Lotte Kopecky made it a trifecta of gold medals at the cycling world championships on Sunday.
After winning the points and elimination races during the track portion of the 11-day event, the Belgian standout shook free from a powerhouse breakaway and rode solo to the finish of the women's road race in Glasgow, Scotland. Kopecky was far enough ahead of Demi Vollering and Cecilie Ludwig that she had time to sit up and celebrate as she crossed the finish line.
“I thought after those two on the track, I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s almost impossible to win again on Sunday,’” Kopecky said, fighting back tears. “Becoming a three-time world champ in just seven days — it’s too crazy for words.”
Vollering, who was trying to follow in the footsteps of recent Dutch champions Annemiek van Vlueten and Anna van der Breggen, had to settle for the silver medal. Ludwig lost their heads-up sprint and finished with bronze.
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Kopecky had to be wondering whether she ever would win one of the world's premier women's road races.
The 27-year-old from Flanders, who has won stages at the Tour de France Femmes and the Giro Donne, was fourth in the road race at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago. And last year, Kopecky was second to van Vleuten at the world championships, losing in a tight sprint to the finish over the seaside course south of Sydney, Australia.
Now, she will wear the rainbow colors when she heads to the Paris Olympics next summer.
“We're a big cycling nation, but in the women's part of cycling, Belgium — we always came a little bit behind,” Kopecky said, “but I'm very proud we now showed we're a team that can win the biggest races.”
In the other medals decided on the final day of cycling's world championships, Romain Mahieu led a French sweep of the BMX racing podium alongside silver medalist Arthur Pilard and Joris Daudet, while Bethany Shriever of Britain won the women's BMX race ahead of Laura Smulders of the Netherlands and bronze medalist Alise Willoughby of the U.S.
The women's road race began near Loch Lomond and covered 154 kilometers (95 miles) to Glasgow. Early clouds and wet roads gave way to bright sunshine, making for perfect conditions as the peloton wound its way toward the downtown finish line.
Elise Chabbey was the first to attack, going solo about 60 kilometers from the finish. But the Swiss rider's daring move was eventually brought back by the heavy hitters behind her, including Vollering, the newly crowned Tour de France Femmes winner and perhaps the favorite to win the final event of Scotland's world championships.
Vollering then attacked and Kopecky went with her, but their move ended abruptly when the Dutch rider appeared to cramp up — Vollering began flexing her leg in the saddle, trying to work it out, while dropping slightly off the pace.
Kopecky then attacked along with Ludwig, and the two went clear of a group that included Vollering, Marlen Reusser, Christina Schweinberger and Lizzie Deignan. The duo quickly opened enough of a gap that it looked as if it would be a two-woman race to the finish, only for Kopecky to attack Ludwig with about 6 kilometers to go on a sharp uphill climb.
The Belgian sped through a series of tight 90-degree bends, pedaling hard after each one, on the way to the finish line.
“I mean, it's already been an amazing year,” Kopecky said, “and in some ways a very hard year. And it's just — I don't know what keeps me pushing. I don't know what I was thinking. But it really means a lot to me. And yeah, it's kind of a dream come true.”
Not a dream that Kopecky has had since she was little, though. The dream came much later.
“When I was a little girl I just wanted to be competitive in cycling,” Kopecky said. “I never knew I would be this good.”