Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) again finished third at Strade Bianche and was again understandably proud of his performance after going in the decisive attack with Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), catching them after a long solo chase and staying away on the Via Santa Caterina climb to step onto the podium in the Piazza del Campo.
Last year Van Aert went on a long attack with Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and went so deep and was so tired that he fell off his bike at the summit of Via Santa Caterina. This time he was able to enjoy the moment so much more.
"If you compare it to my three cyclo-cross world titles, the first is by far the easiest one to win. To confirm all the good things from the first time is always more difficult, but I’m happy I did it, I’m happy with my performance," Van Aert said.
"Last year was more out of the blue, but this time the other guys in the finale watched me and so it's always more difficult. I’ve confirmed that I’m able to do some great things in the biggest Classics. We’ve also learnt that my shape is good and that I’m ready for more."
Van Aert was the first to react when Fuglsang attacked in the final metres of the steep ninth sector of dirt roads. Alaphilippe also jumped across, sensing it was the right move, and suddenly they were away.
"When the guys attack you get an advantage and that’s better than staying on the wheels," Van Aert said.
Van Aert suffered and lost contact on the 10th sector when the gradient touched 18 per cent, but he refused to give up and rode a solo time trial in pursuit of Alaphilippe and Fuglsang, holding them at 30 seconds before catching them on the lower slopes of Via Santa Caterina. He never gave up, despite risking being caught by the chase group.
"I had no fucking choice..." Van Aert joked. "The group behind me was not that far back, and the two in front were in sight, but I was in the hurt box for the last 20km.
"It’s a pity I lost contact with them on the second-to-last sector. They were a bit too fast and a bit too light I guess. I was the heavyweight in the front group. But it is what it is. I’m super happy I could repeat my podium spot.
"This is my second ride and my second podium spot. I love this race and I hope to come back and win it one day."