While up at the front Elisa Balsamo raised her arms in celebration and Marianne Vos settled for a hard-fought silver medal, further back, the trio of Anna van der Breggen, Ruth Winder and Karol-Ann Canuel will have savoured the moment as they crossed the finish line of a professional race for the last time.
For Winder, the first of them to finish, in 21st place 17 seconds behind Balsamo, the 157.7-kilometre race in Leuven was the final act of a pro career dating back to 2014, taking in spells at UnitedHealthcare, Sunweb and Trek-Segafredo. Speaking to the press after the race with the emotion of the day writ across her face, a teary Winder summed up her final day of racing.
"It was a hard race, for sure. I just wanted to go in and race, really, to make myself really proud and just go for it and race like I used to when I was young – going for the breakaways, attacking without fear of failing or anything like that," she said.
"I'm really proud of myself and how I raced today. I was always there when I needed to be, and I never missed anything. I didn't have the legs in the end at the finish, but that's because I think I covered every single attack that went. In the end, the result is the result, but I have to be proud of how I rode.
"I just know that I've had a really successful career, and I knew that – sorry – today wasn't going to change the success I've had in my career and wasn't going to change how I feel about my career, and I just wanted to finish today feeling proud of myself. I know that to do that I had to focus on every moment at the time and just put myself in the best position in each moment. I did that, so I didn't feel like there was extra pressure – in a way I had no pressure."
Winder was the USA's second-best finisher of the day, with Coryn Rivera taking 10th place in the peloton behind the two leaders. She said afterwards that she was proud to have raced alongside Winder on what was her last race day.
"I think Ruth and I had a good race today. Once we were out in the Flandrian loop it was just a twofer for the most part," she said. "I tried to sit in, but it was honestly just me and Ruth.
"She had an awesome last race. I'm really happy for her and her career, and I'm glad I could be a part of the end of her career.
"For me, I picked the wrong wheel. I thought [Italy] would go with Marta Bastianelli today. That was my mistake as a sprinter, to know which wheel to be on. I just gave it my all to the line."
Career highlights and looking to the future
Winder, who at 28 is a relatively young retiree, can count a national road title, a Giro Rosa stage, the 2020 Santos Women's Tour Down Under, and this year's edition of Brabantse Pijl among her 14-win strong palmarès.
However, when asked to sum up the highlights of her time in the peloton, Winder focussed on teammates, friends and the teamwork they experienced together rather than any singular race victory.
"There are so many moments and so many memories," she said. "Luckily, sometimes on cycling teams you just have colleagues that are teammates and sometimes you make really good friends.
"Those people will still be in my life past today. They're going to be my friends for the rest of my life and that's really special to me. So many memories just from the act of racing itself, so much time we've spent together out of the racing and sitting around the dinner table talking about boys or whatever.
"I'm really lucky to have had a pretty successful career. Winning the Nationals in the US was a pretty big one with Tayler there. She's one of my best friends so having someone like that with you there…
"And then in 2013 I was on the US national team, and we won the Giro Rosa with Mara Abbott. That's when I remember really learning how to work as a team and I learned invaluable things – just teamwork and committing with a group of people together.
"I've been able to experience that same feeling many, many times, whether I've been working for someone or when I won the Tour Down Under when the team was working for me. I really feel that and it's a really special feeling to have a group of people come together for a goal."
Winder said she has no firm plans for his life and career beyond racing yet – reaffirming what she said earlier this week – but hopes to stay in and around the sport.
She's looking forward to sleeping in her own bed, not having to room with someone, and being a "fangirl of the sport", she said jokingly, and she's also currently one of three female candidates for the role of road representative on the UCI Athlete's Commission, with the outcome of that vote set to be announced on Tuesday.
"I'm excited for what's next. We'll figure it out. I don't have anything exactly that I want to do," she said. "I'm lucky that I have a strong community in Boulder, Colorado. I'll hopefully have some opportunities that'll come my way. I'd love to coach. We'll see.
"I'm trying to get the UCI Athlete's Commission to be a representative of the women's peloton. It's not a job but it's something to stay involved with the women's peloton and I'll have to communicate with lots of the current riders to make sure that I'm keeping up with everybody, so that'll be exciting.
"I've never not been a professional cyclist. I've been racing since forever, and I have no idea what I'm going to miss or not miss. I'm trying not to set expectations on how I'll feel because that wouldn't be very smart of me. I'm sure there are going to be parts I'll miss. It's a great spot to be a part of."
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content on Cyclingnews and takes on live race text coverage throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Tro-Bro Léon, Strade Bianche, and the Vuelta a España.
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