Annemiek van Vleuten: I just wasn’t able to finish it off at Strade Bianche

Anna van der Breggen (Movistar) suffers on a climb at Strade Bianche
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As the winner of the last two editions, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) started the women’s Strade Bianche wearing the bib number 1. Her rival, world champion Anna van der Breggen (Team SD Worx), was the other big favourite after soloing to victory at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the previous weekend. But in the end, neither stood on the top step of the podium – though Van der Breggen could still pump her fist as she crossed the finish line in third place, celebrating the victory of her teammate Chantal van den Broek-Blaak.

“I had everything I needed - I just wasn’t able to finish it off," Van Vleuten said after the race, thanking her Movistar teammates.

Van den Broek-Blaak's victory was in no small part due to the work of a star-studded SD Worx squad. She and Van der Breggen lined up for the race with of the team’s new signings for the 2021 season, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Demi Vollering, Elena Cecchini, and Niamh Fisher-Black. And although it was their first race together, they executed the team’s plan very well, placing four riders in the select group of twelve that formed after the final gravel sector.

On the Tolfe sector, Van Vleuten went all-in and launched her trademark seated attack just before the steepest part of the gravel climb, 12.5 kilometres from the line. Marianne Vos (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) were the only ones able to follow her, but as Kopecky punctured at the worst possible moment, only Vos remained with the European champion.

Vos took part in the work of keeping the chase group at bay, though Van Vleuten still did the lion’s share of the pacing. Both riders were grimacing as they negotiated the short, stinging ramps that litter the finale of the Strade Bianche, and they were ultimately reeled in by the group of ten behind where the chase work was done almost entirely by the four Team SD Worx riders.

Knowing that giving Van Vleuten and Vos too much leeway would mean the end of their own hopes for victory, Van der Breggen, Vollering, Moolman-Pasio, and Van den Broek-Blaak all went through the lead at the front of the group to close the gap, succeeding as the racers entered the outskirts of Siena with just over nine kilometres to go.

Brought back, Van Vleuten had little left to counter the inevitable attacks. In those final attacks, there was always one rider from SD Worx in the mix. The first move by Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) was covered by Moolman-Pasio, putting the onus to chase on the other teams. When that move had been brought back, Moolman-Pasio set a steady tempo, looking around frequently to observe the group, and the next attack came from her teammate Van den Broek-Blaak, followed by Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo). This turned out to be the winning move.

Although victory was now out of reach, Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten still had something left to give and went head-to-head on the steep Via Santa Caterina on the final kilometre in a fight for the final podium spot that was won by Van der Breggen.

Despite having missed a record third consecutive win, Van Vleuten was not downcast after the race. “I am super proud of both my race and my team-mates," she said. 

“I am especially satisfied with the fact that I didn’t make any mistakes, after a really disappointing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, when I lost sight of the front due to a bad position. 

"I am very proud with how I reacted during the race, always into a good place and going what I needed to do. It is not far away – it is going to be there soon. It’s so nice to see this team doing so well and we can only go forward from here.”

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Lukas Knöfler started working in cycling communications in 2013 and has seen the inside of the scene from many angles. Having worked as press officer for teams and races and written for several online and print publications, he has been Cyclingnews’ Women’s WorldTour correspondent since 2018.