The fairytale story was not to be for Lizzie Deignan as Holland’s Annemiek Van Vleuten soloed to a superb victory in the women’s elite race at the UCI Road World Championships in Harrogate on Saturday.
Van Vleuten rode alone for 104 of the 149 kilometres through the Yorkshire Dales after attacking on the climb of Lofthouse, winning her first road race world title by a margin of two minutes 15 seconds from compatriot and defending champion Anna Van Der Breggen.
Deignan will long remember leading the peloton through her home town of Otley early in the day, but when the racing picked up on the finishing circuit around Harrogate the 30-year-old, a year removed from becoming a mother, paid the price for hard work done leading the chase.
“I gave it my all and I’m disappointed that tactically I let myself down,” said the 2015 world champion, who was swallowed up by the pack and finished five minutes down in 31st place.
“Physically I was pretty good, but I missed the most important move of the day.”
Following the bad weather that has dogged these World Championships for much of the week, the race began under blue skies in Bradford with crowds lining the roads.
Deignan’s grandparents were among them in Otley, where the local star came to the front of the peloton and soaked up the adulation of the crowds.
But things got serious on the climb of Lofthouse as Van Vleuten launched the attack which would define the race – even if the 36-year-old had only planned to loosen things up.
“I felt super good today and thought it would be really stupid to ruin my legs with a solo effort,” she said. “But my coach told me they’re not chasing hard behind, so go for it.”
And she did.
Deignan was one of eight riders to form a chase group behind, but they were disorganised in their efforts and happy to leave the home favourite to take on a workload which would cost her at the finish.
“I was always going for the rainbow jersey,” Deignan said. “The group I was with readjusted and were thinking about going for the silver and bronze.
“I felt we had to commit, we were not riding fast enough. That’s when I started to make some moves because I thought, ‘We are never going to catch her back at this speed’.”
Perhaps there was no catching Van Vleuten on the day.
She may have lost her world time trial title to Chloe Dygert on Tuesday, but Van Vleuten showed there was still plenty left here as she exorcised the ghosts of last year’s Worlds in Innsbruck, where she rode to seventh place despite breaking her knee in a crash.
“This is the most special win (of my career),” she said. “After last year in Innsbruck, the disappointment I had there.
“I couldn’t celebrate my world title in the time trial after breaking my knee. I was crying because I thought that was my only opportunity to be world champion. It makes this title more special.”
Deignan’s hopes were finally killed off as they arrived in Harrogate for the first of three laps of the finishing circuit.
Dygert, who won time trial gold on Tuesday, launched an attack which split the group and sent Deignan out the back.
She battled gamely on but was swallowed up by the peloton with one lap of the closing 14km circuit remaining.
It was not the dream ending she may have wanted after making this race the focus of her return to competition this year, but there were still emotional scenes as she was met by baby daughter Orla and her family at the finish.
“I am so proud of what I’ve been able to achieve this year,” she said. “Nobody knows, apart from me and my husband, the work that’s gone into this.
“I said beforehand 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.”