Gilbert sparkles on Strade Bianche

Belgian overpowers Ballan and Cunego in Siena

Philippe Gilbert won on the “white roads” of the Montepaschi Strade Bianche, after a hard-fought 190km of racing in Tuscany. Under impetus from the Omega Pharma-Lotto man, the lead group of 20 broke up on an uphill stretch in the final kilometre, and he went on to accelerate clear of Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing Team) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) in the streets of Siena to take a classy victory.

Gilbert’s win was his second of this campaign, after taking a stage of the Volta ao Algarve. It was also just the latest in a series of masterpieces that the Belgian has served up on Italian roads. He ended his 2010 season with a stunning solo win at the Tour of Lombardy, but he showed his dexterity on the Strade Bianche by holding his nerve and leaving his move until he reached Siena’s charming cobbled streets.

“Italy is my paradise,” Gilbert beamed after the finish. “My last race here in 2010 was Lombardia and the first one here this year is Strade Bianche, and they’re two wins that I’ll never forget.”

As the leading group of 20 splintered in the final kilometre, Gilbert knew that timing and positioning would be as important as brute strength on the technical approach to the finish line in Siena’s Piazza del Campo. Reaching the final corner in first position was crucial, but Gilbert allowed the dangerous Ballan test the waters before he unleashed his own fearsome sprint in earnest.

“It was a nervous finale on dangerous little streets,” Gilbert explained. “I let Ballan launch the sprint before starting my own. 250 metres from the line he came up alongside me and we battled for the last corner, but I was on the inside and I knew that could be a decisive advantage.”

The former world champion Ballan acknowledged that Gilbert had been clever to take the inside line, but he was pleased with his form in Tuscany.

"I was behind Philippe Gilbert and Damiano Cunego was on my wheel," Ballan said. "Gilbert took the inside and I didn't want to pass him on the outside because I was afraid that I would crash. Overall, I'm happy with my condition. It bodes well for the upcoming races."

Cunego admitted that there was little that he could do against the in-form Gilbert, who has signalled himself as the man to watch on all terrains this spring.

“Gilbert’s burst was deadly,” Cunego said. “I tried to hang tough, hoping to recover on the flat and on the descent before the Piazza del Campo. I tried, I pushed and I even almost got back on coming up to the line, but Gilbert had more than everyone.”

The early salvoes on the dust roads

Unlike the Giro d’Italia’s visit to this part of the world in 2010, there was no rain in Tuscany on Saturday, but the strade bianche still required the utmost of technical ability and daring from the peloton. While Gilbert left his signature move until the race reached Siena, there was no shortage of action on the dust roads themselves, as the combination of sharp inclines and technical, unmade surfaces broke up the peloton repeatedly.

Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) was among the aggressors on the first stretch of dust road, just 35km in, but a puncture forced him out of the move. Soon afterwards, the day’s main escape came together, when a 12-man group got away at the 43km mark: Alessandro De Marchi (Androni Giocattoli), Joost Posthuma (Leopard Trek), Giairo Ermeti (Androni), Martin Kohler (BMC), Federico Rocchetti (De Rosa), Davide Ricci Bitti, Patrick Sinkewitz (Farnese-Neri), Matthias Brandle (Geox-TMC), Peter Velits (HTC), Paolo Longo Borghini (Liquigas), Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Cervélo), Adam Hansen, Greg Van Avermaet (OmegaPharma-Lotto) and Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek).

The break built a maximum advantage of three minutes but with no Lampre-ISD man in the move, it was always going to be difficult to stay clear of the pink and blue train at the head of the bunch. The lead group fragmented as the difficult surface began to take its toll and eventually O’Grady and Van Avermaert pulled clear, first with Ermeti for company, and then by themselves.

"It wasn't the perfect situation to go with the early breakaway. but O'Grady made the jump and I just followed him and we were gone," Van Avermaet said. "When you have such good legs, you try to make the best of it."

They managed to stay clear of the peloton until just after the final section of dust road, but the 18% slopes there were to put paid to their hopes of victory. They were swallowed up with 12km to go, as Lampre-ISD began to wind things up for a finale that they felt was well-suited to Damiano Cunego’s talents. Indeed, the Italian was himself a prominent figure at the head of the bunch, but in the end, he too would have to yield to the sparkling Gilbert, who toasted another fine win.


Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto4:44:26 
2Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team  
3Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD  
4Jure Kocjan (Slo) Team Type 1 - Sanofi Aventis  
5Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard Trek  
6Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Androni Giocattoli  
7Oscar Gatto (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli  
8Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli  
9Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team  
10Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Leopard Trek  
11Michael Albasini (Swi) HTC-Highroad  
12Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-Cervelo  
13David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Geox-TMC  
14David Gutierrez Gutierrez (Spa) Geox-TMC  
15George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team  
16Massimo Codol (Ita) Acqua & Sapone  
17Patxi Javier Vila Errandonea (Spa) De Rosa - Ceramica Flaminia  
18Emanuele Sella (Ita) Androni Giocattoli  
19Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Highroad  
20Rubens Bertogliati (Swi) Team Type 1 - Sanofi Aventis0:00:40 
21Francesco Failli (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli  
22Craig Lewis (USA) HTC-Highroad0:00:45 
23Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - ISD0:01:00 
24Hayden Roulston (NZl) HTC-Highroad0:01:15 
25Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:01:50 
26Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Lampre - ISD0:02:30 
27Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Leopard Trek0:03:20 
28Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad  
29Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto  
30Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team  
31Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek  
32Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
33Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) Acqua & Sapone  
34Paolo Ciavatta (Ita) Acqua & Sapone  
35Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Team Garmin-Cervelo  
36Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli  
37Alessandro Donati (Ita) Acqua & Sapone  
38Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Androni Giocattoli  
39Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale  
40Daniele Ratto (Ita) Geox-TMC  
41Alan Marangoni (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
42Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre - ISD  
43Davide Ricci Bitti (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli  
44Leonardo Giordani (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli  
45Bernhard Eisel (Aut) HTC-Highroad  
46Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  
47Marcel Wyss (Swi) Geox-TMC  
48Giampaolo Cheula (Ita) Geox-TMC  
49Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Leopard Trek  
50Matthias Brandle (Aut) Geox-TMC  
51André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto  
52Martin Kohler (Swi) BMC Racing Team  
53Fabio Taborre (Ita) Acqua & Sapone  
54Dmitry Kozontchuk (Rus) Geox-TMC  
55Cameron Wurf (Aus) Liquigas-Cannondale  
56Chad Beyer (USA) BMC Racing Team  
57Thomas Peterson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo  
58Giairo Ermeti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli  


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