The women’s U23 and elite road race this year will close the 2023 Road World Championships in Glasgow, providing the final opportunity to scoop up the rainbow bands for another year and putting the spotlight squarely back on women’s cycling just two weeks after the finale of the Tour de France Femmes in Pau.
The 154.1km race route on Sunday, August 13, with 2,229m of vertical ascent, starts in Balloch, Loch Lomond, and makes its way over the Crow Road climb and onto the 14.3km city circuit for 6 laps in Glasgow.
The early Crow Road climb will put pressure on the field, and the repetition of the pinchy climbs on the 14.3km city circuit is likely to rule out some sprinters. However, those who are handy on the climbs should be able to hang firm. Still, the technical course also provides launching points for the breaks, so there is a wide range of riders who could potentially be chasing a spot on the podium.
Of course, the strength of the Dutch team, which includes defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering, Lorena Wiebes and Marianne Vos, is always a key factor too, but not necessarily always an impossible one to overcome. The Italians will be fighting hard to do it again, while the Belgians should also fancy their chances with Lotte Kopecky on a course like this.
As the focus switches from the battle for yellow to the rainbow chase, Cyclingnews takes a closer look at some of the key contenders for the elite and U23 women’s road race at the 2023 Glasgow World Championships.
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After her efforts at the Tour de France Femmes, Lotte Kopecky is bound to be one of the most watched riders in the peloton and brings the form of her life into Glasgow.
In France, pretty much whatever scenario was thrown at her, she was one of the strongest, be it in a fast finish, hills, in the mountains or even during the race against the clock. That form has also carried through onto the track in Glasgow, with Kopecky claiming another world title in the Elimination Race, as she turned on her powerful sprint to capture the rainbow jersey.
Add that to her second place last year, on a course that bore some similarities to Glasgow, given the early climbs and finishing street circuit, and it is no surprise that Kopecky is a standout favourite.
She is lining up with a Belgian team that doesn’t have the same long list of standout contenders as the likes of the Dutch, but that comes with an advantage, Kopecky is the clear plan A, who will unquestionably be supported as the best chance for the squad to take home a rainbow jersey. The one question mark is how long the 27-year-old can continue to mine this powerful vein of form.
It may have been the long climb of the Col du Tourmalet that put Demi Vollering into yellow at the Tour de France Femmes, but it is the Spring season that came before it that carries just as much weight when measuring her chances of success in Glasgow.
The Dutch rider has definitely earned her role as the Dutch team leader in a roster so stacked with talent that even the defending World Champion, Annemiek van Vleuten, can’t count on a role as a protected rider.
Vollering’s path to the top this season started with the Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen wins and was made crystal clear with her Ardennes Classics clean sweep. Then if any more convincing was required, she delivered an emphatic victory at the Tour de France Femmes.
Vollering has for some time made it clear that in the changing of the guard in Dutch cycling as Van Vleuten retires that she is the clear heir apparent. The Tour de France Femmes may have been her coronation, but perhaps the rainbow jersey could deliver the adorning crown that she’ll wear as a reminder of her elevated status throughout the year ahead.
Lorena Wiebes is the rider everyone will look to if it happens to come down to a bunch or reduced group, as with eight wins so far this season, including stages at the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes, there is no question she is the dominant sprinter within the peloton. As such, she should be the clear candidate from the stacked Dutch team in the case of a bunch sprint.
There are a few other factors in question, however. The first is, has she fully recovered from the illness that sent her home from the Tour de France Femmes ahead of stage 5? The other is, what are the chances of it actually coming down to a bunch finish?
The races run so far on the course certainly haven’t, with the junior women’s, junior men’s and elite men’s road races all ending with a solo victor, and it seems far more likely the elite women’s race will too come down to a solo or small group finish, and in those scenarios, the Dutch team have other cards to play.
Yes, this is a third contender for the Dutch team, but it’s proving even challenging to leave it at that. For one, it is a hard task to leave out the reigning World Champion, particularly when that is Annemiek van Vleuten, though she has made it clear that she’ll be working for others this year, so we have.
However, particularly after the way the men’s elite road race played out – won by the cyclocross-savvy Mathieu van der Poel – it seemed impossible to look past the similarly versatile Marianne Vos.
The longest climbs of the race come early, making it unlikely that they will be the deciding factor, but even though they may shed some riders, Vos is unlikely to be among those falling by the wayside in the early selections as she has superior staying power.
Then when it comes to the 6 laps of the 14.3km finishing circuit, with its short but steep climb of Montrose St and a myriad of corners, the superb bike handling and race reading ability of the experienced Vos could well be the factor that makes all the difference, particularly if there is wet weather thrown in as well.
Add to that her speed on the line, even if it comes down to a reduced sprint, and there seems every reason that Vos could be in with a serious chance of once again claiming the road race rainbow jersey she last donned ten years ago.
It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for the 2021 winner of the World Championships road race, but judging by the Tour de France Femmes, the rider could be returning to form after a crash at Ride London Classique where she fractured her jaw.
