Giorgia Bronzini kept the women’s rainbow jersey in Italian hands when she sprinted to victory in the 127.2km event at the world road championships on Saturday.
Dutchwoman Marianne Vos, the 2006 champion, finished second for her fourth consecutive silver while Emma Johansson of Sweden took the bronze.
Britain’s Olympic champion Nicole Cooke finished fourth, just ahead of Germany’s 2004 champion Judith Arndt.
Cooke launched a late attack with Arndt after the final climbs on the 10th and final lap. But despite collaborating well, the duo’s advantage was eliminated in the final kilometer by a Canadian-led group of riders who, in a thrilling finale, reeled the pair in with around 200 meters of the 750-meter home straight remaining.
Arndt tried desperately to pull away, and despite Vos leading a charge for the line up the inside of the barriers, Bronzini came off the Dutchwoman’s wheel and timed her drive to perfection to cross the line in triumph.
Bronzini, who succeeds teammate Tatiana Guderzo as the women’s world champion, said her job had been made easier by the fact the race only kicked into life in the final five laps of the hilly 15.9km circuit.
After a cautious start to the 127.2-kilometer affair, American Katheryn Curi-Mattis helped to heat things up taking a flyer the third time up the Challambra Crescent. Much like American Ben King tried the day before, Curi-Mattis built more than a minute solo gap on the peloton mid-way through the eight lap affair. Mattis, who won a World Cup in Geelong only two years ago, held the solo lead for four laps until being caught by the peloton mid-way through the penultimate circuit.
“It is always in your head that you may ride away, but that just doesn’t happen at worlds,” said Curi-Mattis. “The first two laps we were pretty quiet and then coming into the start of the third lap we wanted to start putting some pressure on the peloton. I put in an attack and I looked back and didn’t see anyone and at that point you are committed and so you just kind of put your head down. It would have been great to have had two or three other people with me, but at that point, it gives the other girls a free ride.”
As it became clear that the race might end in a charge to the line, Bronzini’s path to her first world road race title had also been smoothed by the fact many other sprinters had been left trailing on the hilly course.
“I waited right until the last possible moment for somebody to launch a long sprint, and that’s what happened,” said the Italian, who won the world title in track’s points race in 2009.
“I know that Marianne is one of the best whether it’s on a hill or in the sprint, and when she went I knew hers was the wheel to follow.”
Vos, the Olympic points race champion who also has world titles in track and cyclocross, was left with a potential handicap when key teammate Annemiek Van Vleuten punctured at the foot of the last climb and was left trailing.
Despite her frustration, Vos said she was happy with silver, largely because it represented her willingness to chase down what could have been a winning break.
“In the final I felt good but when it came down to making a decision I had little choice: either sprint and risk losing the gold or not sprint and risk seeing Nicole Cooke or Judith Arndt go all the way,” said Vos. “I knew Giorgia would be fast and I saw the Italians bringing her up to the front. But I had to make the choice of letting the other girls go, or sprint from 300 meters. But I’ll be back next year.”
After picking up her first worlds medal, Johansson was quick to explain why she lashed out physically at Vos shortly after the finish line.
“I thought Marianne had changed her line, but after seeing the video I realized that in fact she hadn’t,” Johansson said contritely. “The fact is that the barriers narrowed near the finish. During my sprint my helmet actually hit a spectator, so I hope he’s all right. But overall I’m happy to win my first medal in the championships, though you always want more.”
French legend Jeannie Longo, who will turn 52 at the end of the month, finished in 12th place only three seconds down.
“I got boxed in in the final 200 meters, but I’m not unhappy with my 12th place. It’s respectable.”