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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from Strade Bianche.
Today's edition of Strade Bianche kicks off a spectacular weekend of racing in Italy, with RCS Sport organising Strade Bianche on Saturday and Roma Maxima tomorrow.
The route for Strade Bianche certainly makes it one of the most unique races on the European calendar. After the cobbles of last week's excitement at Omloop, we're on the dirt roads in Italy.
The race is 190 kilometres but at the heart of the parcours lies 60 kilometres of unpaved roads, divided into 8 sections, each of them maintained in excellent condition.
Last year Fabian Cancellara steamed away on the final section of dirt roads for a famous win. He also won the event back in 2008 and organisers RCS have already stated that they'll rename a stretch of the dirt roads after the first ride to win the event three times. Cancellara races today, so what better motivation is needed?
Just to bring you up to date on the action so far, before we get back to the race route. We have a break of four up the road, with an advantage of around 1:50 on the peloton. Those riders are, Saramotins (IAM), Belkov (KAT), Ermeti (AND) and Schar (BMC).
Blanco are having a torrid time already though. It appears the team has been hit by illness and Lars Boom, a pre-race favourite for some of you, abandoned inside the first 50 kilometres. That puts Blanco down to just four riders in the race having started with just five fit men.
70kms raced so far and we're just trying to check the time gaps. Reports are that it's gone out dramatically to ten minutes..
Confirmation: the gap is at 9:45 with the peloton allowing the four breakaway riders to stretch their legs. BMC, who had a rider in the break last year - Pinotti - are looking to clearly have a man with each move today. They have Evans and Van Avermaet for the finale.
Back to the route and at the 35 km point, the peloton enters the first unpaved section, which is also the longest (13.5 km, difficulty **). Then, after a brief return to smooth asphalt, the second section of white road ensues (5.5 km, difficulty *) with a light gradient, through woodland.
The other side of Buonconvento lies the climb at Montalcino, the hardest of the day (4 km, 5%). Beyond Torrenieri, sections 3 (11.9 km***) and 4 (8.0 km ****) are separated by barely a kilometer of asphalt. Both sections are hilly and demanding: the peloton gets twitchy here, among the curves and climbs.
After a second passage through Buonconvento, the race joins the main road, Strada Statale 3, for the feed zone (km 106-109). Then it’s the village of Asciano and, after 132.4 km, the fifth unpaved section. 11.5 km long and the hardest of the race at *****, Section 5 is mostly uphill, although it includes several undulations.
Cyclingnews' Stephen Farrand was at the start this morning where it was a very sharp 6 degrees Celsius, mostly sunny but with some broken cloud.
For the rest of the race we're expecting clear skies and temperatures of 12 degrees Celsius.
The leaders are now on the third section of dirt roads and their lead continues to grow out to 10:50. The fourth sections just around the corner too. We should see the first major reaction from the bunch at Buonconvento, which is just after the feedzone at kilometre 103.
Cross winds could certainly be a factor today, and at the moment they're whipping across the roads. BMC, RadioShack and Cannodale will be looking to exploit any mistakes from their rivals with their experience. You'd add Blanco to that list but with their squad down to four riders it's a little difficult to see them doing anything at the moment.
The peloton has just hit the third section of dirt roads with the gap now 10:25. No panic needed, there's still a long way to go in the race but BMC are in a good position.They don't have to do any chasing thanks to Schar being in the early move.
Crash! That's what the symbol to your left is meant to signify. Anyway, Madrazo and Tiralongo have hit the deck. More on them as soon as possible.
An instant reaction from the bunch on that last sector, with the gap dropping to 9:40.
The fifth section of dirt roads often reveals the real contenders for victory. The Monte Sante Marie section is 11.5km and includes several nasty climbs on the dirt roads. A select group is likely to emerge here and go on to fight for victory.
Peter Sagan won earlier this week at the G.P. Camaiore. He's certainly another favourite today and it will be interesting to see how he matches up against the more experience Cancellara.
Valverde, Omloop winner Paolini, and Daniel Martin are also racing today but Valverde has really been on fire this season. In 6 days of racing he's won four times, a better strike rate than any of the sprinters.
