Cycling-Van Vleuten snatches road race world title after hellish ride

FILE PHOTO: Cycling - UCI Road World Championships - Knokke-Heist to Bruges, Belgium - September 20, 2021 Netherlands' Annemiek van Vleuten in action REUTERS/Yves Herman

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten staged a classic late attack to win the world championship road race in a stunning finish on Saturday despite nursing a fractured elbow throughout the 164.3-km race.

The 39-year-old was a major doubt for the race after sustaining the injury in a crash in the mixed relay on Wednesday and rode through pain to claim the rainbow jersey for the second time after 2019.

Van Vleuten had been buried in the peloton for most of the race but came out of nowhere to sweep to the front as the sprinters were jockeying for position on the other side of the road about 500 metres from the finish line.

"I knew that I couldn't sprint because of my elbow so I knew that I had to attack from behind, that was the only, only, only chance that I had," she said.

"I was waiting and waiting and waiting for the sprinters to come but they couldn't catch me."

Belgian Lotte Kopecky finished second with Italian Silvia Persico third, both cursing themselves after being completely outmanoeuvred by their Dutch rival.

Van Vleuten clocked four hours, 24 minutes and 25 seconds over a course that ran along the Pacific coast from Helensburgh to Wollongong on Australia's eastern seaboard south of Sydney.

"It was hell," said the Olympic time trial champion "I couldn't go out of the saddle because of my elbow and my legs were exploding on the climbs. Normally, I really like to go out of the saddle and attack.

"I had such a different plan before I broke my elbow and now I win it in the last kilometre and I'm world champion."

Van Vleuten's triumph brings the title back to the Netherlands for the fifth time in six years after the reign of Italian Elisa Balsamo, who dropped out of the running with about 25 km to go just after rain started falling on the course.

New Zealander Niamh Fisher-Black finished 12th in the bunch, a second behind van Vleuten, to take the inaugural women's under-23 title.

Earlier, Britain's Zoe Backstedt celebrated her 18th birthday by defending her junior road race world title with another dominant performance, adding a second Wollongong gold medal to the one she won in the junior time trial on Tuesday.

The men's road race concludes the championships on Sunday.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by)

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