The gap was still only a dozen seconds when Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) crested the summit of the Cima Gallisterna with 40km of the World Championships still to race, but it already seemed inevitable that her day would end with another rainbow jersey.
Her Dutch teammate Annemiek van Vleuten had whittled down the front group with a searing turn of pace earlier on the climb, and when Van der Breggen ripped clear with a crisp acceleration of her own shortly afterwards, nobody had the wherewithal to follow.
Winner of the individual time trial on Thursday, Van der Breggen now settled in for a solo effort of a different hue but with a familiar outcome. Within 5km, it even looked as though her winning margin could be measured by the minute hand on the clocktower in the cobbled heart of Imola instead of the precision timing system on the finishing line in the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.
On taking the bell with 28.8km remaining, her gap stood at 1:40 and it would rise above two minutes by the time she tackled the Gallisterna for the final time. As in Innsbruck two years, Van der Breggen had the luxury of being able to savour an impeding world title in the closing kilometres, and she reached the finish with a buffer of 1:20 over Van Vleuten and bronze medallist Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy).
“When I had the gap, I saw that there was still 40k. I thought of how that was even longer than the time trial, so I knew it was going to be tough, but the circuit is hard so I knew the chasers would be tired too,” Van der Breggen said. “For me, it was just a case of keeping the pace and trying to eat and drink well and then try to make it to the end."
It was the fourth Worlds road race victory in as many years for the imposing Dutch squad, with each of the wins coming from long-range solo attacks, beginning with Chantal van den Broek-Blaak’s 23km effort in Bergen three years ago. Twelve months ago, Van Vleuten won after a 100km raid, while Van der Breggen’s previous triumph in Innsbruck in 2018 also came after 40km alone in front.
“I never really thought about that," she said. "The course was different to Innsbruck.”
Van der Breggen’s attack on the Gallisterna on Saturday hadn’t been specifically preordained, but it fell within the brushstrokes of the Dutch squad’s strategy. On course with 2,800m of total climbing, the women in orange looked to wear out their rivals long before the finish, and Marianne Vos and Van Vleuten took up the reins on the fourth of the race’s five laps.
“I think you never know when the perfect moment to attack is, because if it doesn’t work out, then it’s not the perfect moment,” Van der Breggen said. “But I knew I felt good and the plan was to try to make the race hard in the fourth lap. It was still long but if it didn’t work out, Annemiek was behind. If you have more riders up there it’s easier to try something like this.”
In winning the Worlds time trial and road race in the same year, Van der Breggen has completed a double that was only ever previously achieved by Jeannie Longo in 1995. Perhaps even more striking than her emulation of a feat from 25 years ago is Van der Breggen’s domino-like sequence of victories over the past five weeks. She won her first national road title in late August, which was followed in rapid succession by the European time trial title, the Giro Rosa and these latest rainbow jerseys.
“The whole season we didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t know what races would be able to go ahead,” Van der Breggen said of a season condensed by the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s the same with the Classics coming up, so I’m glad we were able to have the World Championships. I didn’t think I would take two jerseys.”
Van der Breggen’s Worlds double means that she will spend her final season as a professional rider in the rainbow jersey, and the 30-year-old reiterated that her remarkable run of form will not persuade her to prolong her career into 2022 or beyond. She will ride one more year with SD Worx (as Boels Dolmans will be known in 2021) before moving into a coaching role.
“I don’t think so,” Van der Breggen said when asked if she would reconsider her decision. “Of course, it’s also nice to stop when you still can win races. I think it’s also different for women to men. We have more things to think about, like family. I think you feel as a rider when the right moment is there to stop and do something different. If you really want to continue, then you should, but for me, I just want to make the best year I can do. So far, it’s looking pretty good.”
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