Zoe Backstedt celebrated her 18th birthday with a dominant 57km solo performance to win the junior women's world title at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia on Saturday. In a two-up sprint, Eglantine Rayer (France) got the better of Nienke Vinke (Netherlands) to take the silver medal with Vinke earning bronze.
“I was in tears from a kilometre to go. There were so many people out on course just shouting out my name, shouting out Happy Birthday, especially on the climb that’s where I needed it the most," Backstedt said.
"There were people running with me. One thing in the corner of my eye there was this little girl in a pink onesie and she just kept running alongside me the whole time screaming my name and I am so grateful for that because it just pushed me on so much.”
Backstedt secured her second world title of the week having won the individual time trial on Tuesday. It was also her fifth consecutive world title having defended the junior women's road race world title that she won last year in Flanders, to go along with the world titles she won in the Madison and cyclo-cross disciplines earned earlier in the year.
“Just as much as the other but it means a lot to do it. A double double and on my birthday," she said of winning two titles in Wollongong.
Asked if someone told her that today was not an individual time trial, Backstedt jokingly responded, “I mean I did look at the road book but maybe I go the days mixed up."
She also said that it was not the plan to attack inside the first 10km of the race.
“No, not in the slightest, especially not on the downhill. I planned to go on a lap to go, something like that. I came over the climb the first time and I felt really good and I was climbing at the front, which for a climb like that and for me the rider I am, that was not predicted."
How it unfolded
The junior women raced one introduction lap of 15.9km followed by three full laps of the 17.1km Wollongong city circuit for a total of 67.2km. The loop travelled through the suburbs of Gwynneville, over climbs over Mount Ousley and Mount Pleasant, then on to Fairy Meadow and North Wollongong before heading back toward the finish line along the coast in Wollongong.
The pelton contested the Mount Pleasant ascent on each lap, which was an average gradient of 7.7% with pitches as steep as 14%, making this the decisive points of the junior women's race.
It was a brutal start to the junior women's race as Great Britain lined out at the front to try and keep Backstedt out of the wind but at the front of the field. As they put pressure on the front of the field, they distanced many riders, shattering the field on the first climb over Mount Pleasant.
Backstedt continued putting pressure on the front of the field and attacked over the top and down the other side, just 10km into the race. The favourite in the race as the defending champion, and the newly crowned junior time trial world champion, she separated herself from the shattered chase groups behind and gained 18 seconds that quickly bloomed to over a minute.
Only one rider was caught in no man's land, Eliška Kvasničkova (Czech Republic), as she tried desperately but unsuccessfully to connect with Backstedt during the opening lap.
France moved to the front of the larger chase with Alizee Rigaux, Eglantine Rayer, Lise Menage and Titia Ryo. This allowed Backstedt's teammates Awen Roberts and Grace Lister to sit in the group.
Other nations represented in the chase group were Xaydee van Sinaey and Fleur Moors (Belgium), Samantha Scott (USA), Noëlle Rüetschi (Switzerland), Talia Appleton and Isabelle Carnes (Australia), Francesca Pellegrini and Eleonora Ciabocco (Italy), Julia Kopecky (Czech Republic), Nienke Vinke (Netherlands), Justyna Czapla (Germany), and Malwina Mul (Poland).
As Backstedt continued to stretch her lead out to two minutes, Kvasničkova was caught by the larger chase group and settled back into a rhythm with 35km to go.
Great Britain continued to attack in an attempt to get another rider off the front. They weren't successful on the second lap but France took advantage of their effort with a counter attack as Rigaux gaining a small gap.
Backstedt's lead extended to nearly three minutes, 2:55, on the third lap as the group behind swelled to roughly 30 riders but with a lull in the bunch her lead would only continue to grow.
French rider Rayer attacked over Mount Pleasant and cleared the field but she struggled to hold the gap on the windy descent and flat sections along the coast, as a smaller group bridged across with Roberts, Vinke, Rigaux, Simon, Moors, Kopecky, Pellegrini, Mul and Rüetschi, who were among the strongest riders over the climb.
Backstedt's gap dropped to 2:25 as she raced into the fourth and final lap with one rider, Vinke of the Netherlands, chasing and opening a lead of 20 seconds over the rest of the chasing field.
Backstedt showed some signs of struggle for the first time when she hit the final climb over Mount Pleasant, pacing herself over the 14% section, but losing valuable seconds.
“It got to I think 2:55 and then I think the last lap and a half it started shrinking again and then when I saw two minutes in I started to panic but my coach in the car came up behind and said, ‘you’ve got two minutes, don’t stress, take it, don’t risk it on the downhill.’ But I did not listen to her on that part and I just dug in all the way to the line and this is the outcome," she said.
Once over the top, however, she used her powerful pedal stoke to regain those seconds across the second half of the circuit and into the finish stretch to defend her junior road race world title and secure her second rainbow jersey in Wollongong.
Behind the winner, Vinke also struggled over the final climb as Rayer used her superb climbing finesse to close the gap in pursuit of the silver medal.
Vinke attacked Rayer on the flat second along the coast to go clear but Rayer closed the gap inside the last kilometre. In a two-up sprint, Rayer got the better of Vinke to take the silver medal.
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