Belgian Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) won with authority this Saturday the fourteenth edition of the Strade Bianche cycling event, starting and finishing in the Italian city of Siena and with a route of 184 kilometers, 63 of them on roads of White clay.
Van Aert was crowned in the first classic of the season, finishing in 4 hours, 58 minutes and 56 seconds, ahead of Italian Davide Formolo (UAE Emirates) and Maximilian Schachmann (Bora Hansgrohe).
After finishing third in the last two editions, Van Aert chose the right moment to attack, in the Le Tolfe sector, less than fifteen kilometers to go, and crossed the finish line alone to seal his first triumph in the classic Italian.
This Saturday was an unprecedented test, after so many months of inactivity and with extreme weather conditions. The race started at 1:45 p.m. Italian time under more than 37 degrees Celsius, the runners faced a demanding course.
If in March, when this race is regularly held, you used to see cyclists fight against cold and rain, this year heat was the enemy. The organizers placed collaborators in various areas of the route to distribute water to the cyclists and help them stay hydrated. There were no shortage of images of the protagonists pouring water on their bodies and legs in an attempt to endure.
The ‘Classical of the southernmost north of Europe’, as the Strade Bianche is nicknamed, had an illustrious list of participants, among which were the current champion Alaphilippe, the Slovakian Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe), triple world champion, or the Local idol Vincenzo Nibali (Trek Segafredo), who nevertheless had a very unsatisfying day.
One of the first to lose strength was Alaphilippe, who gave up 50 kilometers from the end, and also the Polish Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos), double champion of this test (2014 and 2017), showed great difficulties to keep up with the pace of the leaders.
The Danish Jakob Fuglsang, second last year, Mountain Bike champion and used to competing in extreme conditions, had the strength and attacked with about 45 kilometers to go, although he finally decided to wait to give the final attempt and joined a runners’ sextet made up of Alberto Bettiol, Formolo, Belgian Greeg Van Avermaet, Van Aert and Schachmann.
They took a margin that exceeded a minute and a half with 30 kilometers to go and began to exchange warnings. Schachman and Van Aert picked up the pace at Colle Pinzuto, and then it was time for Fuglsan and Bettiol, as Olympic champion Van Avermaet said goodbye to his options.
The last sector of clay was missing, le Tolfe, with 1.1 kilometers with 18% slope, and there Van Aert attacked, another cyclocross expert, with Schachman and Formolo who tried to keep up.
They did their best to keep their distance in about ten seconds, but Van Aert was still strong. He had twenty seconds to spare and only had to attack the final climb, with slopes of 16%, precisely where last year he lost his chances of victory at the expense of Alaphilippe.
And this year Van Aert showed the energy that he lacked in the last two years, when he finished third, and triumphed with authority, with a 30-second lead over Formolo and a 32-second lead over Schachman.
In the women’s category, Majorcan Margarita Garcia Cañellas (Ale ‘BTC Ljubljana) finished second behind Dutch world champion Ammeniek Van Vleuten (Mitchelton Scott), with American Leah Thomas (Equipe Paule Ka) completing the podium.
Cañellas García, 36, tried to escape 46 kilometers from the end, but Van Vleuten caught up with her six kilometers from the end, surpassed her and triumphed alone at the finish line in Piazza del Campo in Siena.