Elisa Balsamo wins elite women's world title at Flanders World Championships

Elisa Balsamo (Italy) came of age with a stunning victory in the elite women’s road race at the UCI World Championships with an incredible sprint win over Marianne Vos (Netherlands).

The Italian had a perfect lead-out from her teammates, with Elisa Longo Borghini delivering her to within the final 100m before Balsamo held off a late charge from Vos who was forced to settle for the silver medal. Katarzyna Niewiadoma finished third to take bronze for Poland.

After a gruelling race the rainbow jersey came down to a sprint finish from a reduced bunch and after controlling most of the race it looked as though the Netherlands would continue their dominance in the event. However, the Italians had other ideas. They held their nerves and followed the wheels perfectly but had the numbers in the finale when it mattered most. In the final kilometre, Balsamo still had a number of teammates with her and the Italian hit the front with around 1,000m to go while the Dutch lead-out looked disjointed at times.

The key move came when Longo Borghini hit the front with only Balsamo and Vos able to match her on the rise to the line. It looked as though Vos’ experience would pay off when she calmly sat on Balsamo’s wheel but when the Italian opened her sprint Vos clearly struggled to even draw level before eventually sitting down in the saddle as her younger rival took the biggest win of her career.

“I’m totally speechless,” Balsamo said at the finish.

"It’s unbelievable. It was a dream for me after this long season. My team was so, so good. Without them, this jersey wasn’t possible. They were so, so good. Sorry I have no words. My team gave me a perfect lead out and I really believed in them. In the last corner, I switched off my brain and told myself that I needed to go full gas and not watch what was happening behind.”

On the final 15.5km lap, the Dutch took the race by the scruff of the neck with Annemiek van Vleuten and Ellen van Dijk trading turns in order to nullify a gutsy attack by Spanish star Mavi Garcia. The catch was finally made with 11km to go on the Keizersberg. Demi Vollering, who suffered a series of mechanical problems earlier in the race, hit the front with 10km to go before Lucinda Brand and Rachel Neylan attacked together with 7.8km to go on the Decouxlaan, and then Van Vleuten once more dragged the race back together over the top.

Van Dijk kicked clear on the Wijnpers with Elisa Longo Borghini matching her before Marianne Vos, Alison Jackon, and Katarzyna Niewiadoma made it a stellar five-rider group with 5.5km to go. Despite Van Dijk’s best efforts the rest of the peloton came back with 4.6km to go but Van Vleuten pushed clear once more just after the juncture was made. With 3.5km remaining Van Dijk made yet another attack with Niewiadoma latching on before the Dutch were forced to chase down their own rider as they put all their efforts into setting up Vos for the sprint.

On the final climb of Sint-Antoniusberg, Niewiadoma accelerated with 1.7km to go but as the race crested the top of the ascent no single rider could make the difference. Both the Italians and the Dutch had numbers coming into the final kilometre but it was the Italians who rammed home their dominance with an unstoppable leadout capped off by the 23-year-old Balsamo, who took her second rainbow jersey after winning the junior race in 2016.

How it unfolded

Under blue skies, the women’s elite field set out on their 157km road race to decide the 2021 world champion. After a long neutralised zone Urska Bravek of Slovenia put the hammer down with the first meaningful attack before she was joined Fernanda Yapura of Argentina. The two leaders managed to build up a small advantage as the German squad set the pace at the front of the main field.

The break was reeled in with little effort from the peloton but the race only came to life with just over 100km to when Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) hit the front with just 101km to go. The 2019 winner almost came down soon after when she rode into the gutter but the veteran held herself up as the race began to hit a volley of climbs on the opening Leuven circuit.

The 15.5km circuit saw GB set the pace with Joss Lowden stringing out the peloton with a huge turn and she was still on the front as the race hit the Decouxlaan climb with 88km to go. Jessica Allen was one of the early casualties, with the Australian – who is still finding her form after injury – was dropped on the six per cent sections.

On the following climb of Wijnpers it was Franziska Koch (Germany) who set a fast pace with the peloton put under further pressure as gaps started to appear with Teniel Campbell (Trinidad and Tobago) losing ground. As the road levelled off and a lull in pace ensued Michaela Drummond (New Zealand) kicked clear with the 23-year-old establishing a 25-second gap with 79km to go.

Drummond almost brought her lead out to a minute but she was caught as the peloton charged onto the Smeysberg with 70km to go as the British team once more set the pace as Demi Vollering dropped her chain and was forced to chase. On the Moskesstraat Vollering was again forced to dismount twice due to a gearing issue.

