Van Dijk beats Brown to win third elite women's time trial title at World Championships

Ellen van Dijk picked up her second straight elite world time trial gold, and the third of her career, on Saturday in Wollongong, Australia, successfully defending her title in a 34.2km race. 

"I never expected to win. I didn't think it was a perfect course for me but I had a good mental and physical approach with my coach. I just thought I would give it my all today, a podium spot would be nice, but if it's not, it's not, I still had a great year. I never thought I would win today," Van Dijk said.

As the reigning champion, Van Dijk was the final starter out on the road, and she did not disappoint. When Van Dijk set out of the start ramp, the hot seat was in the possession of Grace Brown, and the Australian's time continued to stand out as the day's best as one rival after another crossed the finish line. 

Switzerland's Marlen Reusser appeared on pace to challenge Brown after setting a faster time through the first intermediate, and then Van Dijk stormed through the time check even nine seconds faster than that. 

Reusser, however, faded in the latter part of her effort, coming home 29 seconds slower than Brown. 

Van Dijk, on the other hand, did not fade. The Dutchwoman cruised through the twists and turns of the occasionally lumpy course to arrive 12 seconds faster than Reusser, securing a second world time trial title in a row with a time of 44:29. 

After spending the better part of two hours in the hot seat, Brown settled for second, with Reusser taking third on the day. 

Vittoria Guazzini of Italy, the fourth best finisher in Wollongong, was also the fastest of the under-23 riders, thereby nabbing the first ever U23 women's world time trial title.

How it unfolded

The opening event of the 2022 UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong took place under clear skies, though a moderate west wind added some intrigue for the field of just over 40 riders.

Germany's Ricarda Bauernfeind was the first woman to roll onto the course, which took riders on two laps of a circuit that featured a handful of ups and downs, including the punchy Mount Ousley at 7.1km and 24.5km into the race.

Bauernfeind's initial mark withstood a few challenges before Shirin van Anrooij of the Netherlands arrived 29 seconds faster. Canada's Alison Jackson, who started just after Van Anrooij, set a fast intermediate split but lost time in a crash. Although she quickly remounted, Jackson would finish well down in the final standings. 

In any case, Van Anrooij would not spend long atop the provisional standings, with Brown already out on the course and closing in on the hot seat by then.

The 30-year-old Australian sped through the intermediates far faster than anyone who had gone before, clearly still carrying plenty of form after her recent Commonwealth Games TT title and a stage win at the Ceratizit Challenge just over a week ago. Brown arrived at the finish to the cheers of the home crowd on a blistering time of 44:41, and then she began her wait in the hot seat.

Of the next several starters, only Lotte Kopecky of Belgium even came within two minutes of Brown's time. 

Kristen Faulkner of the United States was the first rider to finish less than a minute and a half down, setting a time that would eventually stand as the day's sixth best, but rivals would continue to come up short as Brown spent more and more time in the hot seat. Two-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) seemed a strong bet to challenge Brown when she set out on the course, but it wasn't long before it became clear the Van Vleuten was not having her best day.

Van Vleuten was well off of Brown's pace at the intermediates, and she would ultimately arrive 1:31 down on Brown, which would only be good enough for seventh place at the end of the race.

As the last several starters took on the course, however, Brown's position became more tenuous. Reusser, last year's silver medalist, went just a little bit faster through the first intermediate. Then Van Dijk began her ride, and it soon became apparent that she was flying as she surged through the intermediate with a new fastest time.

The race finally saw someone come within a minute of Brown as Guazzini finished her effort. Last year's U23 European champ – and the runner-up to Van Anrooij in that category this year – finished 40 seconds behind provisional leader Brown to secure the first ever U23 women's title and fourth overall. Leah Thomas of the United States was another notable performer, landing fifth on the day.

Reusser managed to pass Denmark's Emma Norsgaard out on the course, but her strong effort was not quite strong enough, and she lost significant ground in the second half of her ride. After appearing to be in the mix for the win at first, Reusser finished 29 seconds slower than Brown. 

It was a different story for Van Dijk, who navigated the technical course with aplomb, managing to get the most out of her powerful engine despite all the corners on the circuit. After Reusser's arrival at the finish, fans did not have to wait long to see Van Dijk approaching, with little doubt as to who would be taking the title.

When all was said and done, Van Dijk arrived with a 12-second advantage on Brown's time to secure the win.

She said after her victory that she had not been getting the full picture of the timing situation on the road and was instead simply riding as fast as she could.

"I had no times at all. I never want to know any times. I had no idea how I was riding," Van Dijk said.

"My coach said I was riding well and really going for something, but it could be a medal, it could be anything. I want to focus completely on myself, pace my efforts and it worked really well. On the second lap I was a bit slower, it was difficult for everyone. I could keep it until the end and really fight for it. I was so surprised."

In the immediate aftermath of her win, Van Dijk was still getting her head around the notion of being a three-time world champ.

"Every title has its own story and the first one I was not the favourite," she said. "I was nervous and super happy to pull it off. Second time, last year, was super emotional because I was chasing it for eight years. It was such an emotional win. This one, I can't process it yet."

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