Women's World Championships Road Race History
It has been a whole year since Annemiek van Vleuten surprised the front group late on in Wollongong to take potentially the final rainbow jersey of her long career. We’ve been treated to the Dutch star in the white jersey with the rainbow colours for all of the 2022 season and that perk helps to show the importance of this race. Aside from being the world champion, you get to show it off at every race for a full season.
Greats like Jeanne Longo have won 5 rainbow jerseys, just ahead of the sometimes forgotten Yvonne Reynders. Marianne Vos is only other rider to win 3 world championship road races. The race has often been dominated by the powerhouses of the Netherlands and Italy with France and Belgium also notable in modern times. 30 years ago or more the Soviet Union were particularly strong but you have to go back to 2001 when Rasa Polikevičiūte won for Lithuania to find a former-USSR country rider on the Worlds podium.
Whilst Van Vleuten surprised the fast finishers last year, beating Lotte Kopecky and Silvia Persico to the line, it was more of a sprint course the year before in Flanders. Elisa Balsamo took the win there ahead of Marianne Vos (looking for her first win since 2013 and getting her 6th 2nd place) and Kasia Niewiadoma. The course this year is something between the two editions. Plenty of punchy short climbs but as we’ve seen in the other road races this week, it shouldn’t come down to a proper sprint like in Flanders.
The course is developing a reputation for being fast, technical and a nightmare in the wet. The forecast currently says there will be some rain for Sunday’s race. Hopefully it isn’t decided by a crash.
Annemiek van Vleuten
Anna van der Breggen
Women's World Championships Road Race 2023 Profile
Women's World Championships Road Race 2023 Contenders
The Dutch team is absolutely full of leaders as you expect. The favourites for the World Championship road race include the likes of Demi Vollering, Lorena Wiebes, Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten. Picking a rider to win from such a big group is tough to call and there are cliques within the team which rear their head at each championships. Annemiek van Vleuten‘s win last year helped assuage the disappointment of not winning in Flanders but the winner has come from the Dutch team 5 times in the last 6 years. Her last World Championships doesn’t feel like it will see her retain her title but there is always a chance. Lorena Wiebes has shown she can power up Montrose Street in the recon but can she go lap after lap? I was inclined to say Demi Vollering would be the team’s best shout of going clear but her form in the time trial was off. If that was a blip, she will be my favourite of the Dutch riders. Marianne Vos will always have a shout and if it does stay together, her punch will be very useful but is less likely to break away herself. Shirin van Anrooij will be in the hunt for the U23 title race within a race as well but may have to forego those ambitions to work for leaders.
The best non-Dutch rider at this year’s World Championships road race feels like it will be Lotte Kopecky. The Belgian was in huge form at the Tour de France Femmes, with a stage win, many days in the yellow jersey and finishing 2nd Overall. Kopecky has always taken 2 wins this World Championships already on the track and it’s really hard to spot a weakness for her here. She can do the climbs, she can sprint and she can go clear. Teammate Julie de Wilde maybe has a chance in the U23 race as well. She was 17th in the TT, but 3rd in the U23 race within a race there. Like Van Anrooij, she may have to work for Kopecky’s ambitions rather than her own.
Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma has finished in the top 10 of the World Championship road race in the last 3 editions and will have some hope that the climbs here suit her. The win is probably out of the question, but this would be some race to break a winless duck stretching back 4 years. There’s a good shout for the podium though and it’s hard to see her outside of the top 10 this year.
Australian hopes will mainly be with Grace Brown and Amanda Spratt. Brown is clearly in some strong form after finishing 2nd in the world championships time trial by only 6 seconds. Her route to success in the road race would be via a break like Julie Bego in the junior race earlier this week. Amanda Spratt might have a better shout of staying in the peloton climb after climb. She was 10th at the Tour de France Femmes through consistency as it came without a top-10 stage finish.
She’s going to have limited team support but Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio has a good chance here. The era of the South African having a poor sprint seems to be well and truly over as we’ve seen her take wins with it this season. So you can see how a punchy rider with a kick might be able to go up Montrose Street with a front group and have a shot coming up to the finish line.
Spanish hopes will lie with Mavi Garcia and Ane Santesteban. I’m probably less confident in Garcia’s punch on these repeated climbs and technical corners, so can see Santesteban finishing higher. The Jayco-AlUla rider also had a strong result at the Tour de France Femmes, actually finishing for one, but securing 8th overall. A similar result here would be a strong result.
Italy is often pushing the Netherlands close as the powerhouse in these sorts of races, famously winning in 2021 with Elisa Balsamo. It’s hard to see a repeat of that though with Balsamo herself out of form whilst coming back from a big crash at RideLondon Classique, and no Elisa Longo Borghini at all due to a skin infection. So we might have to see teammates approach the race in other ways. Soraya Paladin could be a strong threat as she always goes well in a sprint after a tough race. Eleonora Gasparrini would be a similar threat but had a quieter than expected Tour de France Femmes. For me, the best hopes lie with Silvia Persico who is capable of matching strong rivals, potentially go clear but also has a strong kick to the finish line too.
Another rider who won’t be getting too much support is the Cuban rider Arlenis Sierra. We’ve not seen her in Europe since the Tour de Suisse but Sierra has picked up the Central American and Caribbean RR & TT titles in the mean time. Similar to someone like Paladin, Sierra relishes these tough punchy climbs and has good finishing speed. She can match the 5th and 6th scored in the last 2 years.
