Marianne Vos must have felt a sense of déjà-vu in Leuven as a silver medal was placed around her neck and a rainbow jersey was being zipped up in her periphery. For a rider practically synonymous with victory, her tally of runner-up finishes in elite World Championship road races now stands at a staggering six.
What’s more, the rainbow bands to her left were once again replacing a maglia azzurra. After Marta Bastianelli in 2007, Tatiana Guderzo in 2009, and Giorgia Bronzini in 2010 and 2011, Elisa Balsamo ensured that Vos has been denied the gold medal by an Italian on five of those six occasions.
“Italy is always a dedicated and strong team in the World Championships, so I knew they were going to be the team to watch,” Vos said.
“Leading up to this World Championship, I’ve said to many people that Elisa is one of the main favourites for the race. I knew already. This spring I saw her racing in Flèche Brabançonne, and she did really well. She’s always good in Flanders. She’s a sprinter who can survive on the harder circuits.”
Vos had been billed as a big favourite for what would have been a fourth elite road race world title, following her triumphs at Salzburg 2006, Valkenburg 2012, and Florence 2013, with five of her silver medals coming in straight succession in the middle of those first two golds.
She missed the chance to draw level with Yvonne Reynders on four world titles, one shy of Jeannie Longo’s record of five, but had to content herself with a record ninth medal.
“Of course, I have to admit, at first I was really disappointed. If you’re so close to the gold, then obviously I would have wanted to finish off. But now the smile is back,” Vos said during her press conference.
“But Elisa did a great race. When she opened up the sprint, I couldn’t make the speed and I really felt it was going to be very hard. Then silver was all I could do. I’m also satisfied with the shape I’m in and the silver medal I could take out of this race.”
Vos took a back seat for much of the race as her Dutch teammates took it in turns to attack. Nothing succeeded in going clear and it became clear her card would indeed be played in a group sprint as a sizeable group neared the end of the last of the Leuven laps.
“With the team we all wanted to have a hard race and we wanted to create some opportunities for riders in the early breaks,” Vos explained. “If that didn’t work out, then attacks in the final to get everybody tired, and for me to get as fresh as possible to the finish.
“That went well. We were never really out of contention. Elisa was just faster on the line, then you have to be happy with silver.”
However, there were once again question marks over the Dutch as a collective, as Italy took over in the final kilometre and ended up splitting the field as Balsamo was handed the perfect lead-out. Vos was alive to the threat and jumped on Balsamo’s wheel, but Ellen van Dijk admitted the team had made a mistake in the lead-out and simply didn’t have enough numbers left.
“Yeah, maybe,” Vos said, “but it was also good to make the hard race to get some of the sprinters tired - so that was also part of the plan.
“I didn’t lose the race in the lead-out. I lost it when I couldn’t beat Elisa Balsamo on the line. You never know. With all the energy that goes through the race, you never know in the end where you could have saved more. At that moment I could bridge across and be on the right wheel.”
Vos concluded by paying tribute to her teammate Anna van der Breggen, herself a two-time world champion, who was racing for the final time in Flanders. Vos, 34, watched Van der Breggen turn pro and now, after both have racked up so many big victories between them, finds it strange to be waving her goodbye.
“She’s a great champion but also a great person. It’s weird to speak in the retrospective, but she was always very dedicated and also relaxed, and that’s a fine balance. She had to be who she is and never really acted as the queen of cycling, even though she was over the last years.
“Anna was always still Anna and she will stay Anna. We’ve had a great champion and a great role model for cycling.”
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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.
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