With Wout van Aert clinching Strade Bianche victory at the third time of asking on Saturday, there was success for Belgium at the first WorldTour race of the season restart. For the country's top team, though, it was another story.
Deceuninck-QuickStep, who have three wins at the race in the past six years, endured an afternoon to forget in Tuscany, with 2019 winner Julian Alaphilippe entering the Piazza del Campo 15 minutes after Van Aert in 24th place, one of only two finishers from the team at a brutal, hot race.
Zdenek Štybar, who won the race in 2015 and finished second the next year, was the team's other finisher, taking sixth place to extend his run of top ten finishes to its sixth year.
For Alaphilippe, one of the pre-race favourites, mechanical problems derailed his day from the very start. He suffered a broken wheel after just 10km, made three bike changes, and suffered six punctures.
His fifth, which came on the 8.8km sterrato sector at Monte Sante Marie, ended any hopes of a challenge as the decisive split was made 52km from Siena.
"It was impossible today," Alaphilippe said after the race. "I lost track of how many times I stopped and came back. The mechanicals made it very difficult, as if the race wasn't hard enough, but out of respect for the race I love I wanted to finish it.
"It was my first appearance since Paris-Nice and a useful test as I get my season back on track, despite all the bad luck I faced."
For Štybar, one of the veteran campaigners on the Deceuninck-QuickStep team, the outcome was more positive, despite missing the split on Monte Sante Marie. After the (literal) dust had settled while all the focus was on Jakob Fuglsang's move at the front, the Czech rider emerged in the chase group at around 1:50 down on the lead sextet.
The 34-year-old was accompanied by NTT Pro Cycling's Michael Gogl and Mitchelton-Scott's Brent Bookwalter as they sought to close to gap over the remaining kilometres of the race north-east of Siena.
By the 30km mark, the trio were motoring along and eating into the leader's advantage – down to 50 seconds at one point – but the strength in numbers at the front was too much to overcome. The strongest of the chasers, Štybar eventually picked up and passed a tiring Greg Van Avermaet, but would eventually have to settle for sixth, 3:59 down on the winner.
"It's nice that I finished again in the top 10, but I was aiming for more before the start," Štybar said. "The condition is good, but I struggled due to the heat and because of this I missed a bit when it came to responding when the attacks were launched and the peloton split.
"But I knew from experience that there was no need to panic, so I maintained a steady pace and as the race progressed, I began feeling better.
"Today was tough, but it felt good to be back racing with this team I missed so much! I am satisfied with the result and am happy that we are racing again after five long months."
Both riders will head to Milan-San Remo next, as Alaphilippe hopes for more luck in his second defence of an Italian Classic title in as many weekends. The Frenchman will head to the French Riviera this week to train for La Primavera.
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Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.
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