After winning silver in the junior time trial at the World Championships earlier this week, Zoe Backstedt modestly denied the suggestion that she now had bragging rights over her sister Elynor, who has two medals - both bronze - from the same event in 2018 and 2019. After winning gold in the road race on Saturday, however, that has surely changed.
“Yeah I think so - a gold and silver maybe deserves that,” Backstedt said with a chuckle after pulling on the rainbow jersey, though this clearly isn’t the fiercest of sibling rivalries.
“Still respect to my sister,” she added, before pointing out that ultimate bragging rights in the Backstedt household lie with her father Magnus, a Tour de France stage winner and 2004 Paris-Roubaix champion, and her mother Megan, a former national road race champion.
Three of the four Backstedts were in Flanders at the weekend, but all of them were in tears.
“I’ve never cried so much after a race. I crossed the line and I realised I was world champion. It just means so much to me that I can wear this jersey next year,” Backstedt said.
“I saw my sister and my mum but I haven’t seen my dad because he was back home commentating on the race for Eurosport. Apparently, he was crying when I crossed the line. My sister and mum were both crying at the finish as well, they were so happy for me, and I’m so glad I could see them beyond the line.”
Backstedt, a first-year junior who only turned 17 yesterday, produced a remarkable ride to claim her first world title, which could be the first of many given she also competes on the track and in cyclo-cross.
After her teammates started to shake up the race, Backstedt went clear towards the end of the third of five laps of the 15km Leuven circuit, with the USA’s Kaia Schmid for company. They quickly struck up an understanding and would ride together all the way to the final 200 metres, whereupon Backstedt emerged on top in the sprint.
“We worked so well together. Once we got away as a two, we just kept pushing,” Backstedt said, although she did throw in a small attack towards the end of the penultimate lap.
“I tried to just get a gap and see what happened, because I knew I was strong enough to be able to ride the last bit solo, as I’m quite good at time trialling. Once I’m on my own and in the zone I know I can go. But I wasn’t able to get rid of her. I was a bit annoyed because I wanted to go it alone but it’s not bad to have someone else with you.”
Backstedt said she felt a little fatigue in her legs, and she also revealed that she suspected she was riding with lagging tyres, explaining why she appeared to be backing off Schmid on the numerous corners of the circuit.
“I think I had a slow puncture for the whole race. I could feel at one point that it was a little bit flat, but from cyclo-cross I know I can ride a tyre that’s got a bit less air in - I just have to be a bit more careful on the corners.
“I knew if I could get into the last corner first, I could take it at my speed and she wouldn’t be able to get away from me, so I took it first and took it up to a sprint and it worked out perfectly.”
As it happened, Schmid revealed she had zero interest in attacking all along, instead going all-in on the sprint. A final exchange of words ahead of the 500 metres was the end of their collaboration, and the pair dramatically rode side-by-side as they geared up for the sprint. Both already decorated riders on the track, it was a tense affair, with Schmid launching into action first before Backstedt ground her way in front.
“I’ve learned a lot from sprinting on the track,” she said. “I know that if you just focus on the rider and trust you’re going in the right direction and use your surroundings to learn and look… I could keep an eye on her the whole time and when she goes, I go. It worked out.”
Backstedt will look forward to representing the rainbow jersey on the road next year but it won’t be much of an off-season. She’s staying in Belgium for now and will even be lining up for a cyclo-cross race in Meulebeke next weekend. Deeper into the winter and into the new year, the ‘cross season will only intensify but before that she’s looking forward to the full Backstedt reunion and celebration.
Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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