Hello and welcome to our live coverage from the 2015 edition of Strade Bianche.
To bring you right up to speed, we have a break of 8 riders with a 6:30 minute gap over the peloton. There's 168km left to race.
The eight riders - Pirazzi (Bardiani), Berlato and Colli (beiden Nippo), Fonzi (Southeast), Ovetsjkin (RusVelo), Lozano (Novo Nordisk), Arredondo (Trek) an Kosjevoj (Lampre) - jumped clear in the opening stages of the race and have built up a solid lead at this point. There's still a long way to go, including 50km of racing on the iconic white roads.
At the start this morning Cyclingnews' Stephen Farrand caught up with three of the big hitters who could play a part in today's finale - Simon Gerrans, Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan. You can find our start line notes, right here, with quotes from all three men.
On theme they all picked up on was the wind, which has picked up considerably over the last few days. It's sure to be feature in the final outcome of this year's race.
@TrekFactory Sat, 7th Mar 2015 10:44:06
The 200km race route includes over 50km of dirt roads, with the ‘strade bianche’ farm tracks and country lanes twisting through the Tuscan hills and vineyards. It is like combining a race on the pave of Northern France or Flanders with a hilly Ardennes Classic. The dirt road sections include steep climbs and testing descents, with the gravel surface often smooth but also dotted with stones, pot holes and hidden dangers. Success depends on a rider’s climbing ability, bike handling skills, form, equipment and team support. The riders reach the finish in Siena exhausted and covered in dust but genuinely seem to love Strade Bianche.
The three remaining sectors are short but packed in between kilometres 167 and 183 of the race route. They are spectacular and complex as many of the great red wines of the area. Each includes a steep climb, with the middle sector to Colle Pinzuto usually sparking a serious attack as the gradient touches 15%. There are only 12km of asphalt roads left to Siena after the last sector. Whoever is in the front group, will go on to fight for victory.
However, Strade Bianche is never decided in a true sprint. The steep road to the centre of Siena is on narrow streets with a rough paved surface. The Via Esterna de Fontebranda kicks up at 9% with a kilometre to go and reaches 16% at 500m to go. Kwiatkowski went away from Sagan here in 2014. Other riders have waited for the final metres and then fought to be first into the final right turn that leads into the descent to the finish in Piazza il Campo. It is virtually impossible to come past a rival in sight of the line.
The break and the peloton have passed over the first section of dirt roads. Just nine more to go, with Movistar - working for Alejandro Valverde - on the front of the peloton.
Pirazzi, more at home in the mountains of the Giro d'Italia than the dirt roads of Tuscany, leads the break towards the second sector of white roads. The break still with a 6:30 lead and 160km remaning in the race.
Breaking news: Genting Highlands, it's reported, has been removed from the 2015 edition of the Tour of Langkawi. Brief details are here, and we'll follow up with more information once we have it.
Breaking news: Megan Gaurnier of Boels-Dolman soloed in to take the win of the first women’s Strade Bianche.
Other riders on the start list, include Vincenzo Nibali, Lars Boom, Ian Stannard, Niki Terpstra, Filippo Pozzato, Moreno Moser, Rigoberto Uran, Zdenek Stybar, Sep Vanmarcke, Adam Yates and Marco Aurelio Fontana.
@stephenfarrand Sat, 7th Mar 2015 11:07:19
@giroditalia Sat, 7th Mar 2015 11:05:01
The men's race has gobbled up the third section of white roads, with the break able to extend their advantage to 7:30. Meanwhile, we've had our first rider abandon, with Nicholas Ruffoni leaving us. There were a few riders missing from the start list this morning, including Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky).
145km remaining from 200km
A reminder of the rider's in the break, with 145km to go: Pirazzi (Bardiani), Berlato and Colli (beiden Nippo), Fonzi (Southeast), Ovetsjkin (RusVelo), Lozano (Novo Nordisk), Arredondo (Trek) and Kosjevoj (Lampre).
At the front of the peloton Katusha have joined Movistar with their pace setting. The gap has come down to around 6:30.
Two more non-starters to report from this morning. Gianluca Brambilla and Ruben Zepunkte. The former was on Twitter this morning complaining of a fever.
At San Gimignano (stage start): 6°C, clear skies. Wind: NE 24 kph.
At Pienza (km 115.8) 10°C, clear skies. Wind: NE 35 kph.
At Siena (stage finish): 8°C, clear skies. Wind: NE 21 kph.
The race hits the fifth sector, 5.5km in length and there are a number of mechanicals for riders in the peloton. It's stil Movistar and Katusha on the front though and they've drawn the leaders back to 5:20 with 122km to go.
The break in action @Getty Images
The 6th and next sector is the Lucignano d'Asso and comes after 80km of racing. It has a *** ratings, with ratings out of *****.
Mechanical for Valverde, so Movistar have to pull off from the front and assist their leader. The gap to the break continues to come down though, it's at 4:30 now 111km to go.
