Anna van der Breggen has a palmares that few riders could dream of but there was one big rainbow-shaped hole in it that she longed to fill. The 28-year-old has visited the podium seven times across the last four UCI Road World Championships but had never managed to make it to the top step, taking six silvers and a bronze.
After so many times gazing up to the top step, Van der Breggen wasn't able to contain her emotions after crossing the line.
"I look down and it looks really strange. I'm so happy with it," Van der Breggen said of her new rainbow jersey. "I really had the feeling that I had won a lot but this was a big missing part in the list. It's really special seeing teammates riding in this jersey. You can wear this jersey the whole season, so that makes the World Championships so special. The longer it took with my second places, the pressure was there to win the jersey. I made it a big goal but also the people around me made that goal. I think that the feeling when I crossed the finish line it was mostly relief that it finally worked out and I'm thankful for that."
Even this week it seemed that she might have to go through it all again when she and her Boels Dolmans team were bested by Canyon-SRAM in the team time trial and her teammate Annemiek van Vleuten once again beat her to the individual time trial title on Tuesday. Even with more than three minutes on her closest rival, she did not dare to believe it was real, having seen La Course and the European Championships slip through her fingers.
"I couldn't believe it until I crossed the finish line. I didn't see any time gaps. I had too many races this year when it didn't go like planned so I just continued until the finish line and then I suddenly realised that there was nobody there and I was winning this race," she explained.
"So many times this year it went wrong at the end of the race, it can happen sometimes with myself, and how you feel, and it can go wrong if girls come back. So, I tried to eat as much as possible and drink as much as possible and go as fast as possible."
The Dutch team came into the road race on a high after the securing the top three spots in the time trial earlier this week. The women in orange also had the two clear favourites for the road race in Van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten. To have a team of the strength of the Dutch is an enviable place to be in but it also meant that Van der Breggen would have to be prepared to sacrifice her own chances for Van Vleuten if the situation arose. However, it never did after Van Vleuten was injured in a crash as the peloton neared the first climb of the day.
"If you are with a strong country like this, it makes the chances to win also bigger. You also need to agree that if Annemiek goes like this then I would wait for Annemiek. So, sometimes you have to share things," she said. "I think because of the media puts pressure on Annemiek and me, we thought we are going to do this together and not against each other.
"We wanted to go early because I think that it is best for us, for Annemiek and me, that the race was hard and for us to go early, especially when Amanda Spratt went early. We had no choice when she went because you can't give her too many minutes. Annemiek had a nasty crash in the beginning of the race and she had quite a bit of pain so she told me that she wanted to do that first attack and then I could continue. Of course, I didn't expect that I was gaining this much so soon and I had a bit of doubt. It was long after the attack."