Stybar’s teammate, Gianluca Brambilla came home in third having done his best to soften up the lead group that had formed on the penultimate sector of dirt track. The other member of that group was Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), who rolled in behind for fourth.
The Italian race, first run in 2007, has quickly established itself as a popular event in the course of the Spring Classics, and a firm favourite in the eyes of Cancellara, who has now written himself into Strade Bianche legend. The race organisers promised to name a sector of the iconic dirt track after him if he took his third win, and the jubilant Swiss rider raised three fingers as he crossed the line before celebrating wildly with his camp and lifting his bike above his head.
"This year I really want to go out with a bang," Cancellara said. "I want to thank all my teammates for supporting me today, and all these years. This is just amazing!
"I knew that Stybar is a cyclo-cross guy, so I had to be careful for him. He won last year as well, and he is very good at this last climb. I am very, very happy. Third time…and now they will name a white gravel section after me, and that's exciting."
The 34-year-old was alive to the threat when Sagan attacked from a massively thinned-out bunch on the penultimate sector with just under 20km to go, forming the crucial selection. Sagan caught lone leader Brambilla, who had been in a four-man move in the second half of the race, Stybar joined, and Cancellara bridged across.
Etixx-QuickStep had the extra man but, unlike at the 2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, they didn’t come away empty-handed through tactical shortcomings - but rather Cancellara's superior strength and know-how.
As expected, Brambilla put in multiple attacks to soften up Sagan and Cancellara, and he actually managed to hold a lead from 5km to 500m to go. The Italian, however, buckled on the viciously steep climb up towards the Piazza del Campo and was cooked as he crested it. Cancellara and Stybar were soon round him and Cancellara, crucially, managed to lead through a sharp right-hand band with 100m to go. With the road heading downhill to the line, that was the moment he secured the victory, and Stybar was never going to get round.
"I made the pace on the final climb because I knew that Sagan would not do it because I saw him already in a little bit of difficulty. I knew that it was probably going to be Stybar and me, so I had to play like this," Cancellara said.
"This is special. I had to play at the end, it was a lottery. I knew I had to risk. I had trust in myself; it was experience. I knew that Etixx was going to play the team game and I just had to make sure that Brambilla did not take too much time.
"The most decisive moment was when Peter made the acceleration and I managed to jump up to him and Stybar. It wasn't a big collaboration between us because we are all big riders, plus Etixx had a team game to play. I think my work in the last 5 kilometers was risky, but it was the only way. It all worked out and I am proud."
A group of other pre-race favourites, including Alejandro Valverde, Greg Van Avermaet, and Jakob Fuglsang, rolled across the line disjointedly around half a minute later after giving chase ever since Sagan’s acceleration. Vincenzo Nibali and Michal Kwiatkowski were initially part of that chase group but fell away with 10km remaining.
How it happened
At the start in Siena the riders looked worryingly at the grey clouds and trees moving in the wind, knowing the conditions would make for an extra hard edition of the Strade Bianche.
The riders were wrapped up against the cold, with many wearing leg warmers and gilets. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) was called to the front but kept his white rainbow jersey covered up with a black jacket.
The race rolled out of Siena on time at 11:00am, with Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) the only non-starter. The early break of the day formed quickly with eight riders in the move. They were Jesse Sergeant (AG2R-La Mondiale), Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo), Marcin Mrozek (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Androni Giocattoli), Lorenzo Rota (Bardiani-CSF), Riccardo Stacchiotti (Nippo Vini Fantini), and the Lotto Soudal duo of Jens Debuscherre and Pim Ligthart.
All the big-name favourites preferred to stay in the peloton as the riders fought the stiff head wind and the early sectors of dirt roads helped the break open a lead of four minutes.
The third sector of dirt road lasted 11.9km and was the longest of the race. It sparked the first natural selection, with the peloton splitting into three groups after a surge by Etixx-QuickStep. The break was only a minute ahead but they were allowed more freedom as the peloton caught its breath behind. On the fifth and sixth sectors of dirt road the rolling hills and tough gradients took their toll, with Rota dropped from the break as the gap fell below a minute. The race returned to ‘gruppo compatto’ after 106km of racing.
Other riders immediately attacked and another move went away, with Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx - QuickStep), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Brent Bookwalter (BMC), Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal) and Salvatore Puccio (Team Sky) all ready to play a strategic role for their team leaders.
