Following on from last weekend’s Belgian semi-classic races, we’ve decamped to the utterly gorgeous and very evocative Tuscan countryside. I half-expected Russell Crowe of Gladiator fame to put in an appearance. But today the gladiators were wearing lyrca and their steeds were made of carbon. The race on the Strade Bianche was won – for the second time – in imperious fashion by Spartacus, aka Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan), who rode away from the leading group 12 km from the finish, and quickly built a sufficient cushion as he time-trialled his way to a solo victory in the historic Piazzo del Campo in Siena.
Another former winner, and part of the pursuing group of five, Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) outfoxed Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini) on the final corner to take second place.
The sixth edition of this Italian Classic followed an identical course to the previous four years, covering a total of 190km, just under 60km of which would be on Tuscany’s iconic, unpaved white gravel roads. Under an almost clear blue sky and with hardly any wind, race conditions couldn’t have been better. This is what the winner had to say the day before the race:
This victory represents RadioShack-Nissan’s first individual win of the 2012 season and they orchestrated it beautifully. They put young Ben Hermans in the first break of the day and saved their bigger guns for the last 60km of racing. Also present in that first break, which built up an initial healthy lead, were Marco Pinotti (BMC), Claudio Corioni (Acqua & Sapone), Borut Bozic (Astana), Marco Coledan (Colnago), Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia-Coldeportes), Juan Suarez Suarez (Colombia-Coldeportes) [so good they named him twice? – Ed], Kevin Hulsmans (Farnese Vini), Massimo Graziato (Lampre), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas), Ramon Sinkeldam (1t4i) and Gabriele Bosisio (Utensilnord Named).
Team Type 1, who had no one in the break, led the chase. At about halfway, the leading group was reduced to nine riders as Pinotti, Bozic and Suarez fell behind and, thanks to the efforts of Garmin-Barracuda and BMC, the remnants of that early break were caught with around 60km to go.
Next, Roman Kreuziger (Astana) attacked and got clear, but another group of riders popped out of the peloton and bridged up to him. The leading group comprised Kreuziger, Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Fabian Cancellara, Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale). Garzelli punctured and was left behind while the chasing pack regrouped and now included defending champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC). With just 40km left, the two leading groups came together and now included most of the pre-race favourites – game on.
RadioShack’s next gambit was to send Daniele Bennati up the road after Liquigas’ Daniel Oss. The two gradually built up a gap of 40 seconds, before Bennati left Oss behind on a short, steep climb. But BMC, Garmin Barracuda and Astana pursued and, all too soon, the leading bunch were back together. With 14km to go, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) responded to an attack from Movistar, on the eighth and final section of strade bianche, which included the climb to Le Tolfe. He was quickly caught and passed by Cancellara who had Ballan and Iglinskiy on his wheel, but he left them all standing as he accelerated. Cancellara explained:
When Greg van Avermaert went, I bridged across and when I looked back there was a gap. I knew that I had to keep the momentum. It’s not really like I attacked there, because I was on my limit, but I just kept going.
Ballan, Van Avermaet, Iglinskiy and Gatto were soon joined by Kreuziger. Working well together, they attempted to hunt down Spartacus. But with the Swiss champion in time trial mode, the odds of only five-to-one weren’t really in their favour, particularly once Ballan went astray at a roundabout 7km from home and they lost their momentum. The chasers were now competing for the minor places.
As Cancellara went under the red kite and started his ascent of the cobbled streets to the finish line, he was more than 60 seconds clear. He pointed to the sky and crossed himself, dedicating his win to his family and his recently deceased uncle Giovanni as he crossed the finish line, arms aloft, to take his second victory in six editions of the race. Meanwhile, Ballan’s acceleration had dropped Van Avermaet and Kreuziger but it was 2010 winner, Iglinskiy, who held off Gatto to take second place, with the two BMC riders coming over the line next.
With the cobbled Classics less than a month away Cancellara’s victory, while he’s not yet at 100%, sends an emphatic message to his rivals. With this team, he now has the missing pieces back in his armoury to erase last year’s disappointments. In conclusion he said:
This race appeals to me. I had prepared well and am content to have won it for a second time.
Finally, VeloVoices rider, Georg Preidler (Team Type 1) finished a very respectable 23rd in the company of riders such as Peter Sagan (Liquigas).
1. Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) 4:44:59
2. Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) +0:42
3. Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini) same time
4. Alessandro Ballan (BMC) +0:46
5. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) +0:48
6. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +1:03
7. Francesco Reda (Acqua & Sapone) +1:45
8. Francesco Gianni (Acqua & Sapone) +01:47
9. Elia Favilli (Farnese Vini) s/t
10. Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) +01:57