Van Vleuten's long-range attack started with a powerful acceleration on the Lofthouse climb, quickly establishing a big gap between her and the other elite climbers in the peloton.
The Dutch star pushed her advantage out to 40 seconds on that climb and that was as close as any other rider would come to the two-time individual time trial world champion as she put herself in chrono mode and held off an elite group of chasers for the remaining 105 kilometres around a tough Yorkshire course.
Behind her, a collection of some of the best riders in the world were trying to chase the flying Dutchwoman down, with Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain), Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy), Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands), Chloe Dygert Owen (USA), Amanda Spratt (Australia), Clara Koppenberg (Germany), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) and Soraya Paladin (Italy) taking up the pursuit.
Van der Breggen was the main problem for the chasing group, a passenger that would not contribute to the pace-making and would also be the favourite for the victory if van Vleuten was brought back into the fold.
Despite that fact, the group cooperated quite well but couldn't make a dent in van Vleuten's lead. The formidable power of the two-time Giro Rosa winner proved too much for the chasers, as she gradually put more and more time into the group of chasers and the peloton.
The gap streched out to two minutes and with 32 kilometres remaining newly-crowned time trial world champion Dygert-Owen attacked from the diminished chasing group. Behind her, Spratt, van der Breggen and Longo Borghini worked together to bring the American back in the battle for silver.
Spratt and van der Breggen dropped Longo Borghini in the chase but managed to overhaul Dygert-Owen, leaving the exhausted American behind with ten kilometres left. Defending world champion van der Breggen then left behind Spratt on the final climb of the race with five kilometres remaining.
Out front, the title was van Vleuten's and she had plenty of time to celebrate in the final kilometre crossing the Harrogate finish line in ecstasy, with van der Breggen following over two minutes behind to complete a Dutch 1-2.
Amanda Spratt made it two years in a row on the world championships podium with a bronze medal to go with her silver from 2018.
"It was not actually planned, I wanted to go hard on the climb, I think that was good for our team," Van Vleuten said of her audacious attack.
"Then when I saw I had a gap, then my coach said ‘continue now’. It was a crazy plan. It was all a little bit crazy. I’m a little crazy. I train a lot and I think that also helped me a lot today, to be ready for such a big effort. People know I train a lot of hours on the bike and that helped me today.
"There’s so many emotions; my mother’s here and that’s special for me, my father a little bit too, because I was also wearing the earrings I had in Rio."