WOLLONGONG, Australia -- Ellen van Dijk defended her title and claimed a third women's time trial gold medal at the opening event of the world road cycling championships on Sunday.
Taking advantage of a technical course the Dutch star maintained a perfectly paced cadence to beat Australia's Grace Brown by 12.79 seconds to defend the time trial gold she won last year. Swiss rival Marlen Reusser took bronze.
Local favorite Brown was one of the early staters and set a blistering time around the 34.2 kilometer (21.3 miles) course at the scenic coastal town center of Wollongong, south of Sydney.
No other in the 45-strong field could get close to Brown's time of 44 minutes 41.33 seconds until the final pair of van Dijk and Reusser, who claimed silver at last year's world championships in Belgium, both clocked faster at the first time check.
Reusser then faded to finish more than 41 seconds off Brown's time, but van Dijk powered on to claim her third gold medal in a time of 44:28.60.
"It was the perfect course for me. (But) I never thought I would win today, actually," said the 35-year-old who won her first gold in 2013. "I had no idea how I was riding... I paced my effort really well.
"It was nice to see Reusser a little bit ahead of me near the end, so I knew it wasn't a bad day for sure. But I was so surprised at the finish."
Olympic time trial champion and two-time world champion Annemiek van Vleuten finished seventh, more than 90 seconds behind compatriot van Dijk.
Later Sunday, Vuelta a Espana winner Remco Evenepoel from Belgium, Italian two-time defending world champion Filippo Ganna and two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar from Slovenia headline the men's event.
Other major races are the mixed relay time trial on Wednesday and the women's road race next Saturday before the men's race on the closing day Sunday, with local star and Giro d'Italia winner Jai Hindley racing the clock to recover from COVID-19 to take his place in the race.