Tiralongo has made it back to the peloton by the way. He crashed a few minutes ago but no news on the Movistar rider who also came down.
The gap continues to drop, and it's 8:40 now. We'll bring you a distance marker as soon as we can. And you can pick your winners, give your thoughts on the race via twitter, here.
Well, despite their numerical short coming Blanco are on the front and leading the chase. Garmin and Katusha are also pulling.
95 kilometres raced, 95 to go. The gap is still above 8:30.
Last year the early escape was caught at around the 135 kilometre point. We should see something fairly similar today.
Santambrogio and Paolini have both been caught up in a crash.
Stephen Farrand took these snaps at the start this morning.
For any Australian's following today's action. Rohan Dennis is making his pro debut today. The young track star competed at the London Olympics last year but will be concentrating on the road for the next few years.
90km to go and the gap continues to come down. It's at 6:55 now. BMC still looking good, with a man in the break and all their rivals forced to chase. Van Amermaet and Ballan led their challenge last year but both men were forced to settle for fourth and fifth despite being two of the strongest men in the race. I believe one of them even went off course in the run into the finale.
Ballan of course not racing today after his crash last year.
Blue skies hover overhead as we head towards the final 80 kilometres of this race. It's finely balanced with Saramotins (IAM), Belkov (KAT), Ermeti (AND) and Schar (BMC) still holding a 6 minute lead over the bunch. Still, there's a long way to go and plenty of teams have kept their powder dry.
Indeed. Could 2013 be the year Sagan wins a Classic? He's clearly started the season in good form and he's another year wiser after the 2012 season. The question, perhaps, is whether he's learned from the mistakes (and they were small) that he made during last year's Classics campaign. He has the potential to ride away from anyone though and this could be another important marker before Milan Sanremo later this month.
80 kilometres to go and the gap is still at 7 minutes.
At San Giovanni (km 163.7) the 6th unpaved section begins (3.3 km **, and mostly downhill), and then, after the asphalt roads through Pieve and Bozzone, the penultimate white-road section (2.4km ****) takes the race sharply uphill up the Colle Pinzuto (with gradient up to 15%).
The final unpaved section starts at km 176.7 (1.1 km ***), with an abrupt descent followed by a steep climb (touching 18%), which ends at Tolfe. From that point, a little over 12 km remain before the finish in Siena’s famous Campo. The extremely demanding final kilometres, with gradients reaching 16%, are the preamble to the race’s final, dramatic conclusion.
The four leaders are still working well together but the chase behind is becoming more and more organised. Sagan has pushed his troops to the front of the peloton and with 60 km to go the bunch is starting to string out.
60km to go and the gap is at 5:30
Cancellara has seen Cannondale and his teammates move up and also join the chase.
The four man break looks pretty good out there but despite their cohesion they wont be able to hold out for too much longer. Cannondale and RadioShack are driving the peloton along as they race down a narrow descent to the next section of dirt roads.
Just as I say that Saramotins drifts to the back of the group as they begin to climb. He looks in difficulty as the break begins the fifth section of dirt roads.
The IAM Cycling rider is rocking in the saddle, despite spinning a small gear. He makes it back into third wheel as the break crests the climb so he should be fine for now. Small crash with a rider from RadioShack down. He looks fine to continue though. I think it's Busche.
This fifth section isn't over and the road starts to rise again. And again there's another crash in the peloton. A rider from Garmin is among the fallers. Sagan has lost one teammate due to the crash. I think the Garmin rider was in fact Kreder. He's on his feet though.
54 to go and the bunch now race onto the 5th section. That's probably why we had a flurry of crashes, as riders in the bunch fought for position.
Up ahead the break has started to splinter with Schar and Belkov establishing a small gap.
Cancellara has his hand up! Is that a puncture?
The break has come back together but we're seeing the peloton behind break apart with handfuls of riders dropping off the back.
There's an attack from a rider from Vacansoleil.
The dirt roads kick up so much dust so even though there's no rain the terrain still provides a challenge for the riders, especially those in the peloton.