Damiano Cunego (Nippo- Vini Fantini) crashed hard on a sector of dirt road, reportedly fracturing his wrist. Other riders also crashed or suffered punctures, quickly taking them out of the race. Only 60 or so riders remained in the peloton as the crosswinds also shredded the peloton.
Upfront, as the 11.5km-long sector six began to bite, first Grivko lost contact and then Puccio had a mechanical problem, seemingly dropping his chain. He dropped out of the break and was swept up by the remains of the peloton. Another problem unfortunately lost him his place in the peloton but as the gap closed, his teammate Lars Petter Nordhaug tried to jump across to the break. He got to within 20 seconds but eventually sat up.
Only the strongest teams had several riders I the front group at this point, with 35km to go, with Sagan surprisingly lacking support in numbers. Bookwalter, Brambilla, Monfort and Grivko – who had managed to got back on – were left to hang out front but their lead was down to 40 seconds as the road headed back towards Siena on normal roads. It was a moment of hesitation before the decisive final three sectors of dirt roads on nasty climbs.
On the Monteaparti sector of dirt roads – number 7 – Brambilla attacked to split the break and eventually distance Bookwalter to power on alone to be up front to help Stybar. It was a perfect move.
Behind, with 19km to go, as the riders tasted the dirt of sector 8, the race exploded when Sagan attacked from the chase group. He blew the group apart and put his cards on the table. Only Stybar and eventually Cancellara managed to get up to him, as the others struggled behind.
The four worked together with Brambilla giving his all. Behind Fuglsang tried to jump across from an eight-rider group but was marked by a Cancellara’s teammate Jasper Stuyven. With 14.4km to go Cancellara surged clear but was quickly chased down by Stybar with Sagan and Brambilla on his wheel.
Cancellara chased down when Brambilla threw in his first softener, but when the Italian went away he was allowed to go clear, and held a lead of around 5-10 seconds all the way to the town centre under the flame rouge. Cancellara and Stybar gapped Sagan on the sharp climb in the final 800 metres and, once past the ailing Brambilla, the man they call ‘Spartacus’ used his know-how and positioning to get the edge on his rival, and prevent him from equaling his win tally in the race.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek-Segafredo||4:39:35|
|2||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|3||Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step||0:00:04|
|4||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team||0:00:13|
|5||Petr Vakoc (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step||0:00:34|
|6||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||0:00:37|
|7||Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - Merida||0:00:41|
|8||Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|9||Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Team Sky|
|10||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:50|
|11||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team||0:00:52|
|12||Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team||0:01:53|
|13||Jay McCarthy (Aus) Tinkoff Team||0:02:02|
|14||Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|15||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|16||Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team||0:02:22|
|17||Bob Jungels (Lux) Etixx - Quick-Step||0:02:24|
|18||Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky||0:02:25|
|19||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|20||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky|
|21||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team||0:02:26|
|22||Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|23||Grega Bole (Slo) Nippo - Vini Fantini||0:02:41|
|24||Davide Rebellin (Ita) CCC Sprandi Polkowice||0:05:15|
|25||Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal|
|26||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo||0:05:18|
|27||Julien Vermote (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|28||Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:05:25|
|29||Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale||0:05:27|
|30||Matteo Busato (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela||0:05:30|
|31||Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge|
|32||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF||0:05:35|
|33||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:05:37|
|34||Manuele Boaro (Ita) Tinkoff Team||0:05:45|
|35||Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge||0:05:48|
|36||Gatis Smukulis (Lat) Astana Pro Team||0:07:55|
|37||Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|38||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|39||Davide Vigano (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|40||Michal Golas (Pol) Team Sky|
|41||Simone Ponzi (Ita) CCC Sprandi Polkowice||0:08:01|
|42||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team||0:12:18|
|43||Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky||0:12:58|
|44||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Tinkoff Team||0:13:00|
|45||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:13:01|
|46||Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|47||Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team||0:16:02|
|48||Pim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto Soudal|
|49||Bertjan Lindeman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||0:16:04|
|50||Dayer Quintana (Col) Movistar Team|
|51||Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|52||Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team|
|53||Eduard Michael Grosu (Rom) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|54||Daniele Bennati (Ita) Tinkoff Team|
|55||Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team||0:19:43|
|56||Hugo Houle (Can) AG2R La Mondiale||0:21:20|
|57||Timo Roosen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|58||Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|59||Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-Segafredo|
|60||Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge|