Part of a strong Italian team, she could, depending on the day and how the race plays out, slip into a leading or support role. Slotting back into the peloton with a fifth in France, in the sprint on stage 3 to Montignac-Lascaux, bodes well for a strong showing either way.
She will not have Elisa Longo Borghini to provide a powerful lead out like she did when she took the rainbow jersey in Leuven, but she’ll be racing alongside Chiara Consonni, who also made her strong form clear in Montignac-Lascaux with a finish in fourth place just ahead of Balsamo and then followed up with a sixth place on stage 6.
Silvia Persico shot to prominence on the road in 2022 when she climbed onto the podium at the Tour de France Femmes on both a relatively flat and climbing stage, plus finished fifth overall. She then went onto also finish third at the World Championships in Wollongong, once again delivering a fast finish from among a reduced group. Persico also stepped onto a stage podium at this year’s Tour de France Femmes and finished eighth overall at the Giro d’Italia Donne.
Though, there’s something beyond road form which could point to her potential to be a strong contender in the race that will close the 2023 World Championships, and that’s her background in an entirely different discipline.
2022 wasn’t just a breakthrough season on the road for Persico but also in cyclocross, with the Italian rider coming third at the World Championships in Fayetteville. Those bike-handling skills learnt in the muddy discipline could prove to be a crucial advantage on the technical corner-heavy finishing circuit, making her another powerful card for Italy.
Grace Brown may be largely focused on the time trial, but that doesn’t mean she should be counted out of the running in the road race, as it is the type of course where an attack can’t be ruled out. And, of course, if a rider gets that gap, exactly what is required to hold it is those well-honed time trial skills.
The Australians, too, can afford to roll the dice as the team has a number of cards to play, with Amanda Spratt an obvious one for the early longer climbs, Brodie Chapman holding early attack potential and Alex Manly, Sarah Roy and Ruby Roseman-Gannon perhaps providing some options for a fast finish.
Liane Lippert broke through with her first Women’s WorldTour win in 2020 at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, and while it may have been some time till she took her second top tier victory, she ultimately did it at the biggest of races.
After twice stepping onto the stage podium at the Giro d’Italia Donne, Lippert then stepped up to the top step at the Tour de France Femmes, winning stage 2 to Mauriac.
The rider looks to be heading into the race with some of the form of her life, the confidence of a victory on one of the biggest stages in cycling. Plus, the near miss of fourth at Wollongong last year could well have added a bit of extra motivation to make it to those podium steps in 2023.
Chloé Dygert has already climbed to the top step of the podium at this year’s combined Cycling World Championship taking the first title up for grabs on the track, and while at the time of writing, the time trial on the road had not yet taken place, that is of course always a discipline in which she excels too.
It’s a heavy schedule on the way to the road race, but with a break between the Giro d’Italia Donne and Glasgow – while many of her rivals were racing the Tour de France Femmes – hopes will be high that she can maintain the momentum right through from the first to final elite rainbow jersey awarded at the event.
This season has delivered every sign that she has now put the horrible crash of the 2020 Road World Championships behind her and is returning to a formidable peak, with the 26-year-old having hit the podium at least twice at every stage race she has lined up for and also taken the time trial/road race double at the USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships. It’s a performance that delivers every reason to believe that she could make the United States a factor in the road race.
Kasia Niewiadoma left no doubt about her level at the Tour de France Femmes when she powered away up the Col du Tourmalet and held firm for a second place atop the climb, even though the rider behind trying to close the gap was the powerful form of Annemiek van Vleuten.
Glasgow doesn’t offer ascents on the scale, but it is a course which offers plenty of opportunity for the peloton to be broken apart.
Niewiadoma is a rider that is not afraid to roll the dice and will find plenty of opportunities to race aggressively on the road from Loch Lomond to the final finish line in George Square, Glasgow.
Outsiders and U23 riders
There are plenty of other riders that made it to the contenders shortlist, that we just couldn’t quite fit in. They include Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, who put her formidable form on display at the Tour de France Femmes, with the South African delivering three top-five finishes across varied stages.
Then there is stage 6 winner Emma Norsgaard and her Danish teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who has been in the top ten at the event for the last three years. Marlen Reusser will turn from a highly valuable SD Worx teammate for Vollering and Kopecky into a fierce rival as she slips on the red of her Swiss team jersey, and Lizzie Deignan will be holding the hopes of the home crowd along with national champion Pfeiffer Georgi, who had a powerful run of spring results. Then there is New Zealand’s Niamh Fisher-Black, who will be stepping out of the U23 category where she last year won the title.
She’ll have teammates that will be chasing those U23 rainbow bands for New Zealand instead, with the speed of Ally Wollaston and the climbing strength of Ella Wyllie set to provide strength across differing sections of the course. Anna Shackley will provide a strong U23 prospect for Great Britain, but Blanka Vas is likely to be one of the most powerful rivals she will have to counter, with the Hungarian likely to handle the technical course well with her cyclocross fuelled bike handling skill and of course, she has the finishing speed that was unleashed to take out stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia Donne layered on top of that as well.