Chantal Blaak has been crowned elite women’s road race champion at the UCI World Road Championships in Bergen. The Dutch rider won solo ahead of Australia’s Katrin Garfoot and Denmark’s Amalie Dideriksen. Linda Villumsen arrived home in the main peloton; just outside of the top 20.
Excellent weather conditions greeted the riders for the 152.8km race around Bergen. Eight laps of the tough course would take in a climb of Salmon Hill which averaged 6.4%. How the race would pan out would be a matter of particular interest with it being unclear whether a breakaway would really be suited to the day or not. Racing got underway with a number of nervous riders in the field and an early crash that quickly disrupted things for a number of riders.
The first attack went clear shortly before the end of the first lap with Sara Penton of Sweden launching the first move. There was no urgency in the main field to peg back the move though, and she was free to build her lead. New Zealand’s Georgia Williams and Linda Villumsen were heavily outnumbered by the other more dominant outfits like Denmark, the USA, Great Britain, Australia and co; so they had to rely on a good sense of tactical awareness. For the early stages then that involved sitting towards the back of the field while no harsh injections of pace had been made.
After Penton’s lead made its way up towards the 50 second mark it dropped pretty quickly to 20 seconds on the second time up Salmon Hill. The Swede held on though to go through the next lap still ahead of the field, although Melissa Lowther of Great Britain had attacked from the peloton and was now in hot pursuit. After making the catch Lowther then attacked on the third time up the climb but the peloton weren’t going to allow much more of an advantage and she was soon swept up.
With just udner 100km to go then it was just about all together then and it looked as though the Netherlands were really in control at this point, with a few orange jerseys at the front of the peloton along with Germany and Great Britain who were also providing a strong presence at the front of the race. At this point while the race was not really being won just yet, there were a number of riders just finding the going a bit too much at this point; and a war of attrition was looking to be taking place for now. All the while Villumsen and Williams continued to bide their time; remaining in contention in the peloton and allowing the bigger teams to do their jobs.
An injection of pace occurred with less than 85km to go as a number of little skirmishes went up the road. After a brief and well supported effort from Norwegian Susanne Andersen a dangerous move went up the road courtesy of Rachel Neylan of Australia, Hannah Barnes of Great Britain and Amy Pieters of the Netherlands. The trio had a lead of 18 seconds with 70km remaining. That looked to be the upper limit of their advantage until a nasty crash occurred in the peloton with 66km to go. A number of significant names went down including Megan Guarnier, Chantal Blaak, Elisa Balsamo and Elena Cecchini of Italy. Blaak took a little while to get going again, as did a number of other riders; while up ahead the trio of leaders stretchd their advantage to just about 40 seconds before the chase regained momentum.
Italy took their place on the front of the pack now, forcing the pace in pursuit of the trio of riders who all represented strongly represented nations. They were helped by the Americans who put in a big effort to keep things together. By now the speed was really beginning to hurt a number of riders, gradually whittling down the numbers in the lead group to not much more than 40 riders. With just under 50km to go the peloton looked like they were on to the break but with renewed support in the break from Britain’s Elinor Barker, Holland’s Lucinda Brand and Australia’s Gracie Elvin.
Ultimately the new additions to the break served to prolong their stay out in front, with the peloton not quite able to bring things back together until a little later but inevitably the break was brought back to heel, while the intensity in the peloton just seemed to continue rising. With 35km to go a big attack came from Dani King of Great Britain. She drew out a select group including Janneke Ensing of the Netherlands, Elise Delzenne of France and Hanna Nilson of Sweden. Their move was countered by an all-star group which this time included Cicilie Ludwig of Denmark, Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands, Tatiana Guderzo of Italy, Amanda Spratt of Australia and compatriot Katrin Garfoot. But despite the fire power in the lead group the peloton weren’t done yet and with 23km to go it was gruppo compacto after the break had built a lead of close to 25 seconds.
Next to attack were Chantal Blaak, Audrey Cordon of France and Hannah Barnes once again. They had a slender 8 second lead with just under 22km to go but the trio built their advantage and with 17km to go their lead was 33 seconds to the peloton with Sarah Roy in limbo between them. The final climb of Salmon Hill with some 12km to go exploded the race into life behind the three leaders as Katarzyna Niewiadoma launched a piercing attack. She was pursued by Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna Van der Breggen while Katrin Garfoot also joined the move with the quartet joining the trio up ahead with 11km remaining. Three Dutch riders were in the move and at this point it looked like their race to lose.
With 10km to go the gap had exploded behind them to 45 seconds as the peloton behind struggled to rally around and organise themselves to chase the leaders. Back in the pack Linda Villumsen was beginning to make her presence felt, positioning herself well and joining a small chase group that included Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Coryn Rivera.
The race winning attack came though with 8km to go. Blaak made her move and was not pursued as Barnes, Garfoot and Cordon were forced to chase with Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen sitting up and doing nothing to support the chase to their teammate. With 5km to go Blaak had 23 seconds in hand on the chasers and from there Blaak continued to stretch her advantage, pushing the pace as behind her Niewiadoma made another move only to be chased by Van Vleuten. That cut the advantage for Blaak down to 12 seconds with 3km remaining; but Blaak just continued to pile on the pace.
As the metres closed to the finish Blaak’s lead continued to stretch to 33 seconds with 1km to go. Having hit the deck earlier in the race Blaak’s fortunes had completely turned around and the Dutch rider was able to savour the moment as the crowds roared her onward. In shock and disbelief Blaak raised her arms in celebration to claim the victory as behind her the peloton with Linda Villumsen in it caught the first chase group just in time. Katrin Garfoot sprinted to the silver medal while Denmark’s Amalie Dideriksen claimed bronze.
A strong ride from Villumsen saw her cross the line in 21st position. Georgia Williams crossed the line a few minutes later in the company of Australia’s Chloe Hosking and a small group of riders.