Elisa Balsamo rode to victory in 3:52:57 in the elite women's race at the UCI Road World Championships ©Getty Images

Elisa Balsamo has won the elite women's road race after a dramatic sprint finish at the International Cycling Union (UCI) Road World Championships in the Flanders region of Belgium.

The Italian won the junior world title at this event in 2016, and held off her rivals during a close finale to the 157.7-kilometre race from Antwerp to Leuven.

Balsamo clocked 3hrs 52min 27sec to earn the rainbow jersey, staving off The Netherlands' Marianne Vos, who made a late charge for victory but ultimately took silver.

This was Italy's third gold medal won at this year's UCI Road World Championships.

"It was a dream for me after this long season," Balsamo said afterwards.

"My team was so good, without them, this jersey wasn't possible.

"Sorry I have no words!"                                                                                                  

Poland's Katarzyna Niewiadoma earned the bronze medal, finishing one second behind the front two.

Niewiadoma led a cluster of 15 riders who finished in 3:52:28.

Zoe Bäckstedt overcame Kaia Schmid in a sprint finish to the junior women's road race ©Getty Images
Zoe Bäckstedt overcame Kaia Schmid in a sprint finish to the junior women's road race ©Getty Images

In the day's earlier race at the championships, Britain's Zoe Bäckstedt triumphed in the junior women's event in Leuven to earn her country's first success at the competition.

Bäckstedt and American rider Kaia Schmid broke clear to set up another dramatic finish in Leuven, and it was ultimately the Briton who prevailed.

"I was just trying to keep us moving, keep us away from the group behind," Bäckstedt said.

"I knew I had teammates in the group behind who'd be able to help try and get the gap out a little bit more.

"Once it was above 30 seconds I knew that I could hold it with the American, so we kept communicating, saying 'keep pushing, let's get ourselves to the line and just sprint it out and see what happens in the last lap'.

"We did that and it came down to a sprint, and I just had it."

Both cyclists recorded a time of 1:55:33.

Linda Riedmann of Germany took the final podium position 57 seconds behind the front two as she came out on top in a group of eight cyclists.

The UCI Road World Championships draws to a close tomorrow with the 268.3km men's elite road race from Antwerp to Leuven.