The rider on the attack is Flecha. The break is 3:50 ahead of him but he's not concerned with that at the moment, he's looking to spur a chase group and soften up the opposition.
Cancellara seems content with following Sagan for now. It's RadioShack versus Cannondale in the peloton but Flecha continues to push ahead. He has about 80 meters at the moment.
Saramotins is again struggling but just about keeps in contact with the leaders who have 3:50 with 50 km to go.
Phinney has had a mechanical problem and is back with a BMC team car at the moment.
Franco Pellizotti has been dropped but he's starting to come back through the cars.
49km to go . Saramotins (IAM), Belkov (KAT), Ermeti (AND) and Schar (BMC) have 3:49 on the peloton.
Flecha continues his lone charge but the gap isn't getting any bigger.
Saramotins (IAM) gets a corner all wrong, a sure sign of fatigue, and is forced to pull a foot out to correct his line.
Sagan makes a quick check over his left shoulder and all he will see is the towering figure of Cancellara. The RadioShack rider has been glued to the Cannondale rider's back wheel for several kilometres.
Flecha certainly isn't giving up. He's tearing through the corners on this long decent. He's 3:28 down the break but there's no time check between him and the Cannondale controlled bunch.
Paolini, who crashed earlier in the race, has since retired from today's action.
What can I say? The landscapes of Tuscany are simply too beautiful for words. I love my country! #StradeBianche
@micacquarone Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 13:45:27
Cancellara needs to be careful here. He's glued to Sagan's wheel but there are other dangerous riders in this race and he need to make sure the action doesn't pass him by.
"Strade Bianche is a beautiful race. It's a unique race because of the dirt roads and it’s a great start to the classics. I rode it for the first time last but I was a bit unlucky."
"I hope I'm not at my best yet but lets see what happens today, lets see what legs I've got in the finale, for the final climb up to the centre of Siena."
40km to go and Cancellara looks pretty isolated out there, while Sagan still has a few teammates with him. Is there a chance that this break might make it all the way to the finish?
Astana certainly have the numbers. They've 6 riders lined out in the bunch but they've not committed to the chase at all yet. Dekker is there for Garmin, Cummings for BMC, Cadel Evans too.
Flecha continues to plough along, with 37km to go. He has around 150 meters on the peloton at the moment but on these long, flat, open roads, he's not going to get much further.
The break, which is back to being four-strong, has 3 minutes on Flecha.
Flecha's establishing more of a gap on the peloton now and it's out to around 40 seconds.
31 km to go and the race is wide open. The break are still plugging away with a gap of over 4 minutes. Flecha is roughly 45 seconds clear of the bunch, which is being controlled by Cannondale.
Flecha is in fact 2:40 behind the four leaders. He's not easing up in the slightest, sprinting out of the saddle as he comes out of each corner.
The next section of dirt roads, in 4km from now, is going to be crucial and the peloton are going to have to get a move on if they're to catch the break up the road.
Schar is taking a long turn on the front of the break. He's calling for help but it's a little slow in coming. Flecha, meanwhile, reaches into his back pocket and grabs some food for the run in.
Flecha trails the leaders by 2:18.
Garzelli has crashed out of the race.
And the four leader make it onto the next section of dirt roads. They have 2:11 on Flecha but no time gap back to the peloton.
Cannondale need to get the gap down to around the minute mark. There's 22km to go.
Flecha is 1:55 down on the four leaders.
There are 35 riders in the peloton and they are around a minute down on Flecha. There's a chance these four riders can pull something special out today. The Spaniard is 1:40 down on the leaders but Movistar and Astana are coming to the front to help Cannnodale with the chase.
Astana hit the front in a big way and increase the pace immediately. They perhaps didn't have complete confidence in Cannondale and could sense the American/Italian team were struggling.
Approaching the penultimate section of dirt roads. Astana are now setting the pace.
Cannondale seem to be running out of steam as the road starts to climb. Amador for Movistar puts in a little move but is brought back. Now Cancellara moves to the front of the dwindling bunch.
Flecha has been caught by the chasers, and Moser takes up the pace setting.
The gap is now at a minute. Moser has pushed on and is generating a bit of a gap. Flecha is with him but just about hanging on.
