up sprint to the line.
Just days after winning silver in the time trial, since then she celebrated her 17th birthday, the Welsh rider executed the perfect sprint to take the victory.
Bäckstedt had been in a two woman break with American Kaia Schmid which escaped on the back of a series of jabs and parries late on the third of five laps. With two laps remaining their lead was only eight seconds, but as they took the bell they had more than one minute.
Behind them team-mates worked excellently to disrupt the chase, with the British team, excellent throughout the race, marking any attacking attempt to close the gap.
Despite a few short lived attacks, the pair rode well together throughout, communicating well to build their lead. Schmid managed to gap the Brit on nearly every corner, and might have missed a trick sitting on round the final bend which introduced the finish straight 800m from the line.
Instead, in a cagey final, the two women rode side-by-side up the slight gradient towards the line, and Bäckstedt was able to respond instantly when her rival opened her sprint.
The duo had a huge lead at the line, with Schmid taking second and European champion Linda Riedmann (Germany) winning the bunch kick for the bronze medal.
It was a stunning ride form the entire four woman British team who created all the race’s defining moves and were ever present in marking any attempts to bring the leading duo’s advantage down.
How it happened
As the Junior Men’s race did on Friday, the junior women remained in Leuven for their World Championships, though in contrast to Friday’s race, the women only tackled five laps of the town’s circuit, totalling 75.2km in total. Each of the 15.5km circuits contained four short and sharp climbs, making for a punchy course
On the first of those circuits the crashes which had punctuated the men’s age group races were replicated here, with a number of early victims. Add in the clear disparity in the level of the peloton and the race was soon well stretched on the streets of Leuven, and nearly half the 112 starters were distanced at the end of the first lap.
In their bright orange jerseys, the Dutch were obvious at the front during the early part of the race, as were the Americans. However, it was the four British women who made their presence felt, Flora Perkins opening it up on the second ascent of the Wijnpers.
Her move split the recently re-formed peloton, and the 18 year-old led a group of only 14 riders, including team mates Zöe Bäckstedt and Millie Couzens her over the top.
Unrepresented among the leaders, the Russian and Italian teams led the chasing group, taking advantage of a lack of cohesion at the front to bring the group back, eventually making more than 30 at the front.
The British quartet were far from finished though, with Bäckstedt attacking the next time up Wijnpers, once again thinning the leading bunch, before Perkins made another move as the group came back together. When she was caught Bäckstedt went again, American Kaia Schmid going with her and forming what would be the winning move.
Over the ensuing kilometres, with the remaining British and American riders disrupting the Dutch and German led chase, Bäckstedt and Schmid gradually extended their lead.
Once gain though, the Wijnpers climb made a difference, German, Linda Riedmann attacking at the bottom, closing the gap to the leaders. However, though she had two Dutch women to help with the work, there was also an American and two British with among the seven woman chasing group and they could not get on terms.
As the leading pair took the bell at the start of the final lap, the chasing group had swollen to 12, including all three remaining Brits, though they trailed by 1-01 with just 15.6km to go, the Dutch left to do much of the chasing.
With concerted attempts to reduce the leaders’ advantage coming only sporadically, Bäckstedt and Schmid took a lead of 1-40 onto the final ascent of Wijnpers and the final six kilometres. At the top Bäckstedt tried to drop the American, but was unable, while when the chasers tackled the climb Riedmann made a last gasp effort to bring the leaders back, but was unable, and the jersey would go to one of the leading duo.
It came down to a sprint between the two leaders as they rode side-by-side, Schmid opened the sprint but as soon as Bäckstedt kicked the American sat down to try and drive it to the line, but it wasn't enough with Bäckstedt taking the win by a full bike length.
UCI ROAD WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2021, WOMEN’S JUNIOR ROAD RACE: Leuven to Leuven (75.2km)
1. Zöe Bäckstedt (Great Britain) in 1-55-33
2. Kaia Schmid (United States) at same time
3. Linda Riedmann (Germany) at 57 sec
4. Elise Uijen (Netherlands)
5. Makayla MacPherson (United States)
6. Millie Couzens (Great Britain)
7. Marith Vanhove (Germany)
8. Egllantine Rayer (France)
9. Eleonora Ciabocco (Italy)
10. Mijntje Geurts (Netherlands) 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.
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