The 2021 World Championships centred on the city of Leuven with a city loop tackled multiple times by the riders. After starting the day in Antwerp, the riders had an easy start to the day down to Leuven before leaving the city to take on the Flandrian loop. The two races played out completely differently. The women’s race was a cagey affair with no attacks allowed to happen. The end result saw the Dutch outmanoeuvred in a major championship again. Italy played their cards perfectly to set up Elisa Balsamo in the sprint who held off Marianne Vos’ efforts.
In contrast, the men’s race was full of attacks. Belgium kept the pace high with Remco Evanepoel but it was France’s Julian Alaphilippe who took the initiative. He attacked, got a gap and wasn’t seen again. That move saw Alaphilippe retain the rainbow stripes for another season, only days after he’d told the media how the jersey had weighed on him throughout the 2021 season.
I watched the women’s race near the foot of the Wijnpers climb but it was absolutely packed the following day. By the time I’d got to Leuven, the organisers had tweeted the climb was full and to avoid it. As a result I ended up more in the city, will riders coming through a small set of bends. There weren’t any big crashes, although Kasia Niewiadoma nearly slid out and Marc Hirschi went down. The latter was particularly impressive as his front tyre was completely off the rim. Riding tubeless, the sealant was everywhere and gave him no chance to carry on. His team car missed him and he spent 10 minutes waiting for someone, anyone, to pick him up. Eventually the broom wagon took him onwards.