Even by the standards of cycling commentary, which has been known to veer into hyperbole on occasion, it was quite a statement. “This is a performance we will remember for year upon year!” announced Eurosport’s Rob Hatch as Wales’ Zoe Backstedt powered to the junior women's time trial title at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia, in the early hours of Tuesday morning (UK time).
“This is the birth of one of the best riders you have ever seen in your life! We are talking about one of the best young riders, male or female, this sport has ever seen!”
The truth is, though, Hatch was not wrong. Well, not about Backstedt’s ability anyway. The only thing you might quibble with was the timing of her breakthrough. Anyone surprised by her win on Tuesday has clearly not been paying attention.
"The birth of one of the 𝙗𝙚𝙨𝙩 riders you will 𝐄𝐕𝐄𝐑 see ride a bike!" 🤩
🇬🇧 Remember the name of the new Junior Time Trial world champion: Zoe Backstedt 🌈#Wollongong2022 | @Backstedt_Zoe | @BritishCycling pic.twitter.com/UkyoAcfjrc
— Eurosport (@eurosport) September 20, 2022
The 17-year-old actually announced herself this time last year, in Flanders, when her dad, the former Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt, famously broke down in tears commentating on Zoe’s win in the junior world road race at the age of 16.
Since then, Backstedt has gone on to win the Under-19 Tour of Flanders, the junior world cyclo-cross title in Arkansas and the junior world Madison title on the track. Tuesday’s win, which came on the same day as fellow Welsh rider Josh Tarling won the men's junior title, makes her the only rider in the history of cycling to be a world champion in four disciplines at the same time. She also won a stagiaire contract with pro team EF Education-Tibco-SVB who she will join as a professional next season.
Safe to say it has been an absolutely phenomenal year for the younger Backstedt sister, who lives in blissful chaos in the family home in Pontyclun south Wales, along with mum Megan, a former British and Wales national road race champion, dad Magnus, and older sister Elynor who rides for Trek-Segafredo.
And it could be about to get even better. Backstedt defends her junior road race title on Saturday. It is safe to say she is a heavy favourite judging by the power she laid down on Tuesday. The Welsh rider put a staggering 90 seconds into her nearest rival, Justyna Czapla of Germany, in the 14.1km time trial. Despite being on junior gearing, Backstedt was actually quicker than the elite women’s winner, Ellen van Dijk, at the first time check (although the Dutchwoman had further to go and did have a faster average speed by the end of her effort).
There is no question Backstedt is the most exciting young British female talent to have emerged in years; a potential heir to Lizzie Deignan. A rider capable of challenging for elite world and Olympic titles in a few years. Which is not to disrespect the other exciting young British riders coming through such as Pfeiffer Georgi, Anna Henderson, or even her own sister Elynor. But it feels as if there is something extra special about Backstedt, simply because of the way she is cleaning up in every discipline.
Like Tom Pidcock on the men’s side, Backstedt clearly relishes switching it up. And she does it all with a smile on her face. The cameras enjoyed Backstedt smiling and laughing as she remembered to sing God Save the ‘King’ on the podium on Tuesday.
Who knows whether she will be able to kick on. She has set the bar pretty high now and there have been other exciting young talents who have fizzled out under the pressure, or got bad injuries.
For now, we should just enjoy the rise of a special talent. Beginning on Saturday. Can Backstedt double up this year by winning both the time trial and Saturday’s road race, having taken silver and gold last year? This year's 67.2km route features almost 1,000m of climbing.
“I mean, of course I’ll try,” she told Telegraph Sport last week. “It won’t be easy because everyone will be marking me. They know what I look like and they won’t want to let me get away. They will want to sit on me, which could be frustrating. But I know that. We just have to use different cards…
“I’ll just try to have fun on a bike. When I have fun on a bike, I tend to get good results.”