Van Vleuten and Evenepoel Capture Road Race Titles at UCI Worlds

Annemiek van Vleuten overcame a broken elbow, Remco Evenepoel the weight of a nation, with astonishing wins at the worlds Down Under.

By Whit Yost |

This weekend’s worlds road races went to two of the season’s best riders. The cycling world watched in awe as the best road riders went head-to-head in the road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia to determine who would wear the sport’s coveted rainbow jerseys next season as the sport’s respective world road race champions.

Elite Road Race Results

Who Won Worlds

Despite racing on a broken elbow, Annemiek Van Vleuten (the Netherlands) won Saturday’s women’s event to take the second rainbow jersey of her career. Timing her attack perfectly inside the final kilometre, she held on to win by one second over Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky and Italy’s Silvia Persico.

Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) won Sunday’s men’s race with a solo move 25km from the finish line. France’s Christophe Laporte won the sprint for silver ahead of Australia’s Michael Matthews, 2:21 behind the Belgian.

What Happened

Saturday’s elite women’s race covered 164.3km and took place in the rain, but that didn’t dampen the fireworks as the race broke up quickly, starting a day of attrition that would see only 78 riders finish the event.

Van Vleuten entered the race with a fractured elbow that she sustained in a crash during Wednesday’s mixed relay TTT. The injury clearly took a toll on the 39-year-old: she was dropped the last three times the peloton climbed Mount Pleasant on the Wollongong city circuits but repeatedly clawed her way back to the front to keep herself in contention. But when a 5-rider group containing pre-race favorites Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) escaped for a second time, it looked as if Van Vleuten’s chance for a gold medal had gone up the road.

The Dutch led a powerful chase with help from Belgium and Australia and caught the breakaway just before the finish. And that’s when Van Vleuten made her move, escaping with a bit less 1km to go as the bunch prepared for a slippery field sprint. Catching the field by surprise, she held on for the win just one second ahead of Kopecky and Persico, who settled for silver and bronze.

The pivotal moment in Sunday’s 266.9km men’s event came with about 75km to go. The French forced a selection on Mount Pleasant, pulling a handful of riders away from the field, including Evenepoel, who quietly covered the move to ensure Belgium had a card to play. Assumed by many to be riding on behalf of compatriot Wout van Aert, who missed the selection along with Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar, Evenepoel’s presence was a coup for Belgium, who now had one rider able to win from the front and another ready to try his own hand should the race come back together.

Once the break’s gap was firmly established, Evenepoel began attacking. A bit too early at first, but his final acceleration as the leaders passed through the finish line with about 35km finally stuck. Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko was the only rider to follow the Belgian, and while he’s not a rider to be overlooked on a course of this sort, he was dropped with another Evenepoel acceleration on Mount Pleasant less than 10km later.

gettyimages-1427119367Alone off the front, Evenepoel–who earned a bronze medal in last Sunday’s individual time trial–was free to ride his own tempo, taking each corner on the technical circuit with care so as to prevent the unthinkable. Behind him, chaos ensued as the remnants of the leading group battled for silver and bronze, ultimately getting caught inside the final 500 meters after slowing to a near-stop in a 4-man game of cat-and-mouse that killed any chance they had of making the podium.

Laporte led home the charging peloton ahead of Matthews. Van Aert finished fourth, missing out on another world title but happy to have the rainbow jersey going home to Belgium nonetheless.

What It Means

Van Vleuten will now spend her final season as a professional in the rainbow jersey. This victory is perhaps one of the most impressive of her storied career, especially since–after Wednesday’s crash–it wasn’t a given that she would even start the race, let alone be a contender for the victory. This season she’s now won a Monument (Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes), the women’s editions of all three grand tours (the Giro Rosa, the Tour de France Femmes, and the Cerazit Challenge by La Vuelta), and now a world title. No matter what she accomplishes next year–and we’re sure she’s got more wins left in the tank; she’ll retire as perhaps the greatest women’s cyclist of all time.

Evenepoel’s victory capped an impressive season as well, one in which he also won a Monument (Liège-Bastogne-Liège), a grand tour (the Vuelta a España), and a world title. But the 22-year-old is at a much different phase of his own career, and now he’ll be forced to make difficult choices about the type of rider he wishes to become.

Or will he? This is an era in which the sport’s superstars don’t allow themselves to be defined by any one type of race: Van Aert is one of the sport’s best cobbled Classics riders yet also supports his teammates in the high mountains of the Tour de France; and Pogačar won two of the last three Tours de France yet also came close to winning the Tour of Flanders in April. And the list of multidisciplinary stars doesn’t end there, with riders like Mathieu van der Poel (the Netherlands) and Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) winning races on all types of terrain.

So while it’s tempting to say that Evenepoel will now have to choose between winning more Monuments and winning more grand tours, recent history has proven the opposite to be true. For now, his next choice will only be which Belgian trappist ale to drink with friends as returns to Belgium to celebrate his successful September.

What’s Next

The season is nearing its end, with only a couple of weeks of meaningful racing left for both the women and men. The women’s WorldTour wraps-up in two weeks with the first running of the women’s Tour of Romandie, a three day race in the French-speaking region of Switzerland with beautiful scenery and an impressive start list. Even though she’s not racing, Van Vleuten should end the season atop the UCI’s WorldTour rankings, which comes as no surprise given the season she’s had.

The men’s peloton will likely divide itself between France and Italy at a series of one-day races in each country leading up to the season’s final two one-day Classics: Paris-Tours (which isn’t a WorldTour race despite its storied history) and Il Lombardia (the season’s fifth and final Monument and the last stop on the men’s WorldTour).

With several teams still fighting to avoid relegation, these races will be hotly contested, and many squads intentionally preventing riders from joining their national teams in Australia to keep them fresher for the final push to earn UCI points before the season concludes.

But with the cyclocross season just getting underway and the route of next year’s Tour de France to be announced in late-October, there’s still plenty to keep an eye on; so stay tuned!

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