It was cold and rainy, which meant we had a mudfest in Tuscany for the 12th edition of Strade Bianche. Race favourites Peter Sagan, Michal Kwaitkowski and Zdenek Stybar missed the decisive selection, when Romain Bardet (Ag2r) attacked on the eighth sector, but Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan) did, joining the Frenchman in front. Working together to hold enough of a gap to crush the spirits of various chasing groups, it was only the Belgian rider Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) who could catch them – and ultimately drop them – on the way into Siena. In the rain-soaked women’s race, Anna van der Breggen sounded a warning to her rivals with an emphatic solo win over Kasia Niewiadoma and Elisa Longo Borghini.
Riders of the Race
There’s really no way to pick just one rider, it has to go to the entire podium, as they all played an important part in each other’s success (and the watching fans’ excitement).
Romain Bardet took his own advice of ‘take the risk or lose the chance‘ and busted the race open on the eighth sector, flying off the front with his muddy gilet flapping in the wind! For a race that three-time champion Fabian Cancellara said favours the heavier rider, the lightweight figure of the Frenchman riding free from any restraints was a thing of joy. But who thought, at 50km out, that he would hold off a group of strong contenders, including Sagan, Valverde, Kwiatkowski and Stybar?Embed from Getty Images
But he could and would hold off any threats to the podium, but only with the help of Wout Van Aert, three-time cyclo-cross world champion, who saw Bedhead go and followed. Both riders worked well together – Van Aert doing most of the work on the soupy sections where his mud-skills came to the fore and Bardet taking the lead on the tarmac. And while the big names were marking themselves out further down the road, the duo put together quite a tasty lead.Embed from Getty Images
But then, back in the main chase group, a certain DS told Tiesj Benoot to ‘go yourself now, because everyone is f**ked’. He didn’t need to be told twice. Power and determination – added to the divided attention of the others – meant that he could peel off with 30km to go and Quick-step’s Pieter Serry for company, make some good headway until he dropped Serry in the penultimate sector and putting in a massive acceleration to bridge to Bardet and Van Aert. Feeling that good meant he was taking no chances and he dropped the pair on the final, very steep, sector to arrive in the Piazza del Campo, bare-armed and mud-masked, winning his first ever World Tour race.
In the understatement of the year (so far), he commented after the race: “I felt it was the moment, and it was the last super hard section of the race. It was amazing. I didn’t expect to go this well, but I had a really good day.”
It was a good day for all of us.
Van der Breggen solos to the winEmbed from Getty Images
The fourth edition of the women’s Strade Bianche was raced before the men’s – and the women got the worst of the weather, with downpours a go-go. The decisive sector in this race was the seventh, with Anna van der Breggen attacking with only last year’s champion Elisa Longo Borghini able to follow. She didn’t follow for long, as a mechanical at the end of that sector gave van der Breggen the space she needed to put enough time into her rival – and the rest of the peloton – that she completed the final 18km on her own.Embed from Getty Images
After the race, van der Breggen said:
“I think it was one of the hardest races I ever did, but the team did great bringing hot tea and jackets. I don’t know if in a race like this you can have a plan. We tried to keep up there with as many riders as possible and keep as warm as possible. I had my rain jacket on until 25km to go and I never did that before.
“If you win a race like this it makes it memorable and I will remember this race for the rest of my life, so I am happy.”
Men’s raceEmbed from Getty Images
1 Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) 5:03:33
2 Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:39
3 Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan) +0:58
4 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:25
5 Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) +1:27
6 Robert Power (Mitchelton-Scott) +1:29
7 Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) +1:42
8 Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) +2:08
9 Pieter Serry (Quick-Step Floors) +2:11
10 Gregor Muhlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe +2:16
Women’s RaceEmbed from Getty Images
1 Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) 4:10:48
2 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) +0.49
3 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) +0:59
4 Chantal Blaak (Boels Dolmans) +1:32
5 Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott Women) same time
6 Janneke Ensing (Ale Cipollini) +1:37
7 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton Scott Women) +1:41
8 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla) +2:25
9 Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb Women) +2:36
10 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervelo-Bigla) +2:50
Header image: Tiesj Benoot © GETTY /Velo / Tim de Waele