2011 UCI Road World Championships
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Event: 19-25 September 2011
Report: Eddie Allen
Images: Cheryl King
Giorgia Bronzini of Italy retained her world title in a bunch sprint at the end of a cagey Elite Women's Road Race. The sprinters' party was nearly spoiled by a courageous solo effort from Clara Hughes of Canada with two laps to go. However the Canadian was caught in the final few kilometres, with Bronzini timing her move to perfection. Marianne Vos took silver and Teutenberg bronze. Great Britain's Nicole Cooke finished fourth, with Armitstead finishing 7th, robbed of a better finishing position due to being held up behind a crash in the closing stages.
Much of the opening two thirds of the race was played like a poker game with no-one willing to show their hand. The bunch stayed together riding tempo for the opening lap with Great Britain's Sharon Laws and Emma Pooley showing their faces at the front from time to time. Right from the off the teams from the smaller cycling nations were struggling to stay in touch, with the two Syrian riders off the back within the first quarter lap. The stalemate continued for the next few laps with Emma Pooley never far from the front.
It wasn't until the beginning of lap four when the action hotted up, with a Russian rider stringing the bunch out for the first time. The attack however, was shortlived but had the effect of shelling out a few of the weaker riders. Pooley then applied some pressure and was countered by Russia. Probing attacks continued throughout the lap, with Pooley the major instigator.
Lap five and the tension continued to build. GB's Catherine Williamson came to the fore as Pooley disappeared from the head of the race, dropping momentarily to the rear of the bunch before working her way back in.
The halfway point came and once again it was Russia who awoke the race from its slumber, lining out the peloton. The Russian rider swung off and Clara Hughes of Canada took up the lead. However it was little more than a fleeting injection of pace and the stalemate resumed.
As the race entered the seventh lap Emma Pooley was once again back at the front and, along with Sharon Laws, policed any potential breaks. Antoshina of Russia injected some much needed pace as the race entered the eighth lap but again, a lack of counter-attacking meant that once more, the race stagnated.
Then finally a big attack came, instigated by Italy with the Netherlands and other teams joining in. Inexplicably, the breakaway riders then sat up but thankfully counter-attacks ensued and the race was on with two and a half laps to go, with the peloton split in half.
Neben of the USA attacked and was joined by five other riders. The six were brought back and then Clara Hughes of Canada countered spectacularly immediately opening a big gap. As Hughes crossed the line to complete lap eight, the Canadian had a gap of 36 seconds with the group now reformed behind, Pooley once again on the front. A mechanical for GB's Williamson couldn't have come at a worse time, with Catherine having to chase hard to get back on.
Simultaneously, Villumsen of New Zealand, together with an Italian rider, attacked in an attempt to bridge to Hughes ahead. However, the field, headed by the Dutch, soon pulled the Kiwi back. A shortlived attack from a Russian, French and Italian trio was soon neutralised as Hughes persisted in her solo effort.
As Hughes took the bell and started the final lap, the Canadian was still 38 seconds clear, with no one taking up the chase with any conviction. At the head of the bunch Nicole Cooke showed her face for the first time, joined by teammate Catherine Williamson who had recovered from her earlier mechanical. Attacks continued behind yet again, a lack of consistent pace played into the hands of the 39 year old Canadian.
What was needed was a concerted team effort from a big team and right on cue, the Dutch team hit the front in an effort to reel Hughes in. Slowly at first and then with growing momentum, Hughes' lead began to tumble and within a few kms of the finish, the Canadian was caught and a bunch sprint was on. Attacks came thick and fast, first Whitten of Canada, then Germany, then a big crash at the back added further drama.
Back at the front and the race was in its final kilometre and the Dutch were back in control. The sprint opened up with Cooke tucked in behind the women in orange. However, defending champion Bronzini of Italy was lying in wait and timed her lunge to perfection, winning the sprint and retaining her world title. Cooke also replicated her position of 2010, finishing 4th, with Lizzie Armitstead a few places back in 7th.
A disappointed Armitstead was well set up for a possible podium finish before being held up being a crash in the dying moments of the race. "I felt so good all day but that's cycling, I guess," Armitstead told BBC Sport. "A girl came down in front of me after the girls had set me up perfectly, it's such a stupid way to lose it."
1 BRONZINI Giorgia ITA 3:21:28 +0
2 VOS Marianne NED " "
3 TEUTENBERG Ina GER " "
4 COOKE Nicole GBR " "
5 MARTISOVA Julia RUS " "
6 HOSKING Chloe AUS " "
7 ARMITSTEAD Elizabeth GBR " "
8 HENRION Ludivine BEL " "
9 LELEIVYTE Rasa LTU " "
10 BIANNIC Aude FRA " "
47 MARTIN Lucy GBR
65 COLCLOUGH Katie GBR
69 POOLEY Emma GBR
81 LAWS Sharon GBR
82 WILLIAMSON Catherine GBR