breaking the pain barrier
2022 women's elite world championship road race
World Championships are weird races. Perhaps because they have the highest of stakes.
Outside of the Olympics, Commonwealths and Continental championships like the Euros, members of the peloton mainly race representing their trade teams and not their nations. In Worlds, teams come together and allegiances are tested. Famously Charly Wegelius was accused of riding in support of his Italian teammates from Liquigas rather than riding for the British team.
Riders who have been there like Sean Kelly have said:
“The World Championships is always a war of attrition. Lap by lap, strong men weaken until only the toughest are left. But it can also be a very tactical race. When everyone is tired and scared of over-reaching themselves, mistakes are easy to make. A breakaway that looks benign can suddenly become dangerous.”1
Decisions that riders take are sometimes unnatural — the chance at glory can change perceptions. For instance, a rider might not chase someone down for risk of losing the race themselves but in so doing might indeed lose the race.
Some teams are bigger in numbers on account of their points scoring in different UCI classifications (for example the Dutch team). Whereas others don’t have as many riders such as Serbia and Cuba, whose sole representatives are Jelena Eric and Arlenis Sierra respectively. As it happens, both riders are from Movistar, so would they end up helping teammate Annemiek van Vleuten or would they race for themselves?
The lead up to the race itself hasn’t been without controversies, some quiet and some loud. The French federation decided they would pay for their men’s elite team to travel business class while the women were left in economy. The New Zealand team took a bold decision to not pay for any riders to attend and each rider would have to pay their own way. Team Great Britain had no elite women doing the time trials, and therefore no mixed relay team - ostensibly for medal prospect reasons or some other spurious reason. The Under 23s had a “race within a race”, where the first U23 rider to finish in the elite race would be awarded the victory within their category, regardless of whether they finished first in the race or 119th. (There were 40 riders in the 158 rider field who qualify for the U23 category so that would be the lowest position a rider could have finished and still win their race within a race).
Questions loomed large in the lead up to the event. Perhaps most notably: Could Annemiek van Vleuten be a factor in proceedings after her horrendous crash in the mixed team time trial on Wednesday? Could she, realistically, battle both the pain and her opponents?
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