|61||Marcin Mrozek (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice||0:21:23|
|62||Jesse Sergent (NZl) AG2R La Mondiale|
|63||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela||0:24:15|
|64||Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - Merida|
|65||Charles Planet (Fra) Team Novo Nordisk|
|66||Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|67||Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|68||Federico Zurlo (Ita) Lampre - Merida|
|69||Martijn Verschoor (Ned) Team Novo Nordisk|
|70||Eros Capecchi (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|71||Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|72||Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|73||Daniel Martínez (Col) Southeast - Venezuela|
|74||Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|75||Lukasz Owsian (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice|
|76||Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|77||Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|78||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky|
|79||Marco Bandiera (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|80||Marco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|81||Oscar Gatto (Ita) Tinkoff Team|
|82||Alessandro Tonelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF||0:30:37|
|83||Giorgio Cecchinel (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|84||Marco Coledan (Ita) Trek-Segafredo||0:30:40|
|85||Eugert Zhupa (Alb) Southeast - Venezuela||0:31:43|
|OTL||Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - Merida|
|OTL||Charles Planet (Fra) Team Novo Nordisk|
|OTL||Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|OTL||Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|OTL||Federico Zurlo (Ita) Lampre - Merida|
|OTL||Martijn Verschoor (Ned) Team Novo Nordisk|
|OTL||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team|
|OTL||Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|OTL||Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|OTL||Daniel Martínez (Col) Southeast - Venezuela|
|OTL||Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|OTL||Lukasz Owsian (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice|
|OTL||Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|OTL||Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|OTL||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky|
|OTL||Marco Bandiera (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|OTL||Marco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|OTL||Oscar Gatto (Ita) Tinkoff Team|
|OTL||Alessandro Tonelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|OTL||Giorgio Cecchinel (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|OTL||Marco Coledan (Ita) Trek-Segafredo|
|OTL||Eugert Zhupa (Alb) Southeast - Venezuela|
|DNF||Yves Lampaert (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|DNF||Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Daniele Ratto (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|DNF||Serghei Tvetcov (Rom) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec|
|DNF||Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Michele Scarponi (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Simone Andreetta (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|DNF||Enrico Barbin (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|DNF||Nicola Boem (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|DNF||Stefano Pirazzi (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|DNF||Lorenzo Rota (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|DNF||Luca Sterbini (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|DNF||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Victor De La Parte (Spa) CCC Sprandi Polkowice|
|DNF||Felix Grosschartner (Aut) CCC Sprandi Polkowice|
|DNF||Nikolay Mihaylov (Bul) CCC Sprandi Polkowice|
|DNF||Maciej Paterski (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice|
|DNF||Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Lampre - Merida|
|DNF||Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre - Merida|
|DNF||Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre - Merida|
|DNF||Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre - Merida|
|DNF||Xu Gang (Tpe) Lampre - Merida|
|DNF||Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Jorge Arcas Pena (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Alessandro Bisolti (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|DNF||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|DNF||Pier Paolo De Negri (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|DNF||Iuri Filosi (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|DNF||Antonio Nibali (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|DNF||Riccardo Stacchiotti (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|DNF||Alexander Edmondson (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge|
|DNF||Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge|
|DNF||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Orica-GreenEdge|
|DNF||Christian Meier (Can) Orica-GreenEdge|
|DNF||Manuel Belletti (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela|
|DNF||Enrique Sanz (Spa) Southeast - Venezuela|
|DNF||Mirko Tedeschi (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela|
|DNF||Mirko Trosino (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela|
|DNF||Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|DNF||Thomas Leezer (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|DNF||Kevin De Mesmaeker (Bel) Team Novo Nordisk|
|DNF||Joonas Henttala (Fin) Team Novo Nordisk|
|DNF||Brian Kamstra (Ned) Team Novo Nordisk|
|DNF||David Lozano Riba (Spa) Team Novo Nordisk|
|DNF||Javier Megias (Spa) Team Novo Nordisk|
|DNF||Stephen Clancy (Irl) Team Novo Nordisk|
|DNF||Andrew Fenn (GBr) Team Sky|
|DNF||Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Team Sky|
|DNF||Adam Blythe (GBr) Tinkoff Team|
|DNF||Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Tinkoff Team|
|DNF||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Markel Irizar (Spa) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Trek-Segafredo|
|DNF||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela|