With so many marquee sprinters missing and a prestigious Tour de France victory up for grabs, stage 13 was only ever going to end in a sprint finish. Exuding cool calm, Peter Sagan surfed wheels on the run in then timed his sprint and bike throw to perfection to pip Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Demare for his hat trick. There was no change on GC except the sad news that Vincenzo Nibali had to retire from the race due to injuries received when he was brought down on stage 12.
Day 12: Our final photograph is of Michael Schär, looking exuberant after finishing the Tour but I like to think he’s welcoming the 2015 season with open arms.
The stunning Strade Bianche race took place in the rolling hills and on the gravel roads of Tuscany today, where an unlikely Italian stole the win on home turf. A perfectly timed attack from talented youngster Moreno Moser saw him hold off the peloton, with his teammate Peter Sagan coming across the line in second place, capping a Cannondale one-two.
Key to how the race played out was the composition of the day’s main breakaway and the lead they were able to build up. Four riders, Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Giairo Ermeti (Androni Giocattoli) and Michael Schar (BMC) were allowed to escape, and at one point had an advantage over the peloton of over nine minutes.
With over 50km to go, and with the peloton seemingly reeling the escapees in comfortably, Vacansoleil’s Classics man Juan Antonio Flecha took an interesting decision and attacked off the front. However, it seemed like he’d left himself too much work to do when he still had a couple of minutes to close down with 20km remaining.
Instead, he was just left dangling between the break and the bunch, serving as much of a purpose advertising his team’s title sponsor’s camping holidays as contesting the victory. Astana and Vini-Fantini took up the chase before, with around 17km to go, a solo move came from the 22-year old Trentini Moreno Moser (Cannondale), who only turned professional last season.
He dropped Flecha as quickly as he’d bridged the gap, before setting about capturing the race leaders. While doing so there was some agitation amongst the favourites in the peloton, with Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) twitching behind. They weren’t allowed to get a gap.
With 6km to go Moser and the dropped Saramotins hit the front of the race, rejoining the two leaders Belkov and Schar, with Ermiti now chucked out of the back. Meanwhile back down the road a strong second group had got some time, featuring Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale), Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Andrey Amador (Movistar).
However, that move didn’t stick, and soon enough things came back together in the group behind. After some initial hesitation as the race came into the stunning surroundings of Siena, Moser stopped glancing behind at the remnants of the peloton and attacked. Soon enough, he was all alone going up the final ramp.
Despite his burning legs he managed to make the move stick, coming across the line with a five-second advantage over teammate Sagan, with Nocentini third.
Analysis & opinion
The victory was an exercise in great strategy from Moser and Cannondale. After the race, Moser stated that he “used Peter for the win,” and it’s certainly true that Sagan played a crucial role in his teammate’s win, without ever actively contributing.
While this may seem odd, it all comes down to the early break and the riders present. BMC brought a strong team to this race, with Greg Van Avermaet and Cadel Evans both possible winners. Therefore, placing their man Michael Schar in the early break put the onus on other teams to do the chasing, while they preserved their energy for a late surge. They were the key team, who would have a vital role in determining how the race played out.
By contrast, RadioShack and Cannondale weren’t as strong, and weren’t really in a position to chase a break down. However, where Cannondale had the key advantage was that they had both Moser and Sagan capable of winning, rather than just one rider. With Sagan a race favourite, he was always going to be a marked man – and this was demonstrated in how he was constantly riding alongside fellow hopeful Fabian Cancellara throughout the day.
This allowed his teammate Moser, to slip off the front quietly with a perfectly timed attack, while the focus was on Sagan’s jousting with Cancellara behind. With BMC not chasing because Schar was still out in the lead group, RadioShack not able to chase with a one-man team and Cannondale not willing to do so with Moser out front, the peloton’s work was left up to Astana and Vini Fantini in the closing kilometres. The big players were simply not involved.
This, ultimately, bought Moser the crucial five seconds which saw him take victory, in an excellent one-two for Cannondale. Something tells me he won’t be able to escape as easily next time.
1. Moreno Moser (Cannondale) 5:01:53
2. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) +0:05
3. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:07
4. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) same time
5. Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM) s/t
6. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) s/t
7. Alexander Kolobnev (Katusha) s/t
8. Francesco Reda (Androni Giocattoli) s/t
9. Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) +0:10
10. Maxim Belkov (Katusha) +0:13