In an electrifying finale on the Col de VAM circuit, Dutch rider Ilse Pluimers clinched the European Championship U23 road race, defeating British contender Anna Shackley and Swiss cyclist Linda Zanetti. This triumph further solidifies the Netherlands’ prowess in women’s cycling, marking the nation’s seventh European title in this category.
The 108-km race began with an initial 36-km stretch from Coeverden, followed by five loops around the 13.7-km Col de VAM circuit. The peloton remained tightly knit in the early stages, with teams from Italy and Great Britain maintaining strategic positions at the front. It was only during the fourth ascent of the VAM-berg that the race began to unravel. Zoe Backstedt of Great Britain and Maike van der Duin of the Netherlands attempted a breakaway, but the British rider, newly crowned as the European U23 Time Trial champion, pulled ahead on the final climb, leaving van der Duin behind. However, her lead was short-lived as she was reeled back in before the final lap.
Entering the ultimate lap, 34 riders remained in contention, including lone French representative Cédrine Kerbaol. The decisive moment arrived in the final lap when four riders — Pluimers, Shackley, Zanetti, and Italian Gaia Masetti — broke away from the peloton. In a climactic showdown on the 10% gradient cobblestone stretch, Pluimers unleashed her power and sprinted for the gold, leaving Shackley and Zanetti trailing behind. Pluimers’ victory is not just another feather in her cap; it’s a continuation of Dutch cycling history, following in the footsteps of legends like Marianne Vos, Chantal van den Broeck, and last year’s U23 champion, Shirin van Anrooij. Adding to the Dutch jubilance, Fem van Empel also secured a place in the top-10, while Kerbaol eventually finished 26th, 38 seconds behind the winner.
The race underlined the importance of tactical ingenuity, physical stamina, and team strategy, but it was Pluimers’ compelling final climb that made all the difference. She not only exemplified exceptional athletic ability but also highlighted the incredible depth of talent in women’s cycling, particularly from the Netherlands. While the race was tactically tight and intensely competitive, it emphasized a growing parity in women’s cycling, with Shackley’s strong performance offering promise for British cycling’s future. However, as the dust settles on the Col de VAM, it’s the Dutch who ride away with the highest honours, affirming their standing as a powerhouse in the women’s cycling arena.
2023 European Championships U23 Road Race result
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