There was no gold at the end of the rainbow for Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) in Doha at the World Championships, and one senses that any lingering disappointment at surrendering her crown will be offset by a degree of relief at bringing the curtain down on a tumultuous season as world champion.
From the outset of this World Championships road race, Deignan (nee Armitstead) knew that her prospects of a repeat victory were slim on a course always likely to produce a bunch finish, but the Briton still put up a robust defence of her title, ultimately placing fourth in the mass sprint as Amalie Dideriksen (Denmark) claimed a surprise win.
Pre-race favourite Kirsten Wild's Dutch squad, as expected, dictated the terms of engagement on the finishing lap, with a line of orange jerseys massing on the front in the final seven kilometres. Armitstead managed to nudge her way into their number ahead of the flamme rouge, and it was her nous as much as her speed that carried her to fourth place in the sprint.
"Towards the back end of the race, it was just about positioning and that's something that with a bit of experience, I think I'm good at. But towards the finish straight, I just was legless. I just didn't have that extra to kick," Deignan said in the mixed zone afterwards. "If I'd prepared for this, I may have done some sprint training and put myself in a position to win but we have a deserved champion and I'm actually really pleased with fourth."
Deignan's 2016 campaign had, of course, been built around the Rio Olympics, where she placed fifth in the road race, though the performance was completely overshadowed by her troubled approach to the Games. After recording three whereabouts violations in the space of a year, Deignan only avoided a lengthy ban thanks to an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, news which only broke on the day before she travelled to Brazil.
"It has [been a long year] and I'm pleased we were able to finish it, going out fighting so to speak," Deignan said. "I'm very much looking forward to a break."
Much like the similarly flat Copenhagen course of 2011, attacks were few and far between in the early stages of the women's road race, though Deignan was among those to tests the waters with a brace of accelerations off the front of the peloton shortly after the midway point. With Wild's orange guard policing affairs, however, it was clear that the dice was loaded from the start. A bunch sprint was inevitable.
"There was a couple of times when I put in a couple of digs and put my nose in the wind, just to see, because you never know if with the fatigue in the legs, something might creep away. But the course was really a sprinter's course, and with Kirsten Wild in the team, the Dutch were always going to be riding for a sprint," Deignan said.
Considering the quality of the racing in the crosswinds at the Ladies Tour of Qatar over the years, it was perhaps a shame that the Worlds organisation did not see fit to include a loop into the desert of the kind the men will tackle on Sunday, particularly given the complete dearth of spectators on the finishing circuit, which was covered seven times.
"I would have loved a crosswind section, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. These decisions are made years in advance so it's tough to criticise the UCI now, but hopefully lessons have been learned from this and there'll be some exciting courses just ahead of us," Deignan said. "And I'm sure the men's race tomorrow will be good fun."
On paper at least, the course in Bergen in 2017 ought to produce a more exciting slate of racing, while Deignan can surely expect a route made to measure on home roads in Yorkshire two years later.
"I try to take it year by year," said Deignan, who turns 28 in December. "I've always said I want to retire on the top, and whether I'll still be on the top in 2019, we'll just see how it goes."
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