THE DREAM didn’t come true, but Yorkshire’s Lizzie Deignan went down fighting in the women’s elite race at the UCI Road World Championships and was beaten by one of the all-time great rides.
Deignan, champion four years ago, put in a huge effort, but was no match for Dutch star Annemiek van Vleuten who produced the performance of her life.
Uncharacteristically off the pace in the time-trial four days earlier, when she had to settle for a bronze medal after gold at the two previous championships, van Vleuten said goodbye to the field on the Lofthouse climb and the next time they saw her was after the line in Harrogate, 104 kilometres (64 miles) further down the road.
The new champion had the time and energy to climb over a crowd barrier and celebrate with her family before her nearest rival rode into view.
To put her astonishing effort into perspective, 104km is the direct distance from Leeds to Liverpool and van Vleuten convincingly held off the best female riders in the world as they chased in vain
Or not chased, as it turned out – unhappily – for Deignan. When van Vleuten accelerated away on her one-woman time-trial the Otley-born former Olympic silver medalist dug in and tried to lead attempts to bring her back.
I said before hand I will remember this day for the rest of my career and I will.Lizzie Deignan
She was in a strong group, but with Anna van der Breggen, the defending champion, marking any attacks and unwilling to work against her team-mate, they could or would not match the leader’s pace.
In an attempt to keep the race for gold alive, Deignan did much of the pulling at the front and when, on the first of three circuits around Harrogate, Chloe Dygert stepped on the accelerator, she didn’t have the legs to go with the move.
Though Deignan maintained a lone pursuit of the second group on the road for almost 30km she was caught by the peloton on the final lap and rolled in with the bunch in 31st place, five minutes and 20 seconds behind van Vleuten.
For a time it seemed Dygert, the American sensation who had won women’s elite time-trial gold, might bridge the gap to van Vleuten, but she too ran out of steam and finished fourth.
Van der Breggen made it a Dutch double by claiming silver, two minutes and 15 seconds after van Vleuten had crossed the line and Australian Amanda Spratt was third, a further 13 seconds behind.
It was a brave effort from Deignan, who was cheered on by a wall of noise.
In a gesture of respect, Deignan and team-mate Lizzy Banks, from Sheffield, were allowed to lead the race through Otley, where it passed her parents’ front door.
Putting in such a strong ride proved what an outstanding athlete – and competitor – Deignan is, just a year after she gave birth to daughter Orla, who was waiting for her at the finish along with husband Philip.
Afterwards, she felt it had been a “tactical mistake” to spend so long at the front of the group chasing van Vleuten.
“I didn’t readjust and aim for the silver medal, I was always going for the rainbow,” explained the 30-year-old.
“The group I was with, clearly, had readjusted and were thinking about going for the silver and bronze.
“When Chloe went, that move, I was just off it and I had been on the front too long – tactical error.
“But I was proud of the way I raced and the physical shape I got myself into to be here today.
“It’s not that I lost the race because of tactics, Annemiek was head and shoulders above everybody, so chapeau to her.”
Deignan looked in decent shape to claim a medal, but admitted she was caught by surprise when Dygert launched her attack.
She said: “It was a real headwind as well.
“I was just out of the wheels there.
“I held them at whatever distance for quite a long time, but I wasn’t there when it mattered.”
Throughout the build-up to Saturday’s race Deignan had stressed she was keen to enjoy the day, whatever the result.
In that respect, her ride did go according to plan.
Summing up the experience of an attempt to become world champion on home roads, she said: “Incredible, it was a bit reminiscent of the London [Olympic] games again.
“I am hugely grateful to everyone that supported us and to everybody that’s been a part of this championships. I think it has been a huge success.
“I said before hand I will remember this day for the rest of my career and I will.
“I didn’t win, but it has been a phenomenal day.”
Sadly for Banks, her big day out was ruined by three mechanical incidents and a bike change in the opening 25km, the equipment failures eventually forcing her to abandon the race.
“I had a tough day in the office, but you have to take the rough with the smooth in bike racing,” an emotional Banks said.
“It was a bad day to have misfortune, but it happens. I am really gutted.
“I came here in good form to try and help Lizzie win.”