Swiss hopes looked good after the Mixed Relay where they cantered home to a strong win. Coming into these championships Marlen Reusser had potential to do very well here even if the repeated short steep climbs wouldn’t necessarily fit a rider with a massive diesel engine. However, Reusser pulled out of the time trial citing mental exhaustion. For now we expect Marlen to start but it will be interesting to see if recognition of the burn out is as good as a period of rest. Elise Chabbey will also have a good go, with the QoM jersey specialist probably a candidate to try and break clear for a long move if possible.
There should be a top 10 on the cards for Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. The Dane hasn’t felt as close to the front of races as last year but still rides well, with 7th in GC at the Tour de France Femmes. Punchy climbs here suits her down to the ground but the flat run to the finish doesn’t quite so much. You can see a similar performance to someone like Kasia Niewiadoma on the cards.
Germany could spring a surprise and get themselves onto the podium here for the first time since Lisa Brennauer in 2014. Liane Lippert will probably be the focus on these short sharp climbs and will be full of confidence after her Tour de France Femmes stage win too. She’s as good a shout as any to break the Netherlands/Italy power block. Teammate Ricarda Bauernfeind took her own stage win at the Tour de France Femmes and might be the attacking option. She showed that it’s possible to attack on a climb and ride away and could try and catch the bunch napping. Then there’s also Antonia Niedermaier who won a lumpy stage at the Giro Donne with a solo attack too. If Germany can get all three into a reduced peloton late on, they have solid cards to play.
On home roads, there’s no out and out favourite for British fans. It’s possible to call upon the experience of 2015 World Champion Lizzie Deignan. She looked strong at the RideLondon Classique with a pair of podiums but has been supporting leaders ever since. Pfeiffer Georgi won the British nationals by having the most punch on the steep climb each lap there and we know she can make a solo move stick. It feels like she might have to go long to have a chance here though. Claire Steels has had a great year and her selection here is a just reward. The Brit is probably the most likely to enjoy the climbing but it just feels like others will have more to work with at the crucial moment. She can attack and go clear though, with her win at reVolta evidence of that. Finally, there’s Anna Henderson who could be used very early on in the breakaway or late on. A former national circuit champion she will be fine on the technical course and those skills should keep her near the front of the race.
Chloe Dygert will come into this confident after winning the World Championships Time Trial this week. Not at her best due to illness, the American was still able to pull off a win. We’ve seen the American be a threat in a few different race types this season, including the win at RideLondon Classique and many close near misses at the Vuelta Femenina and Giro Donne. Expect her to be in the hunt and other teams to be alive for a solo attempt.
Blanka Vas didn’t go to the World Championships last year but was earmarked for the U23 victory there. It will be the same here where the Hungarian is in a nice situation where she can race for her own ambitions, be that the overall win or the U23 title. She was 4th in the World Championships Road Race back in Flanders in 2021 and has shown this year to be stronger. Wins at the Tour de Suisse and Giro Donne show she has moved up a level since.
New Zealand should also be able to focus on the U23 race within a race. They bring 4 riders, nearly all of which are eligible for the win here. Niamh Fisher-Black won the U23 rainbow jersey back in Wollongong last year (but can’t win it again) and took the first WWT win of her career this year at the Tour de Suisse. She’s supported by Ally Wollaston who might be able to hang on over the climbs and has the team’s fastest finish. She won a stage and GC back at Festival Elsy Jacobs which is lumpy terrain. The climbs probably aren’t long enough for the likes of Ella Wyllie and Kim Cadzow, with both suited to much bigger obstacles. They can certainly support and it’s only been a year since Kim Cadzow was racing Tour Series crits on British city streets.
Juliette Labous is certainly in some good form at the moment. 2nd at the Giro Donne, 5th at the Tour de France Femmes and 5th at the World Championships time trial this week too. A top 10 here is certainly possible, I think her best chance for a shot at winning would be to go solo but unfortunately, she’s probably too well-known a strong rider to be allowed that freedom.
Women's World Championships Road Race 2023 Outsiders
Both of Kathrin Schweinberger and Christina Schweinberger have made great strides this season. The latter was on the podium of the time trial this week, an amazing result for her that goes with strong top 10s at Gent Wevelgem, Brugge-De Panne and the 2nd stage of the Tour de France Femmes. Sister Kathrin has chipped in with her own strong results that included a run of 7 top-10s in a row during June and July. I would hedge on Christina Schweinberger getting the better result but they should go a little bit under the radar compared to some.
I’m not quite sure where to place Canada here, whether they have genuine hopes of a top-10 or might earn one through hard racing. Paris Roubaix Femmes winner Alison Jackson feels like the obvious choice to go grab the race by the scruff of the neck with an attack or the breakaway. That would allow the likes of Olivia Baril, won won GP Eibar this year, and Simone Boilard to focus on their own races behind.
Victoire Berteau of France had a great first half of the year that culminated in her becoming French champion on the road. Since then however, she’s focused on the track for these World Championships and came away with a pair of bronze medals in Scotland already. She’s eligible for the U23 jersey and could be a good shout if her road form is as strong as it was.
I was pretty hyped about the chances of Jenny Rissveds going into the Tour de France Femmes after a strong Baloise Ladies Tour. She was 4th overall there and it came off the back of her last road racing at Gracia Orlová which she won. The Swede’s mountain bike background gives her a good shot at going deep on these sorts of climbs. She didn’t start the XCC MTB race here, which hopefully is just a sign that she is focused on this road race.