Elisa Balsamo claimed her first rainbow jersey as a senior with victory in the women's road race at the 2021 UCI Road World Championships on Saturday (25th September).
The Italian outsprinted Marianne Vos, three times a winner of this event, to take gold with Poland's Katarzyna Niewiadoma taking the last spot on the podium.
Balsamo, 23, won the junior road race at the 2016 Worlds in Doha and was European U23 champion last year in Plouay, France.
It was a tactical masterclass from the Italian team with Elisa Longo Borghini leading Balsamo out at the end of the 157.7km cycle from Antwerp to Leuven.
"It was a dream for me after this long season. And my team was so so so good. Without them, this jersey wasn't possible." - ELISA BALSAMO
Balsamo ends Dutch repeat bid
The all-conquering Dutch were favourites to take victory with defending champion and Rio 2016 gold medallist Anna van der Breggen, in her last race before retirement, happy to act as a support rider for Vos.
Dutch riders had won the last four women's road race titles with 2019 hero Annemiek van Vleuten and newly-crowned time trial world champion Ellen van Dijk among a host of potential winners.
Italy's hopes rested largely with Balsamo and 2007 world champion Marta Bastianelli.
After some early attempted breakaways were swiftly reeled in, the Dutch team launched a number of attacks to thin down the lead group.
With a kilometre to go, there were four Italian riders at the front with a plethora of orange jerseys just behind.
They treated it almost like a team pursuit with three riders taking a turn at the front to give Balsamo an armchair ride in their slipstream.
Vos was eventually able to take Balsamo's wheel, but when Longo Borghini pulled off and Balsamo attacked, the 34-year-old did not quite have the legs to go with her.
Balsamo said afterwards, "My team gave me a perfect lead out and I really believed in them. In the last corner, I switched off my brain and told myself that I needed to go full gas and not watch what was happening behind."
It was Italy's second senior gold at these World Championships after Filippo Ganna retained his time trial crown last weekend.
The final event of Flanders 2021 is the men's road race on Sunday.