I don’t think anyone thought that Fabian Cancellara would take it easy in his last year of racing and today he threw down the Classics gauntlet with his third thrilling victory in the beautiful Strade Bianche. And he wasn’t the only gauntlet-hurler of the day – the mighty Lizzie Armitstead took her second win in a week, taking an emphatic victory in the women’s edition of the Italian race.
Rider of the Race
Everyone knows my love for Spartacus and I was beside myself with joy at his victory. But the rider of the race has to be Gianluca Brambilla. The Etixx rider got into a strong five-man break about halfway through the race and was clearly the strongest rider in that bunch – always pushing the pace, taking long turns on the front. With a thinned-out peloton looking to finally scoop up the break nearing the 30km mark, Brambilla went out on his own – he just wouldn’t say die.
When Peter Sagan forced the final selection by making a strong attack to break from the chasing pack, taking last year’s champion (and Brambilla’s teammate) Zdenek Stybar and Fabian Cancellara with him, they bridged to Brambilla. With those three riders coming up to you, you’d be forgiven to thinking, ‘okay, I’ll just look after Stybar’ but no – he kept attacking, getting a gap and rode into Siena alone. He wasn’t caught until the last few hundred metres of the race when Cancellara passed him and outsprinted Stybar to take the victory. And it was fitting that Brambilla stayed clear of Sagan to take a position on the final podium. Let’s hope he gets his time on the top step soon.
The man who had a ‘mare of a race
One has to really feel for Sky’s Salvatore Puccio. The Italian rider made the five-man break in the second half of the race, only to have some chain problems in the sixth sector of gravel. By the time the mechanic could get to him, the chasing group were about to sweep past.
He got back into that chasing group and seemed to be getting his rhythm back when the camera showed him on the side of the road again. Another long mechanical fiddle then back on the bike.
And then a third time we see him by the side of the road. Clearly frustrated, it must have taken enormous willpower not to Throw The Pinarello™ but he kept it together and eventually finished 43rd, almost 13min down. Chapeau for finishing after all that trouble!
In almost a replay of Omloop, we see the women’s World Champion bossing the race and taking a fantastic victory in the women’s Strade Bianche. Lizzie Armitstead attacked on the final climb into Siena, beating Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Rabo Liv) by 3secs and Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) by 13secs. That woman is on fire and it certainly seems like wearing the rainbow jersey doesn’t have the same race-dampening effect on the women as it seems to on the men.
Once again, we had Peter Sagan busting the race wide open – just as he did in Omloop, just as he did in KBK – yet not able to finish the race off with a win. While he rode quietly for most of the race today, it was the sight of the rainbow jersey attacking to catch Brambilla that drew out Stybar and Cancellara, thereby making the selection for the podium. And commentators were predicting – almost up until Cancellara crossed the line – that the victory would be contested by Stybar and Sagan. But he finished fourth after being distanced on the climb. Just lulling his fellow riders into a false sense of security for the Ronde/Roubaix double header perhaps?
I am Spartacus
In one-day races, particularly Classics-style races like Strade, experience is often the difference between winning and losing and today was a master class in racing cunning and guile. Cancellara saw the Sagan power move go and knew he had to go too. Once there, he gave a little dig further on to see who could follow then stayed calm in the pack when Brambilla went away – yet he was calculating the whole time. When he thought that the Etixx rider was getting too much of a gap, he took up the chase. Risking losing in order to win – as he has done his whole career. Then, when it was between him and Stybar in the last few hundred metres, he knew the finish so well that he knew which corner to pinch Stybar and get the advantage. Of course, experience is no good without power in those legs … but we have all year to talk about his #SacredHaunches. As a three-time champion, next year, the peloton will be riding over the Cancellara sector – I hope it’s the five-star Monte Sante Maria sector.
Top five results
Strade Bianche Women
1 Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) 3:30:13
2 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Rabo Liv) +0.03
3 Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) +0.13
4 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) +1.04
5 Anna Van Der Breggen (Rabo Liv) +1.07
Strade Bianche Men
1 Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) 4:39:35
2 Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) s/t
3 Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) +0.04
4 Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) +0.13
5 Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) +0.34