Ellen van Dijk of the Netherlands endured a long and painful wait for her second world time trial title, eight years after she won for the first time at the 2013 championship in Tuscany. On Monday the Dutch racer set a blistering time after starting 19th in the 50-rider field and had to endure almost an hour’s wait before her teammate, the Olympic champion Annemiek van Vleuten, approached the finish line and it finally became clear that Van Dijk had won gold.
One of the enduring images of world championships this week will be the 34-year-old’s sudden transition to a state of tearful joy as Van Vleuten had 300 metres to go and the clock made it clear that Van Dijk’s time of 36min 05sec for the 30 kilometres would stand.
“It was quite horrible,” Van Dijk said, “because when I arrived in the hot seat Annemiek had still not started. It was nerve-racking. You sit there and have nothing to do.”
This was another gold medal for the Netherlands’ golden generation of women cyclists, who have won 11 of a possible 15 medals in this discipline in the past five years, and it came even in the absence of the defending champion Anna van der Breggen, who opted not to start due to her impending retirement.
Van Dijk had also had to endure the indignity of being dropped from the Dutch team for the Tokyo Olympics which was less a reflection on her ability than the quality of her illustrious teammates Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen, while this spring she had to take time out after contracting Covid-19.
At the recent European championships Van Dijk won gold in the road race with a dominant solo break, but she was defeated by the Swiss Marlen Reusser in the time trial, and on the world championship course between Knokke-Heist and Bruges it seemed likely that Reusser would improve on her silver medal of 2020 when she reached the first checkpoint four seconds faster.
However, Van Dijk had gauged her ride more precisely; Reusser slowed slightly before the second checkpoint, where she led by only 3sec, and when she reached the finish line she had faded badly to finish 10sec slower than Van Dijk, joining the 29 other riders who had failed to better the Dutchwoman.
Only Van Vleuten was left to come home, and she had never looked at her best in contrast to the smooth styles of Reusser and Van Dijk. On Saturday, Van Dijk and Van Vleuten will be joined by the evergreen Marianne Vos and Van der Breggen for the road race, where the Dutch women will be favourites to take their fifth successive title.
Behind Van Dijk, another early pacesetter was Great Britain’s Joss Lowden, who crossed the line almost 2min behind the Dutchwoman, and was only shifted from a medal slot when the final batch of favourites started at the back of the field. Her eventual eighth place was the best British ride since Emma Pooley took fourth at the 2012 championship in the Netherlands.
“We can all find things in the ride that we could have done better, but I’m happy,” said Lowden, who was only 40sec behind Van Dijk at the first checkpoint but faded in the final two‑thirds of the race. “The plan was to go out easy and ramp it, but the ramp went down as opposed to up.”
Lowden, who rides for the UK‑based Drops-Le Col team, will now go on to attack the world hour record at the end of the month in Grenchen, Switzerland, hoping to better the distance of 48.007km held by the Italian Vittoria Bussi.