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.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||4:44:26|
|2||Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|3||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD|
|4||Jure Kocjan (Slo) Team Type 1 - Sanofi Aventis|
|5||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard Trek|
|6||Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Androni Giocattoli|
|7||Oscar Gatto (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli|
|8||Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli|
|9||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|10||Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Leopard Trek|
|11||Michael Albasini (Swi) HTC-Highroad|
|12||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-Cervelo|
|13||David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Geox-TMC|
|14||David Gutierrez Gutierrez (Spa) Geox-TMC|
|15||George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|16||Massimo Codol (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|17||Patxi Javier Vila Errandonea (Spa) De Rosa - Ceramica Flaminia|
|18||Emanuele Sella (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|19||Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Highroad|
|20||Rubens Bertogliati (Swi) Team Type 1 - Sanofi Aventis||0:00:40|
|21||Francesco Failli (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli|
|22||Craig Lewis (USA) HTC-Highroad||0:00:45|
|23||Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - ISD||0:01:00|
|24||Hayden Roulston (NZl) HTC-Highroad||0:01:15|
|25||Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||0:01:50|
|26||Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Lampre - ISD||0:02:30|
|27||Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Leopard Trek||0:03:20|
|28||Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad|
|29||Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|30||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team|
|31||Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek|
|32||Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|33||Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) Acqua & Sapone|
|34||Paolo Ciavatta (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|35||Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Team Garmin-Cervelo|
|36||Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli|
|37||Alessandro Donati (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|38||Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|39||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|40||Daniele Ratto (Ita) Geox-TMC|
|41||Alan Marangoni (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|42||Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre - ISD|
|43||Davide Ricci Bitti (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli|
|44||Leonardo Giordani (Ita) Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli|
|45||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) HTC-Highroad|
|46||Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|47||Marcel Wyss (Swi) Geox-TMC|
|48||Giampaolo Cheula (Ita) Geox-TMC|
|49||Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Leopard Trek|
|50||Matthias Brandle (Aut) Geox-TMC|
|51||André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|52||Martin Kohler (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|53||Fabio Taborre (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|54||Dmitry Kozontchuk (Rus) Geox-TMC|
|55||Cameron Wurf (Aus) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|56||Chad Beyer (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|57||Thomas Peterson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo|
|58||Giairo Ermeti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|