A minute to the break, not the Moser/Flecha duo.
BMC and Cancellara, Astana if they have anything left, need to bring the Moser attack to heel.
Moser with the fresh legs leads Flecha, who is making sure the Italian does all the work.
The gap is down to 48 seconds to the four leaders. Will Cancellara attack?
Moser's attack a bit like Bennati's last year for Cancellara but it means Sagan won't chase.
Flecha's takes a drink, and continues to make Moser do all the work.
Schar has put in a little dig just before the final section of dirt roads. He might be BMC's best chance of a win.
As Moser accelerates and tries to drop Flecha.
It doesn't work and the Spaniard holds the Cannondale rider.
Schar is splitting the lead group.
And Moser has now dropped Flecha on the small climb.
Schar has a gap but Moser is on the move and in with a good chance of victory. He's dropped Flecha but now needs to pick his way through the break.
As Belkov joins Schar. Cancellara moves to the front and tries to get a chase going. It's not working though and Moser continues to move ahead.
Cancellara is being marked by Sagan. It's not looking good for the defending champion.
Valverde and Amador both in the chase group for Movistar.
Cancellara puts in another dig but it's answered again.
Moser has picked up Saramotins but he still has a lot to do. As Van Avermaet attacks from the bunch but is brought back.
Cancellara has drifted right to the back of he group. Has he thrown in the towel for the day?
An attack from an Androni rider, and Cancellara goes with him but Sagan is there too and the move is closed down.
Cancellara, Nocentini, Reda and Sagan have a bit of a gap on the Valverde group.
It's coming back together though because Sagan, as you would expect, wont work with Cancellara.
Moser still hasn't made contact with the leaders though, as Reda attacks again.
Moser is around 100 meters down on the leading two riders.
Amador attacks. Cancellara flaps his hands in the air because he's doing all the chasing.
Moser and Saramotins have made contact with Schar and Belkov. We have 5.7 km to go. The race is still wide open.
Moser comes to the front. He needs to do all the work or drop these three other riders. He can't expect or wait for any help.
The leaders have 24 seconds on the chase.
Schar attacks Moser and Italian is forced to chase.
Caruso, Amador, Nocentini and one other rider have formed a decent chase group behind the Moser four.
The gap is at 15 seconds. Has Moser lost his chance?
Cancellara is bringing it all back together.
In the last km there's an 18 % ramp. The race is still wide open.
Savoldelli: 'As he often does, Cancellara went too hard, killed everyone and now they can't take up the chase.'
@friebos Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 14:51:24
1.3km to go and the gap is at 100 meters. We have the four leaders and then a group of around 25 riders.
If Moser has anything left he needs to attack now.
They're into the city wall and Schar crumbles.
He can still do this and he has a decent lead.
It's 16 per cent as the Italian gets out the saddle
Riders all over the road on the final climb
Moser has this in the bag. I think that's Sagan chasing for second.
And Moser wins.
Sagan takes second with Nocentini taking third.
1 Moreno Moser (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling
3 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
4 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack Leopard
5 Aleksejs Saramotins (Lat) IAM Cycling
6 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
7 Alexander Kolobnev (Rus) Katusha
8 Francesco Reda (Ita) Androni Giocattoli
9 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha
10 Maxim Belkov (Rus) Katusha
So an excellent win from Moser, who showed the remnants of the early break a clean set of heels on the final climb to the finish. It looked as though the Cancellara group could catch the break before the line but the RadioShack leader was isolated and forced to do too much work. Sagan, effectively marked the Swiss rider out the race, but take nothing away from Moser, that would a fantastic race from the young Italian. He's the first home winner of the race too.
So an excellent win from Moser, who showed the remnants of the early break a clean set of heels on the final climb to the finish. It looked as though the Cancellara group could catch the break before the line but the RadioShack leader was isolated and forced to do too much work. Sagan, effectively marked the Swiss rider out the race, but take nothing away from Moser, that was a fantastic race from the young Italian. He's the first home winner of the race too.
Thanks for joining us today. You can find our report, images and results right here. And tune in tomorrow for live coverage from Paris-Nice.