Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) won the elite women’s road race at the World Championships in Glasgow, soloing to victory after dropping Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) on the climb of Scott Street with 5.5km to go.
The pre-race favourite picked up her third rainbow jersey of the week – and Belgium’s first elite women’s road title in half a century – with her rasping late attack. Demi Vollering (Netherlands) pipped Uttrup Ludwig in the sprint for second place, 7 seconds down on Kopecky.
Elise Chabbey (Switzerland) threatened an upset with a long, solo stint at the head of the race, but the Swiss rider was brought back by an elite group of chasers at the bell, where defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten punctured out of contention.
That left Kopecky, Vollering, Uttrup Ludwig, Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain), Christina Schweinberger (Austria) and Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) in the hunt for the rainbow jersey in the final 14km.
Kopecky had cut a frustrated figure for much of the afternoon as she attempted to marshal a chase and she was briefly caught on the wrong side of a split in the front group when Deignan and Schweinberger ghosted early clear on the final lap.
The Belgian bridged across to the two leaders in the company of Reusser, however. Then, just when the six-woman group had come back together, she responded to Uttrup Ludwig’s subsequent attack before delivering her own, decisive move on Scott Street.
Kopecky had opened a sizeable gap by the time she crested the summit, and although Uttrup Ludwig remained in sight all the way to the line, the Belgian would not be denied. She made light work of the final kick up Montrose Street and she had time to savour her victory as she crossed the line.
“It’s already been an amazing year and also a very hard year,” Kopecky said before mounting the podium. “It’s kind of a dream that comes true and I hope to enjoy riding in the rainbow jersey next year.”
Silver medallist in Wollongong a year ago, Kopecky lined up as the outstanding favourite after a season that has seen her claim victories at the Tour of Flanders and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and after a sparkling Tour de France Femmes, where she won the opening stage and held yellow for six days en route to second place overall. On the track in Glasgow last week, meanwhile, she claimed rainbow jerseys in the elimination race and the points race.
“I thought after those two world titles on the track, it would be almost impossible to win again on Sunday. Three World Championships in seven days is too crazy,” Kopecky said. “I didn’t dream of this when I was a little girl, back then I just wanted to be competitive on the bike. I never knew I would become this good. That dream only came later.”
How it unfolded
The elite women’s road race, 154.1km from Loch Lemond to Glasgow, started without two marquee riders, time trial world champion Chloé Dygert (USA) and Tour de France Femmes podium finisher Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland).
Fortunately, except for some showers at the start, the sun came out for most of the race.
The first attacks came from Eliška Kvasničková (Czech Republic) but her too-eager move was quickly brought back as teams sought to whittle down the 200+-rider starting bunch with 15km raced.
Juliette Labous (France), Sanne Cant (Belgium), Mischa Bredewold (Netherlands) and Elise Chabbey (Switzerland) joined Kata Blanka Vas (Hungary) but when Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) to make a powerful seven-rider attack and set out to build their advantage en route to the longest climb of the day.
As they raced toward the dark clouds looming over Glasgow and the Crow Road climb the leaders held only a 32-second advantage.
Paladin and Vas came back on the climb, and a much-reduced peloton closed in on the leaders and the race came back together with 100km to go.
Meanwhile, Marianne Vos (Netherlands) was chasing behind the peloton with Belgium’s Marthe Truyen and Michaela Drummond (New Zealand) after falling behind on Crow Road.
Kim Cadzow (New Zealand) attacked to get a head start as the race entered the Glasgow circuit, but her move was quickly overtaken as the favourites came forward.
Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) put in a huge surge and was joined by Anna Henderson (Great Britain) on the first climb of Montrose Street for the first time with a small lead over a five-rider chasing group: Elise Chabbey (Switzerland), Soraya Paladin (Italy), Reijanne Markus (Netherlands), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) and Poland’s Agnieszka Skalniak-Sojka, and they came together before the end of lap 1.
Chabbey countered a probing move from Kopecky with 74.5km to go and soon would be the breakaway of the day.
With five laps to go, Chabbey had 14 seconds and she continued to slowly build the gap to more than a minute as tactics played out behind.
With four laps to go the gap was a catchable 27 seconds but despite a solo attempt to bridge by Elene Cecchini (Italy), the favourites played a waiting game.
When Cecchini came back inside 50km to go, riders looked around for anyone who would chase while Chabbey opened her lead to 1:25.
The peloton came through with three laps to go still with a 90-second gap to close and it came down to none other than defending champion Van Vleuten to lead the chase with teammate Reijanne Markus, coming forward with 38km to go.
“I have to say I was not nervous before the race but with Chabbey at 1:30… We saw before on this course that you don’t gain so much time, so I think I really have to thank a really solid Sanne Cant at the beginning of the local laps and then Justine Ghekier,” Kopecky said.
“I told her to try to keep the pace up, it doesn’t need to be a very hard one but just so she doesn’t gain a lot of time. I think she did a really good job.”
The gap finally started to go in the right direction approaching two laps to go, coming under the minute mark with 35km to go.
Van Vleuten pushed the pace and brought Silvia Persico (Italy) with her, forcing Kopecky to answer. Soon, the Belgian was at the head of the chase and shattering the field behind and Vollering got straight on her wheel.
Reusser, sensing the danger, followed the chase of Uttrup Ludwig and closed the duo down, but the gap was falling dramatically, under 30 seconds just one kilometre later.
As Kopecky looked around at the situation, Van Vleuten launched again halving the distance to Chabbey.
Heading toward Montrose Street with 31km to go, Kopecky attacked through the feed zone and pressed on, followed by Russer, Deignan, Schweinberger, Utttrup Ludwig, and Vollering who had to work to drag the Belgian back.
On the climb, Chabbey was coming into view, as was Van Vleuten as Uttrup Ludwig danced up the climb. The chasing group came back together and, coming into two laps to go, they had just 20 seconds to close.
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