Italy’s Elisa Balsamo scoops first senior world title with superb sprint

Zoe Backstedt edges Schmid to take junior women’s world championship gold

 Zoe Backstedt celebrates after winning the junior women’s road race at cycling’s world road championships in Belgium. Photograph: Getty Images

Zoe Backstedt celebrates after winning the junior women’s road race at cycling’s world road championships in Belgium. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Italy’s Elisa Balsamo launched a perfectly-judged sprint to win the elite women’s road race at cycling’s world championships in Belgium on Saturday, hitting the line first on the uphill finish in Leuven.

The 23 year-old held off three-time champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands) in a head-to-head sprint, with Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland) best of the other riders to secure bronze.

Niewiadoma had been one of the most active riders in the race, launching ferocious attacks on a number of the short, steep climbs on the course and often splitting the group. However the numerical advantage of the Dutch team negated each move, paving the way for what they hoped would be a win by Vos.

The 34 year-old went very close but wasn’t quite quick enough to deny Balsamo her first senior world championship title. She had previously taken junior world titles on the track.

Megan Armitage was the sole Irish woman in the race. She rode well despite a lack of prior racing at this level, but was delayed by a crash and unable to chase back on. She was ultimately one of a large number of riders who withdrew, but will benefit greatly from the experience.

Earlier, British rider Zoe Backstedt was best in the junior women’s road race, beating Kaia Schmid (USA) in a two-woman sprint to the line.

Schmid honed her form in the recent Rás na mBan in Ireland, winning two stages there, and reached the finish in Leuven with Backstedt after they collaborated well together.

However the latter proved too quick in the gallop for the line, taking the gold medal. Linda Riedmann (Germany) won a small group sprint for bronze.

Aoife O’Brien was best of the two Irish riders in the race, placing 81st. She and Erin Grace Creighton are first year juniors and were making their debut at this level. Creighton was ultimately a non-finisher but, like O’Brien, has gained valuable experience she can carry into next season.

“It was really tough, a lot tougher than I think we expected,” she said. “On the first lap everyone just went off like a rocket. It was so tough.”

O’Brien said she was satisfied with how things went. “I wasn’t expecting any podium, or anything. But I got in with a good group, and we rode really hard around,” she said. “I was happy enough to finish it in a good group. I am happy enough with how the race went.

“We are both first year juniors, we still have next year so hopefully we can learn from this and improve for next year.”

Cycling’s world road championships will draw to a close on Sunday with the Elite men’s road race. Eddie Dunbar, Rory Townsend and Ryan Mullen will be Ireland’s entrants in the 268.3 kilometre event.

Sam Bennett had also been due to take part but withdrew earlier in the week as he is still building race condition after his return from a knee injury.

World road championships, Flanders, Belgium

Elite women’s road race, Antwerp to Leuven: 1 Elisa Balsamo (Italy) 157.7 kilometres in 3 hours 52 mins 27, 2 M Vos (Netherlands) same time, 3 K Niewiadoma (Poland) at 1, 4 K Blanka Vas (Hungary), 5 A Sierra (Cuba) both same time.

Irish: DNF: Megan Armitage.

Junior women’s road race, Leuven: 1 Zoe Backstedt (Britain) 75 kilometres in 1 hour 55 mins 33 secs, 2 K Schmid (USA), 3 L Riedmann (Germany) at 57, 4 E Uijen (Netherlands), 5 M Macpherson (USA) both same time.

Other: 81 A O’Brien (Ireland) at 11 mins 51, DNF: E Grace Creighton (Ireland).

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