By Martyn Herman
HARROGATE, England (Reuters) - Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten produced one of the greatest solo rides ever seen at the UCI Road World Championships to storm to victory in the women's road race on Saturday.
The 36-year-old Van Vleuten burst clear on the second climb of the day in the Yorkshire Dales, then rode alone for 105km before crossing the line more than two minutes clear in Harrogate.
Van Vleuten was deposed as world time trial champion by American powerhouse Chloe Dygert on Tuesday, but she put that bronze-medal disappointment behind her in audacious fashion on Saturday, effectively turning the 149km race into a glorified time trial.
So great was her control she could have stopped and slipped on the rainbow jersey, had a cup of tea in the landmark Betty's Tea Rooms on the final drag to the line and still won.
"It was not actually planned, I wanted to go hard on the climb, I think that was good for our team," Van Vleuten said.
"When I came down the descent I had a gap but I thought my team coach might say this is a stupid plan, let the bunch come back. But he said continue. It was a crazy plan.
"Maybe to do a 100km solo is the present for the hard work I do on the bike, all the altitude camps. Today it paid off. Maybe I made a bit of history today."
Van Vleuten revealed she had been wearing the same earrings as when she suffered a horrific crash while leading the road race at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
This time there were no mishaps as she produced a ride already being compared to Chris Froome's epic 80km solo on his way to winning the 2018 Giro d'Italia.
"I'm very proud if they compare it to that," she said.
CLASS OF HER OWN
Having launched her attack on the steep Lofthouse climb, she quickly put a minute on a small chasing group of local favorite Lizzie Deignan, Van der Breggen, Dygert and Italian Elisa Longo Borghini.
Former world champion Deignan, given huge support on her local roads, tried to spark the pursuers into action, but with Van der Breggen happy to sit and watch, her cause was hopeless and she faded to finish 31st.
"I was going for the rainbow jersey and the group I was in was racing for the silver medal," Deigan, who has eyed her home worlds since returning from having daughter Orla, said.
"But Annemiek was in a class of her own."
Dygert took up the chase with a late attempt to reel in Van Vleuten and after the first of the three 14km circuits of Harrogate she had cut the deficit to about one minute 45 seconds, her gap to Van Vleuten in the time trial.
"I got super nervous when Dygert started to come across because she is special," Van Vleuten said.
But the 22-year-old Dygert paid the price and looked a spent force on the final circuit as Van der Breggen and Spratt overtook her. Spratt appeared to have cracked with 5km left, allowing Van der Breggen to surge ahead, but she had just enough left to deny Dygert a second medal of the week.
"This win has a special taste because I was so disappointed after the time trial on Tuesday," Van Vleuten, who hugged her mother in emotional scenes after finishing, said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris and David Holmes)