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Niewiadoma: The world doesn't end if you don't win

Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) attacks in the peloton during the UCI Road World Championships 2021 - Women Elite Road Race
Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) attacks in the peloton during the UCI Road World Championships 2021 - Women Elite Road Race (Image credit: Getty Images)

There were a lot of cagey races ridden in the elite women’s world championship but Katarzyna Niewiadoma laid it all on the line again and again, yet still had enough at the end to walk away with a medal. 

The Polish puncheur attacked repeatedly on the twisting, spiky Leuven circuit, approaching the penultimate ascent of the Wijnpers with such vigour that she almost came a cropper before she was able to spring from the saddle and open the taps. 

She accelerated again on the final time up Wijnpers, and was even chasing moves on the flat before making one final all-out bid for freedom on the super-steep slopes of Sint-Antoniusberg. On both climbs, she succeeded in splitting the field but found herself in the wrong sort of company.

“I just wanted to attack on every little hill, but I was always with one girl from Holland and one girl from Italy, and unfortunately nobody was riding with me. Now we understand why,” Niewiadoma joked, referring to the new world champion Elisa Balsamo and runner-up Marianne Vos, both sitting to her left in the medallists’ press conference. 

The Dutch rode an aggressive race, they were perfectly happy with a group sprint given the presence of the favourite, Vos, while the Italians did everything they could to bring about that very scenario. Going into the final kilometre in a group of 23 that had no shortage of fast finishers, it seemed like Niewiadoma’s chances had gone, but remarkably she still had enough energy for one huge final acceleration, and it gave her the bronze medal. 

“I might have been one of the strongest but I ended up with the bronze medal. That’s kind of rewarding. Being third in the world is still great,” Niewiadoma said.

“At the end of the day, I'm definitely happy with bronze. It’s my first medal at the Worlds and I’ve been riding for almost 10 years so I'm definitely stoked about it.”

Niewiadoma felt the parcours – with one lap of the hilly ‘Flandrien circuit’ sandwiched by four laps of the 15km city-centre circuit in Leuven – suited her perfectly. However, like many, she expected a more selective outing to Overijse, and was arguably disadvantaged by the sheer size of the group from which she had to attack on the local laps. 

“I was definitely surprised once we entered the Flandrien loop that we rode relatively easy and there weren't many attacks. I though going to the Smeysberg that it would be all exploded and in little pieces but we kind of rode steadily so I knew it would be super hectic in the local laps," she said.

“I think that everything was possible today. It was definitely hard to beat the Dutch and Italian teams, but we could see from the junior and U23 races that there were possibilities of going solo to finish. That was definitely my goal today. I just tried to go all-out and attack and go for my chance. Unfortunately, I didn't make it.”

Re-adjusting, Niewiadoma tried to ‘race smart’ as she kept her medal hopes alive, but the sprint became complicated when Vos and Balsamo suddenly found themselves with a gap as Elisa Longo Borghini led it out. Niewiadoma was caught off guard but still had the strength to force her way up and grab the final medal on offer. 

"I definitely know that I made a mistake by not staying on Marianne’s wheel," she admitted. "Once I lost it I was like ‘oh no, they’re gone’. I was just on other side of road and I had to close the gap but I'm still happy to get the third place.”

This was the sixth podium placing of Niewiadoma’s season. She has finished fourth a further four times, and if you add in her nine other top-10s, she has spent nearly two thirds of her season in the mix for victory. However, not once has she managed to cross the line first, and her last victory now dates back to June 2019.

“I don’t know, to be honest, if it’s frustrating,” Niewiadoma said. 

“I feel like it’s nice to be steady and consistent throughout the season. Definitely I missed the big victory of the year, the feeling of putting the hands up in the air, but I'm also patient. I think that the world isn't ending when you don't win for so long. I'm trying to be patient and trust the process and be ok with that.”

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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.