Despite an excellent team performance in the elite women's road race at the UCI Road World Championships the British team were left without a medal after a late catch saw Hannah Barnes – their best-placed rider - fade to 14th place.
Having skipped away with Audrey Cordon (France) and eventual winner Chantal Blaak (Netherlands) in the closing laps, Barnes, the fastest of the three, looked on course for a medal. However, the Dutch team had other ideas and pulled the trio back on the final climb of Salmon Hill. Even with the additional batch of riders, Barnes was a good bet for the sprint but she was powerless when Blaak launched her winning move, and the British rider was then swamped by the bunch in the closing few hundred meters.
Lizzie Deignan, who came into the race as the team's former champion and best hope on paper at least, was in contention for most of the race but was understandably off the pace after only having her appendix out a few weeks ago. She paid tribute to the team for the collective effort after almost every one of their riders played an attacking role in the race.
"It's an incredible performance from the team. Everyone was part of the bike race. I was probably the least active. But had I moved it would probably have been a waste of my time anyway. So I was happy I was able to stay in there as long as I did. But it was a phenomenal race from everybody. That has never happened to me in a Great Britain team before, so really impressed with everybody," she told Cyclingnews and the Telegraph.
"I didn't ask for any kind of shepherding. I wanted the girls to take advantage of the fact that they could go – and they really did. I just wish I'd been able to do something but I couldn't. There was nothing I could do but try to follow the fireworks when they go off. But I couldn't."
"We lost the final game but at least we were in the game. We missed a leader. We missed somebody who could follow them. If I'd have been there and been able to back Hannah she might have been able to pull a sneaky move off the front like Chantal did."
It was Barnes, however, who came closet for Britain and Deignan tipped her as a future winner of the race.
"I think she's disappointed. But in time I think she will be incredibly proud of her performance. I think it will give her belief going forward. She has been in the final now at a world championships. That is going to be invaluable for her because she's a future world champion I think."
Barnes was quickly taken away the finish for television duties but she returned to the mixed zone to offer her thoughts on what was a more than respectable outing.
"I didn't think we'd actually be able to stay away until Salmon Hill and I went pretty hard up it because I really wanted to make sure that I was at the top before the group behind came to us. Because I knew they'd be coming fast. They caught us just before the top and I was really, really hurting but I just managed to stay there."
With three Dutch riders in a group of seven, Barnes and the rest were always up against it. They pinned back the first attack from the Dutch but when Blaak attacked there was no response. Barnes, Cordon and Niewiadoma mounted a late charge but it wasn't to be.
"There were three Dutch riders and I couldn't mark them all so Julian [Winn] just said to pick one. But unfortunately, I didn't pick the right one. I went for Van Vleuten but it was pot luck really. It was quite frustrating coming in because everyone was just sort of settling for second. But for me, it's a good result. I opened up that sprint but there was nothing really left in my legs and the group behind caught us. That's a bit frustrating. But overall we can be proud of how we raced as a team. We can really go ahead to future worlds with confidence."
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