2022 Road Race World Championships: Elite and Under 23 Race Report

2022 Road Race World Championships: Elite and Under 23 Races

How the race finished

Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) took a stunning victory in the women’s elite road race at the UCI Road World Championships, with Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) finishing in second and Silvia Persico (Italy) third. Finishing in the front bunch of 12 riders, Niamh Fisher-Black won the first Under 23 title, with Pfeiffer Georgi (Great Britain) coming in behind to take silver, and Ricarda Bauernfeind (Germany) bronze.

How it happened

The women’s Elite and U23 world champion titles were contested over a 164.3km course taking in Mount Kiera and six laps of the Wollongong city circuit. Starting out under overcast skies and with cool temperatures, a few attacks peppered the early kilometres as the riders made their way towards the lower slopes of Mount Kiera, but no moves stuck. At 35km in the peloton hit the base of the most significant climb of the day, which was ridden at a rather sedate pace – the strong climbers were happy to save their legs for the punch climbs in the laps to come. Gladys Verhulst (France) led solo over the top, but it was eventually the trio of Caroline Andersson (Sweden), Elynor Bäckstedt (Great Britain) and Julie Van de Velde (Belgium) who formed the break of the day, riding clear of the still large peloton behind.

With Demi Vollering unable to start due to a covid positive test, and Annemiek van Vleuten taking on a domestique role after crashing and fracturing her elbow in the Mixed Relay earlier in the week, it seemed that the Netherlands team were happy to keep things together in the hopes of setting up for an eventual sprint finish for Marianne Vos. With a similar goal in mind, looking to maintain a sustainable pace for last year’s champion sprinter Elisa Balsamo, the strong Italian squad were happy to take on a role managing the pace of the peloton. Aude Biannic (France) was able to bridge to the break on the winding roads back towards the city circuit, but the group splintered and were soon caught. Spela Kern in the bright green of Slovenia made a solo bid, but the force of the peloton behind was too strong for the solo rider. 

On the six laps of the city circuit, the paired climbs of Mount Ousley and Mount Pleasant were the launchpads for numerous bids for glory. On the early laps, the pure climbers from smaller national teams came to the front, keen to put some pressure on the sprinters from the larger teams. The peloton quickly started to whittle down, stretching out with a long tail of riders as they crested the summit with four laps to go. Notably, Balsamo found herself a long way back, but was brought back to the front by Vittoria Guazzini (Italy), with Italy once again controlling the race.  

At 35km to go, as the rain started to come down, home nation Australia decided it was time to spice things up, launching attack after attack on the second half of the lap. Amanda Spratt, Brodie Chapman and Grace Brown all tried to get away, with the repetitive attacks finally paying off for the Aussies as Sarah Roy was able to get off the front solo. In the peloton behind, Italy rallied again to chase.

8km later, Guazzini reeled in Roy at the base of the Mt Pleasant climb, both their duties done for the day.  Almost immediately, as the gradients rose, Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland) leapt out of the saddle. Her strength drew a small group of elite climbers clear, and dropping both Balsamo and Vos. Lianne Lippert (Germany) had the power to go again, attacking over the top. On the technical descent Elisa Longo-Borghini (Italy) was able to ride back to Lippert’s wheel, while behind the bunch had splintered. Cecile Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) and Niewiadoma were eventually able to make their way across to the front two, forming a strong and motivated group of five at the front.

Behind, the chasing group swelled in numbers. The power of ITT World Champion Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) was able to bring things back together for Marianne Vos, with help from the Australians. Once there was a regrouping at the front, with 12km to go and with only one ascent of the climbs remaining, Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) set off on an individual effort for glory. She quickly found 20 seconds, but it wasn’t enough for her as the bunch hit the climbs for the last time of the day.

Once again, a scorching pace saw the same five riders who had proven their climbing prowess on the previous lap riding clear, with Lippert in particular looking incredibly strong. Van Vleuten looked around to find Vos and pace her back, but over the top of the climb Vos found herself losing the wheel. Behind the five leaders, a chase group formed with Arlenis Sierra (Cuba), Lotte Kopecky (Belgium), Niamh Fisher-Black (New Zealand), Elise Chabbey and Marlen Reusser (Switzerland), Juliette Labous (France) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands). 

Up the road, the five riders continued to pace strongly, each of them committed to their chance to take the title. In the chase bunch, Reusser turned her focus to working on the front for her compatriot Chabbey. With her power and turns from other riders, the gap to the riders in front that had looked like it would last all the way to the finish line suddenly seemed within reach. As the pace of the chasing group increased again and a catch looked imminent, the chasing group splintered, with Labous, Fisher-Black and van Vleuten dropping off the back. The three continued to work together to close the gap, as in front of the them the catch was made. 

At around 1.5km to go, as the now swollen front group took a breath to set up for the final sprint, the chasing trio were set to reconnect with the front. As Labous made a final pull to close the gap, Annemiek van Vleuten seized the opportunity to use her speed coming from behind to take a flyer right over the top of the unsuspecting leading riders. Unable or not wanting to react immediately, the group allowed her to open up a significant gap coming through the final corner. On the finishing straight Arlenis Sierra was first to get out of the saddle and start her sprint, with Kopecky coming off her wheel in search of the line. 

Kopecky’s effort was powerful but in the end a few metres short of glory – as previous world champion Annemiek van Vleuten crossed the line to claim an unbelievable and unexpected victory. With a broken elbow, starting the day as a domestique, after being dropped on the climb each time in the last 3 laps, and after being dropped again in the closing kilometres, even van Vleuten herself was shocked at the outcome. Kopecky claimed the silver medal, with Italy, who had done the lion’s share of work during the race, having to settle for bronze for Silvia Persico.

In the U23 race, only Fisher-Black (New Zealand) was able to finish with the front group of 12 riders, in doing so taking home the inaugural women’s U23 world champion rainbow jersey. Coming in with the chasing bunch, Pfeiffer Georgi (Great Britain) sprinted to secure silver, and Ricarda Bauernfeind (Germany) took home bronze.