WOLLONGONG, Australia — Annemiek van Vleuten surprised herself and the rest of cycling by recording the finest win of her career Saturday at the world road championships.
Overcoming an elbow fracture suffered three days earlier, the Dutch great won her second world road race title with an attack in the final 600 meters that caught the other eight leaders napping.
The 39-year-old rider and her Dutch teammates were in disbelief at the finish after she put the exclamation mark on a 164.3-kilometer (102.1-mile) event.
The 2019 world champion and reigning Olympic world time trial winner claimed cycling’s triple crown this year when she landed the Italian, French and Spanish tours.
But for Van Vleuten, who will retire at the end of next season, what she did Saturday was extra special.
« Maybe this is my best victory. … I am still speechless. I still can’t believe it, » she said. « It took me some time to realize I’d really pulled it off because I’m waiting for the moment that they tell me there was someone in front or it was a joke. I had the feeling it cannot be true. »
Van Vleuten crashed in Wednesday’s mixed team relay and suffered the fracture, describing the pain during Saturday’s race as « hell. »
The win also continues the domination of the Dutch women, who have finished on the road race podium at all but three of the past 20 worlds.
Earlier Saturday, Britain’s Zoe Backstedt celebrated her 18th birthday by turning the junior road event into a one-woman race.
In wet and cold conditions, Backstedt cycled away from the peloton with a solo attack at 10 kilometers and stayed clear for the remaining 57 kilometers to win by more than two minutes. Eglantine Rayer of France was second ahead of Dutch rider Nienke Vinke.
Backstedt retained her junior road race title and also is a world champion on the track and in cyclocross.
The championships end Sunday with the men’s road race.