The race really ignited on the fifth lap as the Dutch made their first move, with Amy Pieters countering an acceleration from her teammate Ellen Van Dijk to form a risky trio along with Rachel Neylan (Australia) and – in her first move of the day – Barnes.
“There were three Dutch cyclists in the group of seven so we knew we should attack and not wait for the sprint”. “I was grovelling away”, she said.
Her kit and skin were torn but her spirit undeterred.
Van der Breggen, Van Vleuten and Blaak were in the group of seven that took shape on the final lap and, with the numbers on their side, the Dutch were nearly unbeatable. She drew three others. “I am so pleased for Chantal”, she said.
“No, I can’t believe it”. The national champion of the Netherlands, Chantal Blaak came back from a fall to win solo from a seven-woman move on the last lap in Bergen, Norway on Saturday.
“The best option I had was just to rest my legs for the sprint or a late sort of attack”.
They had a lead of 32 seconds over just 52 riders on the final lap, with Sarah Roy limboing inbetween, 11 seconds off the lead, but by now much of the field were on their limit and the final climb of Slamon Hill saw the race explode.
“We raced the race perfectly”, continued Blaak, who’d been in the role of road captain for the day. I thought my race was over. But had I moved it would probably have been a waste of my time anyway.
Garfoot’s choice not to invest in the chase worked out with a silver medal, and bronze was taken by 2016 champion Amalie Dideriksen (Denmark), who showed that her future – as well as that of Denmark in the women’s peloton – is very bright indeed.
They would be brought back to the original peloton, which was now down to 69 riders from 150 starters.
On the docket: eight laps around a 19.1-kilometre circuit around Bergen with the ultimate reward of the most prestigious jersey in cycling: the rainbow jersey. Salmon Hill took its toll on the escape, its composition seemingly always in flux, and only three including the eventual silver medalist remained in front on the second to last climb of Salmon Hill. And when Blaak attacked with 8.5km to go of the final circuit, Barnes did not know whether to stick or twist.
With everyone eyeing the formidable Dutch squad, the women’s road race got off to a slow start. Another Dutch rider, Amy Pieters, sole away with Brit Hannah Barnes and Aussie Gracie Elvin. The duo was soon caught and as the pack passed the finish with five more laps to go, it was gruppo compatto. The newly formed hybrid group failed to work together, and were caught by the bunch with around 23km to go.
But as they neared the final lap, this breakaway, too, was reeled back in and immediately followed by a new breakaway. Again, Team USA had missed out and took to the front of the peloton to do the chasing.
Garfoot explained her reluctance to chase Blaak had been a gamble as she thought Van Vleuten or Van der Breggen would let their pride get the better of them.
Ten kilometres to go and the race defining breakaway was formed. Garfoot, Barnes, Ragot and Niewiadoma completed the break, all of which looked to the women in orange to do the work. Behind them, the peloton had several chase groups at least 40 seconds down from the leaders.
That move proved decisive and Bleak – who had crashed earlier in the race – crossed the line alone to become world champion, winning by 28 seconds.
“I gambled”, Garfoot admitted. “With three Dutchies, the odds were stacked against me”. “My team kept me going. I didn’t work, because I had chose to gamble”. Blaak entered the final two kms solo, while the chase of six looked accepted that they were now racing for second place. He won by 51-seconds and had plenty of time to celebrate.
Behind her, the peloton caught the chaser and sprinted for second place en masse.
Van Vleuten and van der Breggen responded, joined by Australia’s Katrin Garfoot and Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma with the group of seven having a 43 second lead on the descent and looking certain to sweep up the medals.