The Dutch finally made a cohesive presence felt on the front of the reduced bunch with 61km to go with van der Breggen and the rest of her teammates moving up alongside riders from Denmark and the United States of America. Van der Breggen initiated the increase in pace with just over 60km remaining. On the Bekestraat with 58km to go Alison Jackon lifted the pace with Lizzie Deignan and a number of pre-race favourites moving into contention before van Vleuten pushed hard on the pedals for a second time in the race. This injection of pace reduced the bunch to less than 30 riders with Lauren Stephens among those distanced. Lucinda Brand took over on the front as the gradient eased but the Dutch were briefly without Vollering, who was unable to make the front group and had to rely on a chase group to bring her back into contention with 52km to go.

On the second ascent of the Smeysberg it was Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (South Africa) who surged to the front with Vos, Katarzyna Niewiadoma, and Deignan in close attendance. Van Vleuten took over at the summit of the climb with the bunch split to pieced with 48km to go and pre-race favourite Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) among those caught out and forced to frantically chase and Anna van der Breggen also finding herself in the second group.

With 45km to go a general regrouping took place before Ellen van Dijk attacked a kilometre later. The move was pounced on by the Australian and British teams with Chantal van den Broek-Blaak the next Dutch rider to try and kick clear. The relentless attacking continued with Cecilie Ludwig (Denmark) and Sina Frei (Switzerland) going clear before the Dutch squad brought the race back together with 38km to go.

Audrey Cordon Ragot (France) and Tiffany Cromwell (Australia) formed part of a dangerous six-rider move that drew the German team into a chase as the race entered Leuven for the finishing loops.

On the Sint-Antoniusberg climb, Georgi Pfeiffer (Great Britain) moved to the front before Aude Biannic (France) stretched her legs with an attack just before the riders crossed the finish line for the first time.

Cromwell, van den Broek-Blaak and Marta Bastianelli (Italy) countered but were brought back as Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) took off alone with 27km to go. The move forced the Dutch and British teams to unite and form a chase as Biannic held a slender lead before being caught and passed on the Keizersberg.

Van Dijk attempted to go clear once the race was finally brought back together but her acceleration was matched all the way by a strung-out peloton. On the second climb of the Decouxlaan, Mavi Garcia broke free with no reaction from the peloton with the Spanish rider establishing a 25-second lead with 22km to go.

Garcia had 30 seconds at the foot of the Wijnpers before Niewiadoma launched a vicious move that reduced the gap to 14 seconds, and the chase group to less than a dozen riders. With 20km to go Van Vleuten accelerated but Elisa Longo Borghini was quickly on her case as Garcia maintained her 15-second lead with just one categorized climb to come.

Van Vleuten set the pace with 18km to go with her teammate Vos neatly tucked in as Deignan and Kopecky found themselves out of contention. On the Sint-Antoniusberg, the lead between Garcia and the chase was down to just eight seconds with the Dutch,  Great Britain Australians, United States, and Denmark all with options remaining.

At the bell, Deignan and Kopecky returned to the front group with Cordon Ragot and Van Vleuten trading attacks as Garcia hung on to a slender 12-second lead with 15.5km to go and the race set up perfectly for the final lap.

