On a gorgeous but windy day in Tuscany, the ninth Strade Bianche saw much of the peloton dusted up and out well before the last 10km when it was apparent that the winner would be one of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Greg van Avermaet (BMC) or Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step). They were pedal for pedal until the last crushing incline saw Stybar put the others to the sword with a kick and a win.
Rider of the race
Faced with a wily and always dangerous Valverde and a determined van Avermaet in the final selection to the finish, Zdenek Stybar did not panic. He kept his counsel and, most importantly, he didn’t try too much too soon. With a chasing group of danger-men consisting of Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Daniel Oss (BMC), Fabian Cancellara (Trek) and Diego Rosa (Astana), the trio worked together up until around the 2km mark when it was every man for himself.
Under the flamme rouge, Stybar wisely let Valverde take on the first biting incline up the city walls of Siena, which propelled GVA into action. Action that he couldn’t sustain as Stybar hit the afterburners and rode away from Valverde, then passed GVA, leaving the Belgian rider with his eternal second in one-day races. Beautifully timed, ruthlessly executed, Stybar crossed the finish line to collect the biggest road race victory in his career.
If Stybar’s illustrious career in cyclocross (three times world champ) hasn’t clued you in to how tough he is, think about this. Yesterday he posted up these pictures on Instagram of what can only be described as some gruesome dental work to put his teeth right. Teeth he lost when he took steel barriers full in the face in last year’s Eneco Tour, requiring hospitalisation and reconstructive surgery. This man must have a very high pain threshold!
Three things we liked
1. Another new winner. In the nine editions of this race, only one rider has won it twice – that, of course, is Fabian Cancellara. And while I would have loved for him to win today and get a stretch of gravel named after him, I also love the fact that this race is one that is hard for one rider to dominate year after year. Maybe it’s the timing of the race – we all know the European season starts here. Maybe it’s the lack of race radio – it’s hard to believe this isn’t a WorldTour race yet, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s just that the parcours is one of the toughest in the calendar. Whatever it is, it’s a thrill to see a new name in the record books.
2. That the race attracts a quality field. As this isn’t a WorldTour race (yet), teams can decide whether they want to participate or not. Some send smaller teams than the full eight riders (Sky, Katusha, LottoNL-Jumbo), while others send their full teams (Trek, Tinkoff, Movistar and Etixx) and really commit to riding this race (special mention to Sep Vanmarcke from Jumbo – who, as he didn’t have a full team, practically rode this race all by himself). This wasn’t a training ride for these guys, this was hard-fought and tactical, wind-crazed and crushing, and a precursor for Paris-Roubaix. The one thing I was particularly disappointed about was the absence of Giant-Alpecin. I long for the day that The Mighty Degenkolb™ adds this race to his palmares. Maybe next year?
3. It’s elegant and ruthless I keep banging on about this but this is not a WorldTour race. This isn’t a race that’s been going for 100 years. This is a newbie but, boy, does it feel like it’s a granddad. With hardly a flat stretch of road in its 200km, 50km of choking dust (or one day, fingers crossed, MUD!) and a spirit-crushing climb at the finish in Siena, this race shows that new races don’t have to smack of commercialism (*cough* defunct Beijing, I’m looking at you). They can, with thoughtful planning and passion, capture both riders’ and fans’ imaginations.
1. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step) 5:22:13
2. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) +0:02
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:18
4. Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:46
5. Diego Rosa (Astana) +0:56
6. Oscar Gatto (Androni Giocattoli) +0:59
7. Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick Step) +0:59
8. Fabio Felline (Trek) +1:02
9. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) +1:03
10. Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) +1:03
Link: Official race website