17-year-old Zoe Backstedt was crowned the women’s junior road race world champion on Saturday morning in Leuven, Belgium at the 2021 UCI Road World Championships.
The Welsh rider made a fantastic attack with over 30 kilometres to go alongside Kaia Schmid (USA), and they would ride away from the rest of the field to set-up a two-woman sprint.
Backstedt overcame her American rival, sprinting side by side for the final few hundred metres, it would be Great Britain that prevailed the winner on the line.
A clearly emotional Backstedt speaking after the race exclaimed, “I have no words at all I can’t believe I’ve just done that, it was probably the hardest race I’ve ever done.
“I was just trying to keep us moving, keep us away from the group behind. I knew I had teammates in that group, my three teammates, I knew they would be trying to help me get that gap out a little bit more and once it was above 30 seconds, I knew I could hold it with the American.
“We kept communicating, saying let’s get ourselves to the line and we’ll just sprint it out and see what happens in the last lap. We did that and it came down to a sprint and I just had it.”
Once off the podium Backstedt and her teammates embraced in a hug to celebrate a team win, all riders finishing in the top sixteen, and the new world champion. Backstedt celebrated her 17th birthday on Friday, a gold medal and rainbow jersey were fine gifts to take home indeed.
In the elite women’s race, Lizzie Deignan would finish 14th as the top British rider in the same group as the winner, Elisa Balsamo (Italy) as the race came down to a bunch finish.
Junior Women’s Race
The same 8.15am start time awaited the junior women as it did the men on Friday, as did the same course around the historic city of Leuven, where they would complete a total of 75 kilometres, five laps of the circuit.
At the drop of the flag, the Great Britain team consisting of Zoe Backstedt, Millie Couzens, Maddie Leech and Flora Perkins managed to stay out of trouble and were prominent at the front of the group as they headed over the Keizersberg climb, the first climb on the course for the first time.
Backstedt having won the individual time trial silver medal earlier in the week, spoke to reporters before the race, “I feel great, it’s really exciting to be here. I can’t wait to get on the course and ride again, I rode it on Thursday for the recce and I love it.
“It’s probably the best course I’ve ever ridden, everything about it is awesome, and I can’t wait to get out there and have fun.
“They [the climbs] suit me really well, they’re short, they’re steep but they’re not too long that I can’t get over them. They are that perfect length that maybe if I go hard enough, well we will see what happens.”
That feeling must have resonated throughout all four riders as they patrolled the group early on, making sure they were first through the corners and prominent over the climbs, it was a superb team effort making sure all four riders made it to the 35-kilometre mark and in a select group of around 40 riders.
Then the attacks started coming, Perkins and Couzens stretching their legs, trying to create a gap, but nothing would stick. As had nonprior, nothing enough to encourage the timing team to measure the gap anyway.
Backstedt would choose the Wijnpers climb on lap three as her first moment, taking a small group over the top including Perkins and Couzens. A French and Italian coalition would work to bring another group up to the back of them with 32 kilometres to go.
Then on the St. Antoniusberg climb, just before two laps to go, Flora Perkins attacked stringing out the field having showed great climbing ability throughout the race, but it wouldn’t be Perkins that got away.
A counterattack by Backstedt taking Kaia Schmid (USA) with her would prove to be the one that finally got a gap. Attempts to bring them back would eventually simmer down in the final lap, the closest the chase got was 23 seconds after an attack before one lap to go.
The three British riders in the main group would be involved crash at the bottom of the Wijnpers climb with one to go, forcing Couzens to correct the bike and keep herself upright, having to take her foot out to regain balance, Perkins just behind was slowed as Leech came to a complete stop.
Backstedt meanwhile had one last dig to lose the American for the final time up Wijnpers where both races were decided on Friday in the junior and under-23 men’s races – but this inseparable duo were going all the way to the line.
The British rider went into the final kilometre side by side with Schmid, and it would be the American launching the sprint with 200 metres to go.
Backstedt showed amazing strength to match her rival never allowing her to come around, crossing the line first by a mere bike length to the American, and becoming champion of the World.
Zoe Backstedt (Great Britain) 1:55:33
Kaia Schmid (USA) +0
Linda Riedmann (Germany) +57
6. Millie Couzens (Great Britain) +57
12. Flora Perkins (Great Britain) +1:03
16. Maddie Leech (Great Britain) +1:15
Elite Women’s Race
The Elite women would take on the same course seen on Friday in the under-23 men’s race. 160.9 kilometres from Antwerp to Leuven, completing one and a half laps of the Leuven circuit, one lap of the Flandrien circuit and a further two and a half laps again of the Leuven circuit, before finishing at the finish line in Leuven.
Alice Barnes, Lizzie Deignan, Pfeiffer Georgi, Anna Henderson, Joss Lowden, and Anna Shackley would compile to make the Great Britain women’s team, with the aim to help Deignan towards world championship success.
Deignan saying before the race, “It’s a very dynamic, interesting course. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the race, it’s very open, so it’s good to just be excited and be flexible and open in the race.”
A very calm start to the women’s race saw a few half-attempts at forming a breakaway with nothing sticking. The first time through Leuven, Joscelin Lowden (Great Britain) lead the bunch through, Pfeiffer Georgi on her wheel.
Everyone would remain together until 85 kilometres to go, when Michaela Drummond (New Zealand) was allowed to gain 30 seconds on the bunch, a lead that wouldn’t last long, brought back shortly before the first climb of the Flandrien circuit, the Smeysberg.
It would be on the Bekestraat that we saw Annemiek Van Vlueten (Netherlands) make the first attack from the Dutch team, the favourites were bosting a team of talented riders, this attack wouldn’t work but it wouldn’t be the last of the day.
On the Smeysberg it was the turn of Lucinda Brand (Netherlands), Anna Henderson was left to chase this one for the Great Britain team, Deignan also still in the wheels.
Eventually a large group of riders would head back into Leuven together. Various attacks on the penultimate lap of the closing circuit caused a split in the main group, Anna Henderson however made sure she was always on the right side of the gap, chasing down any wheel in her sights.
Crossing the line with one lap to go, Margarita Garcia Cenellas (Spain) had gained a ten second lead to a chasing bunch, Henderson, Deignan, and Georgi still in contention.
Van Vleuten (Netherlands) took sole responsibility for chasing the Spanish rider down, catching her as they went over the Keizersberg climb, Pfeiffer Georgi losing contact at the same time under the tough pace being set.
Attacks aplenty would come and go throughout the final lap to no avail; this one was going down to the line. A blistering lead out on the left-hand side of the road came from the Italian team, Elisa Longo Borghini working for teammate Elisa Balsamo (both Italy) on her wheel, only Marianne Vos (Netherlands) could follow Balsamo.
When Borghini pulled off, Balsamo would power to the line to win the women's elite road race and be crowned the world champion, Vos finishing in second. Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland) would finish third.
Deignan would finish the top British rider in 14th in the same group as the winner, shortly followed in by Henderson – a great team effort by the Brits. The end result not reflecting the hard work done by the team throughout the race, but a performance to be proud of.
Elisa Balsamo (Italy) 3:52:27
Marianne Vos (Netherlands) +0
Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland) +1
14. Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) +1
25. Anna Henderson (Great Britain) +49
35. Pfeiffer Georgi (Great Britain) +1:21
40. Anna Shackley (Great Britain) +3:31
85. Alice Barnes (Great Britain) +9:13
118. Joscelin Lowden (Great Britain) DNF