INNSBRUCK, Austria — Anna van der Breggen used a majestic solo ride to give the Netherlands a sweep of the women’s elite world road cycling titles for a second straight year on Saturday.
When the highly favoured Dutch team had no one left in the leading group for the final 50 kilometres of the road race, the Olympic champion stepped up to the challenge.
Van der Breggen jumped out of the peloton and quickly overtook the five riders in front. Amanda Spratt briefly followed, but the Australian rider had to let go when the Dutchwoman accelerated on one of the steep climbs of the 156-kilometre race from Kufstein to Innsbruck in the Austrian Alps.
Van der Breggen continued the last 40 kilometres on an unmatched pace to land her first world title, winning the race by the largest margin in nearly three decades.
"I didn’t know the time. I didn’t know anything. So I kept going until the finish line. Only on the finish line I believed it was possible. It’s amazing," she said. "I was a bit doubting if it was too early or not. But I took this opportunity and I had to go."
Van der Breggen led Spratt by 3 minutes, 42 seconds, the biggest winning margin in the event since French standout Jeannie Longo won the 1989 title by more than four minutes.
Italian rider Tatiana Guderzo, the 2009 world champion, was 5:26 behind and took bronze.
Van der Breggen became the fifth female rider to combine the Olympic and world titles in the road race, after Longo, Britain’s Nicole Cooke and fellow Dutch riders Leontien van Moorsel and Marianne Vos completed the feat.
Van der Breggen’s win came four days after Dutch teammate Annemiek van Vleuten beat her to the time trial title. The Netherlands also won both women’s titles at the worlds in Bergen, Norway, last year, with Chantal Blaak and Van Vleuten taking the gold medals.
"The world championships are always (a goal of mine), and I know it is so difficult to win it so I am really happy with this title," said Van der Breggen, who earned her first world title after four silvers in individual events, and two silvers and a bronze in team time trials.
Pre-race favourite Van Vleuten was among a large group of riders who crashed going into a road island with 94 kilometres left.
Teammate Ellen van Dijk helped Van Vleuten to connect with the peloton again, but the time trial champion failed to have an impact on the race afterward and finished seven minutes behind Van der Breggen.
The victory was redemption for Van der Breggen, who missed out on a possible European title due to odd team tactics in August.
In Glasgow, Van der Breggen lost a promising position in a leading group when Dutch riders in the peloton started to chase them, with Italian rider Marta Bastianelli ultimately winning.
"I had too many times this season already that it happened on the finish line that I (was overtaken)," she said. "So I just kept on continuing and tried to eat and drink good, and go as fast as possible."
The world championships conclude with the men’s road race on Sunday.