World Tour professional Georgia Williams led the New Zealand riders home just behind the peloton in a demanding 162km women’s road race at the ski resort of Innsbruck, Austria.
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The Mitchelton Scott World Tour professional rode in the peloton throughout before being dropped on the final climb, finishing in 47th placing, four minutes behind the bunch and 11:01 down on winner, Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen (NED).
National under-23 champion Grace Anderson from Auckland, who rides for the US-based Team Illuminate, finished 66th in her first elite world championships, dropped from the peloton on the penultimate lap. Her pro teammate Mikayla Harvey from Wanaka, also an under-23 rider, rode strongly in support of her teammates over the first 100kms of the journey before dropping out, with half the field also not finishing after the field split on the tough initial climb on to the circuit-proper.
American Coryn Rivera surprised the peloton with her attack on the climb with 50kms to go, joined by Australia’s Amanda Spratt and Sweden’s Emilia Fahlin. Van der Breggen launched off the back of an attack out of the peloton by compatriot and time trial winner Annemiek van Vleuten, bridging up to the leaders before pushing solo on the penultimate climb for victory with Spratt holding on for second. The Dutch rider has been the star of the season with one-day wins at a number of major races including Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and La Fleche Wallonne.
Williams produced an encouraging and impressive result, given she has only recently returned to the World Tour scene following a training ride crash that resulted in a triple fracture of her hip.
Vantage New Zealand Director Sportif, Craig Geater, who also works for Williams’ Mitchelton Scott team, said her pro team bosses were impressed.
“To be honest no-one thought she would recover in time to even be here so it was an awesome ride from Georgia. She is still really two or three weeks away from full fitness, she was fantastic today and shows why she is such an important part of her pro team.”
Williams said the race was everything she expected. “It was super-tough. I went with every move early but none of them stuck. Once we hit the hills I had to hang on for dear life really.
“I have only had seven days of racing since June with the accident. The frustrating thing is that this was a course that suited me but I have to be thankful I could race at all, which was something I did not think I could do after the crash eight weeks ago.”
Anderson and Harvey were confirmed for the championships earlier in the month after impressing in a lead-up race in France, with their American team competing in some European races.
“We were impressed with both Grace and Mikayla. The field got split on the nasty first climb after the initial 60kms run and many of those riders, including some big hitters in the sport, never got back on,” said Geater.
“But both girls fought hard and got back in touch with the peloton. Grace held on for the next lap and then got dropped while Mikayla was timed out by the commissaires with a group of riders.
“If these two young riders could race more often in Europe, then they would really respond to the competition and the harder riding here, but both of them have impressed us this week with their ability and their attitude.”
Williams endorsed the sentiment, after Harvey had guided her up the first climb. “They are both super strong and both did well. It was only their positioning that they lacked which you can only get by riding these races in Europe. If they can race here they will develop into really good riders.”
Tomorrow’s finale to the championships is the men’s elite race, which promises to be one of the toughest tests in recent memory. The 265km race includes seven circuits of a tough course after an initial 80kms lead-in. This includes over 5000m of vertical climbing with the addition of the Hottinger Hill, a narrow climb that pitches to over 25 per cent gradient.
The New Zealand charge is built around support for LottoNL Jumbo professional George Bennett from fellow World Tour riders Patrick Bevin and Sam Bewley with pro continental rider Dion Smith.
Elite Women Road Race (156kms): Anna van der Breggen (NED) 4:11:04, 1; Amanda Spratt (AUS) at 3:42, 2; Titiana Guderzo (ITA) at 5:26, 3; Emilia Fahlin (SWE) at 6:13, 4; Malgorzata Jasinska (POL) same time, 5. Also Vantage New Zealand: Georgia Williams at 11:01, 47; Grace Anderson at 14:51, 66; Mikayla Harvey dnf.