Armitstead and Gall clinch first 2015 UCI Road World Championships golds for Britain and Austria
A powerful sprint by Elizabeth Armitstead in the Elite Women’s Road Race has netted Great Britain its first gold medal in the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, outpacing Holland’s Anna Van der Breggen by over half a bike length.
Armitstead’s victory came just a few hours after Austria’s Felix Gall had soared to victory in the Men’s Junior Road Race, keeping a dramatic late challenge by France’s Clement Betouigt-Suire at bay by a narrow margin for a close but clear win.
Meanwhile the win for Armitstead makes her the fourth British woman to triumph in the World Championships Road Race after Beryl Burton, Mandy Jones and Nicole Cooke. But a fast and furious race meant it was no easy task for Armistead, whose victory in the 2015 World Cup series made her a top pre-race contender and a marked favourite.
Arguably the most dangerous moment for the British allrounder and those contenders hoping for a sprint finish came when a nine rider break containing Australians Rachel Neylan and Lauren Kitchen, together with Sweden’s Emily Fahlin, Italian Valentina Scandolara, Germany’s Romy Kasper, Poland's Malgorzata Jasinka, Amy Pieters of Holland, Audrey Cordon of France and Coryn Rivera of the USA sheered away with 26 kiometres to go.
At one point there was more than a minute between the break and the peloton, and as the gap began to come down at last, Polish national road race champion Jasinka made an important solo attack on the second last climb that forced the eight remianing breakaways to chase hard.
No sooner had Jasinka been caught with 6.5 kilometres to go than Cordon and Scandolara bolted away, but the bunch, powered by the Netherlands swept up the seven remaining breakaways at the foot of the final ascent of Libby Hill.
Cordon and Scandolara succumbed to the high pace behind as the peloton, sensing the finish was close and now down to around 40 riders, stretched and shattered into several large groups as the road steepened. Armitstead, increasingly active in the front on the last two climbs, kept the pace high on the final ascent of Governor Street in a driving move that all but ensured there were no late attacks by her rivals and which, equally importantly, further selected the leading group to the point where it was in single figures.
On the final, long, boulevard leading to the finish, no further moves were forthcoming in the the front group of nine riders, and Van der Breggen began her final acceleration. Armitstead came thundering past the Dutchwoman’s right, though, and the Briton rider's long, steady high paced burst of speed meant she powered across the line for a well calculated gold medal. Van der Breggen took the silver to add to her silver in the Elite Women’s Time Trial earlier this week and Megan Guarnier of the USA captured the bronze.
“It’s a dream come true, the rainbow jersey is the most special thing in cycling,” Armitstead said afterwards.
“It was a complicated race, I had to make sure I kept to my plan and went for it on the climbs as hard as I could at the end. I was hoping other riders would come across and we’d keep it going, and I knew I was in good shape.”
Describing the final sprint Armitstead said, “I got on the front, I was leading and waiting for them to go for it, but it didn’t happen. It was a strange sprint, but I kept them on the left-hand side and it went perfectly.”
“I couldn’t believe I’d done it, I didn’t have time to celebrate because I was going for the line all the way.”
“When you are so close, it’s normal to feel disappointed,” added Van der Breggen. “I could sense I was close, but we know Lizzie [Armitstead] is fast and she did a great sprint.”
Earlier on Saturday a late solo attack proved enough for Felix Gall to net Austria’s first gold of the 2015 Road World Championships in the Men’s Junior Road Race, narrowly but decisively fending off a powerful late surge by France’s Clement Betouigt-Suire.
In a tumultuous eight-lap race, the bunch was broken apart by several crashes on rainsoaked road surfaces as well as attacks. The key moment came when the main pack shattered into a group of five around two laps from the finish, forming a lead break that swelled to 14 around 25 kilometres from the line.
The 17-year-old Gall went clear around five kilometres to go, just before the last assault on the sweeping cobbled ascent of Libby Hill and opened a small advantage. However, his rivals whittled back that gap from 15 seconds to a nailbitingly narrow margin of three seconds as Gall headed up the final climb of Governor Street in the 129.8 kilometre race.
Betouigt-Suire slowly but steadily reduced that small margin yet further on the 680 metres finishing straight and tried his utmost to fling his front wheel in front of Gall at the line. But to no avail. The Austrian held on for gold, whilst Rasmus Pedersen of Denmark, just one second behind, had to settle for bronze. After a fraught battle for the podium, Reto Muller of Switzerland claimed fourth, 10 seconds back.
The final race of the 2015 Road World Championships, the Elite Mens Road Race over 261.4 kilometres takes place on Sunday, bringing down the curtain on what has proved to be a dramatic and enthralling week of bike racing in Richmond, Virginia.