Marianne Vos of the Netherlands has this afternoon retained the women's road race world championship, the third time she has taken the rainbow jersey in the event. Sweden's Emma Johannson outsprinted Italy's Rossella Ratto for second, the pair crossing the line a quarter of a minute behind Vos.
The 26-year-old Vos first won the world championship on the road in 2006, then finished runner-up for five years in succession before getting back on the top step of the podium on home roads in Limburg 12 months ago.
Today, she attacked from a small front group on the day's final significant climb on Via Salviati in Florence, quickly distancing her rivals.
“Winning the second Championship in the row was hard, much harder than last year, especially because the Italians made our race really tough," said Vos afterwards.
"At the beginning of the last lap, I already knew I was going to attack in Via Salviati and not in Fiesole. I really didn’t want to lose my rainbow jersey after racing one year with it. Anna Van Der Breggen’s help was fundamental in this race”.
Johannson and Ratto led a desperate charge to try and catch her, but had to settle for battling it out for silver at the end of the 140km race from Montecatini Terme, which included five laps of a 16.6km closing circuit in Florence.
They finished 18 seconds ahead of the fourth place rider, Vos's team mate Anna van der Breggen, who for the second year running played a crucial supporting role for the eventual winner.
"“Marianne’s sprint was impossible to keep for me and Rossella," reflected Jhannson.
"We tried to catch up on her in the last kilometres, but even there she was too strong. It was hard to finish on my own when the Dutch and the Italians had such strong teams, but in the end my mind and my legs worked well”.
Ratto added: "At the beginning of the last lap, the other Italians and I decided that I was to be the one on Marianne’s wheel, whilst the other ones would be attacking.
"I wanted to do well because I knew there would be a lot of Italian supporters. Riding in such a beautiful place is rare, and reaching the podium is a dream come true.”
Great Britain's big hope for a medal, Lizzie Armitstead, who took silver behind Vos at the Olympics in London last summer, finished 19th today, 5 minutes 28 seconds behind the winner, after losing contact with the front group on the penultimate climb to Fiesole.
Seven riders – three of them Italian – were clear coming over the top of that climb on the last but one lap, and by the time they hit that ascent for the final time, four other riders had got across.
Attacks came first from the Italians through former world champion Tatiana Guderzo as well as Elisa Longo Borghini, the intention clearly being to try and break Vos, who by now just had team mate van der Breggen for support.
It wasn’t just the home riders trying to put the woman who has won multiple world championships in a range of disciplines in trouble, with Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell also trying unsuccessfully to get away.
A move by Evelyn Stevens of the United States put half the riders in the front group in trouble, and cresting the summit at Fiesole for the final time just five riders were leading the race.
Inevitably, one of them was Vos, and she was looking strong. What’s more, the Dutch now had the numerical advantage – van der Breggen still there, with Ratto the sole Italian left in the mix plus Stevens and Johannson.
There was one climb left to come, the short but punchy ascent of Via Salviati, and ahead of that, Longo Borghini, Guderzo and New Zealand’s Linda Villumsen very nearly made contact with the front group before being distanced again as the road headed uphill, where Vos made her winning move.
Her victory sealed a dominant day for the Netherlands in Tuscany; earlier, Mathieu van der Poel had won the junior men’s road race title.
You can watch video highlights of the race here.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.