Zdenek Stybar and Gianluca Brambilla stood either side of Fabian Cancellara on the Strade Bianche podium in Siena as he celebrated his third victory. They had secured yet another result for Etixx-Quickstep but were left wondering how they had failed to win after a show of aggressive riding and numerical superiority.
Brambilla was the most aggressive rider in the race and arguably deserved to win. He was in a serious attack that formed 70km from the finish. He then went on the attack, was able to stay with Sagan, Stybar and Cancellara when they came across, and even went on the attack several more times to help set up Stybar. Brambilla doggedly fought all the way to Siena and was only caught at the top of the steep climb into the ancient city.
Stybar was equally as strong as Cancellara as they hunted down Brambilla with Sagan. He was able to sit on the wheels with his teammate up ahead but Etixx-QuickStep’s strategy unraveled when Stybar was unable to get past Cancellara before the vital final right turn that leads down into Piazza il Campo. As every jockey who rides in the Palio horse race in the same stunning square knows, whoever is first into the final corner usually wins.
“I think the finale is the key, whoever makes to the top of the last climb and then is first through the corner, wins Strade Bianche. Today’s race proved that again,” Stybar told Cyclingnews, admitting that the strongest rider had won.
“I tried to get past Fabian but he didn’t let me and he was very strong. I don’t think I should be ashamed to lose to him. I think as a team we did an excellent race. We didn’t make any mistakes, there was just one rider who was stronger than us.”
“It’s never good when you don’t win but compared to last year I think my form is as good. This performance boosts my confidence and is a good test of my shape. I’m where I want to be and I hope payback time will come soon.”
Stybar was more disappointed for Brambilla than for himself.
“He was amazing today. I really thought he’d win and he would have deserved it,” he said of his Italian teammate. “He was for sure one of the strongest guys in the race. He was there until 200 metres to go. It’s a real pity for him but Fabian was the strongest.”
Brambilla was stood nearby and was far more disappointed to miss out on victory at Strade Bianche after spending so much time at the head of the race.
"I can't say I lost the race, as Fabian was very strong. Of course I am sad because we didn't land the win, but I am happy for being at the front with such big champions. It's something that's happening more and more often since the beginning of the year, and it motivates me to get another victory sooner or later,” Brambilla said.
“I’m happy and satisfied with third place. I went close today, it almost came off. In the finale, after I‘d been in the earlier move, it was logical that I‘d work for Stybar and that’s what I did. I kept attacking so that Sagan and Cancellara had to chase me, while Stybar could sit on.”
“I didn’t think I’d faded on the final climb. I managed to hold them off and perhaps just cracked in the last 200 metres. But there was nothing I could do at that point. Cancellara is a great rider and pulled out something special. He caught me and past and I could only watch as they fought for victory.”