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Full Results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Elisa Balsamo (Italy) 3:52:27
2Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
3Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) 0:00:01
4Kata Blanka Vas (Hungary)
5Arlenis Sierra Canadilla (Cuba)
6Alison Jackson (Canada)
7Demi Vollering (Netherlands)
8Cecilie Ludwig (Denmark)
9Lisa Brennauer (Germany)
10Coryn Rivera (United States Of America)
11Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa)
12Alena Amialiusik (Belarus)
13Elise Chabbey (Switzerland)
14Elizabeth Deignan (Great Britain)
15Sina Frei (Switzerland)
16Lotte Kopecky (Belgium)
17Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)
18Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) 0:00:08
19Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands)
20Marta Cavalli (Italy) 0:00:15
21Ruth Winder (United States Of America) 0:00:17
22Marta Bastianelli (Italy)
23Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Italy) 0:00:29
24Rachel Neylan (Australia) 0:00:45
25Anna Henderson (Great Britain) 0:00:49
26Ella Harris (New Zealand)
27Audrey Cordon Ragot (France)
28Spela Kern (Slovenia) 0:00:50
29Margarita Victoria Garcia Canellas (Spain)
30Amy Pieters (Netherlands)
31Karol-Ann Canuel (Canada)
32Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Netherlands)
33Christine Majerus (Luxembourg)
34Jolien D'Hoore (Belgium) 0:01:21
35Pfeiffer Georgi (Great Britain)
36Lucinda Brand (Netherlands) 0:03:01
37Franziska Koch (Germany) 0:03:29
38Sarah Roy (Australia) 0:03:31
39Ane Santesteban Gonzalez (Spain)
40Anna Shackley (Great Britain)
41Tiffany Cromwell (Australia)
42Paula Andrea Patino Bedoya (Colombia)
43Hanna Nilsson (Sweden)
44Omer Shapira (Israel)
45Aude Biannic (France) 0:03:34
46Juliette Labous (France)
47Anne Dorthe Ysland (Norway) 0:06:23
48Jesse Vandenbulcke (Belgium) 0:07:31
49Eugenie Duval (France)
50Evita Muzic (France)
51Karolina Kumiega (Poland)
52Kristen Faulkner (United States Of America) 0:08:22
53Marta Lach (Poland) 0:08:50
54Rasa Leleivyte (Lithuania)
55Eider Merino Cortazar (Spain) 0:08:55
56Leah Thomas (United States Of America) 0:09:13
57Ganna Solovei (Ukraine)
58Eugenia Bujak (Slovenia)
59Shari Bossuyt (Belgium)
60Jarmila Machacova (Czech Republic)
61Hayley Preen (South Africa)
62Noemi Ruegg (Switzerland)
63Leah Kirchmann (Canada)
64Michaela Drummond (New Zealand)
65Amalie Dideriksen (Denmark)
66Lisa Klein (Germany)
67Sarah Rijkes (Austria)
68Marta Jaskulska (Poland)
69Sara Martin Martin (Spain)
70Anastasiya Kolesava (Belarus)
71Tayler Wiles (United States Of America)
72Aurela Nerlo (Poland)
73Nathalie Eklund (Sweden)
74Kathrin Hammes (Germany)
75Susanne Andersen (Norway)
76Valerie Demey (Belgium)
77Lourdes Oyarbide Jimenez (Spain)
78Ingvild Gaaskjenn (Norway)
79Julie Leth (Denmark)
80Stine Borgli (Norway)
81Sheyla Gutierrez Ruiz (Spain)
82Emma Cecilie Joergensen (Denmark)
83Katrine Aalerud (Norway)
84Alice Barnes (Great Britain)
85Eri Yonamine (Japan)
86Rotem Gafinovitz (Israel)
87Romy Kasper (Germany) 0:09:25
88Mieke Kroeger (Germany)
89Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) 0:09:30
90Marlen Reusser (Switzerland)
91Niamh Fisher-Black (New Zealand)
92Lauretta Hanson (Australia)
93Amanda Spratt (Australia)
94Vittoria Guazzini (Italy)
95Elena Cecchini (Italy)
96Marita Jensen (Denmark) 0:13:21
97Karolina Karasiewicz (Poland)
98Diana Carolina Penuela Martinez (Colombia)
99Lizbeth Yareli Salazar Vazquez (Mexico)
100Phetdarin Somrat (Thailand)
101Julia Borgstroem (Sweden)
102Trine Holmsgaard (Denmark)
103Daniela Campos (Portugal)
104Christina Schweinberger (Austria)
105Caroline Baur (Switzerland)
106Lauren Stephens (United States Of America)
107Valeriya Kononenko (Ukraine)
108Dana Rozlapa (Latvia)
109Roxane Fournier (France)
110Jelena Eric (Serbia)
111Jessica Allen (Australia)
112Frances Janse van Rensburg (South Africa) 0:18:47
113Yuliia Biriukova (Ukraine)
114Yanina Kuskova (Uzbekistan)
115Inga Cesuliene (Lithuania)
116Nina Berton (Luxembourg) 0:22:01
117Yeny Lorena Colmenares Colmenares (Colombia)
DNFJoscelin Lowden (Great Britain)
DNFHenrietta Christie (New Zealand)
DNFChloe Hosking (Australia)
DNFKim de Baat (Belgium)
DNFKathrin Schweinberger (Austria)
DNFVerena Eberhardt (Austria)
DNFTeniel Campbell (Trinidad & Tabago)
DNFFernanda Yapura (Argentina)
DNFUrska Zigart (Slovenia)
DNFMaria Martins (Portugal)
DNFLina Marcela Hernandez Gomez (Colombia)
DNFErika Milena Botero Lopez (Colombia)
DNFNicole Koller (Switzerland)
DNFKerry Jonker (South Africa)
DNFSara Penton (Sweden)
DNFPaola Munoz Grandon (Chile)