Annemiek van Vleuten took her 2nd World Championship road race victory in Wollongong with an impressive last-ditch effort that caught the other riders unaware. Attacking in the final 700 metres with the race heading for a sprint, Van Vleuten wasn’t picked up by the other riders and was able to give everything she had to make it to the line unchallenged.
A favourite at the start of the week, doubts were cast after Van Vleuten sustained a stable fracture in her elbow in a crash during the Mixed Relay TT. Demi Vollering’s forced absence from the road race due to a COVID positive influenced the decision for Van Vleuten to ride. Not willing to leave Marianne Vos down 2 key riders, the original plan for Annemiek to attack early had to be readjusted. It wasn’t a decision particularly welcomed by many with the legends created by riding through injury not considered to be an acceptable standard to be setting. Despite a few clothing issues that saw her fined, it was fairly plain sailing.
“It’s Van Vleuten, you should never write her off. Somehow I think it’s a bit of a double standard. We ask for more safety in the race. To start with a broken elbow, which means your reaction speed is a lot less, I think it’s a double standard.”Lotte Kopecky
On the penultimate lap of the race, Liane Lippert launched a vicious attack up Mount Pleasant and initially went clear with Elisa Longo Borghini before three others joined them off the descent. Yet, there was a lack of cooperation in the group and the chasers came back – meaning around 30 riders were together as they approached the climb once more. Marlen Reusser launched an attack on the flat roads beforehand and ensured that the pace remained high in the chasing group, before Lippert once again showed her strong legs by exploding the chasing bunch. The same 5 riders went clear but it was a repeat of the lack of cohesion and they were caught by a smaller group. As they joined, Van Vleuten launched her race-winning move.
“I’m having an incredible season. All my goals have come true. I will wear the rainbow jersey with pride. It’s so nice to have this jersey and to be able to wear it again, especially in my last year as a pro. This is the best gift in cycling.”Annemiek van Vleuten
The Worlds victory sees Annemiek van Vleuten complete something like a grand slam – winning the Giro Donne, Tour de France Femmes and Ceratizit Challenge, plus the Worlds in one season. The closest achievement to this is Eddie Merckx in 1974 when the Belgian won the Giro, Tour and World Championships. There are some caveats as to whether all of the women’s races can be considered Grand Tours – the Ceratizit Challenge, in particular, is a weak spot. It will even lose its ‘by La Vuelta’ tagline when moving to May on the 2023 Women’s WorldTour calendar.
Plus, not only the so-called Grand Tours, but also a monument was won in 2022 by Van Vleuten at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. What feels like an absolute age ago, Van Vleuten won a major classic Omloop het Nieuwsblad too. Plus there were near misses with 2nd places at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders, both won by Lotte Kopecky. Despite the high-profile victories this year, in terms of UCI points, last year was more successful. Even if Van Vleuten actually has one more win this year already. Her 2018 season was also super impressive with the same number of wins – 13.
Photos Credit: Sprint Cycling Agency