After heading south for most of the morning the race now heads east before it begins it's journey north. Will the wind help split the race in this phase of action?
Over in France, Paris-Nice starts tomorrow. We've compiled a video of the top ten riders to watch out for. You can find said video, right here.
95km remaining from 200km
Into the final 100km of racing, and the gap is holding at 4:25.
And it's Movistar once more on the front foot as they drive the peloton towards the next sector at Lucignano d'Asso. It's over 9km in length and has a *** rating. The gap is under four minutes, at 3:56.
84km to go and the gap to the eight leaders is at four minutes. A reminder of the men in front: Pirazzi (Bardiani), Berlato and Colli (beiden Nippo), Fonzi (Southeast), Ovetsjkin (RusVelo), Lozano (Novo Nordisk), Arredondo (Trek) and Kosjevoj (Lampre).
Stannard, Van Avermaet, Sagan, Nibali, Sagan, Cancellara, Moser, Terpstra, Stybar, Valverde Vanmarcke and Viviani are all here and preparing for the final showdown.
There's a crash, in the break as the main field begins to really thin out on the Lucignano d'Asso.
The road winds and twists along it's uneven parcours as Movistar begin to push even more pressure on the front of the peloton. And now it's Astana who hit the front. Stybar, and Sagan are both near the front as the race begins to split up.
Arredondo leads part of the break back onto the tarmac but the break has split into several factions.
Kreuziger has a problem and needs to stop for a new wheel but he's able to rejoin one of the chase groups.
The peloton are over that section of dirt roads and there should be a chance for several groups to come back together.
76km remaining from 200km
Up front we're down to just four leaders: Fonzi (Southeast), Ovetsjkin (RusVelo) Colli (Nippo) and Arredondo (Trek).
@ORICA_GreenEDGE Sat, 7th Mar 2015 13:05:29
Moser, a former winner here, is at the back of one of the groups trying to catch the head of the peloton.The Cannondale man needs to move up before the next sector of dirt roads, which are about 20km away.
Sagan is right where he needs to be, just off the front of the peloton as the general re-grouping takes place. Up front and Ovechkin is starting to lose contact with the leaders.
It looks like he's made it back though and we have four leaders once more. Back in the peloton and Nibali is with his teammates, just in the middle of the bunch.
The bunch are closing though, and fast, with the gap down to around 1:45 with over 65km to go.
Sagan and Nibali both close together in the field with the gap to the break at 1:33. Cancellara is near the back of the main group for now.
Trek seem to be trying to get their team car up to the peloton as Movistar continue to set the pace.
The Spanish team are starting to put the pressure on, even on the small rises that look fairly gentle.
@L_ArmiTstead Sat, 7th Mar 2015 13:24:14
You can catch up with the action from the women's race here, where we have a report, and brief results.
Back to the men's race and the gap is down to 49 seconds. There are around 50 riders left in the main field. Orica have numbers, so do Etixx, Trek, Astana and Tinkoff Saxo.
Still 60km to go as a number of teams assess the situation as Movistar continue to do the lion-share of the work on the front.
Colli takes a rather long turn on the front. He's in decent form and finished well in Kuurne last week. Cunego, his team leader today, is back in the main field. He's had a quiet winter but we'll see how his form is later on today.
A few more riders are coming back to the peloton so the main field is swelling again. That looked like Sanchez and Pozzato coming back.
@stephenfarrand Sat, 7th Mar 2015 13:31:48
@Etixx_QuickStep Sat, 7th Mar 2015 13:33:09
@TeamSky Sat, 7th Mar 2015 13:33:46
Marginal gains, optimal co-commentary: Indeed the next sector of Monte Sante Marie will be crucial. It has a ***** rating and is 11.5km in length and it's coming up.
We're just 3km from the Monte Sante Marie and the pace is starting to hot up again as a number of leaders, and their teammate, fight for position.
As Ovechkin sits up, the break with just 22 seconds over the main field so we're down to three leaders in Strade Bianche.
@benatkins_uk Sat, 7th Mar 2015 13:37:01
@nyvelocity Sat, 7th Mar 2015 13:32:08
And Arredondo, who has done well for his team today, is also dropped. The remaining two leaders are about to be swept up as we start the Monte Sante Marie.
53km remaining from 200km
And it's Tinkoff who lead the peloton onto the sector, with Sky, Astana, and BMC close by.
@Etixx_QuickStep Sat, 7th Mar 2015 13:40:41
The two leaders, Fonzi and Colli are still clear, just but Fonzi has pushed clear once more.
Fonzi only has about 100m on the chasing field though as he starts to climb. Valverde is right on the front at the moment and setting the pace.
Lastras is about to be dropped so Valverde is running out of men after they worked so hard throughout the race.
Just over 50km go to and Astana have increased the pace with a real attack from one of Nibali's teammates.
At the back of the bunch, riders are weaving all over the road, as they try and keep their momentum.
Stybar, Valverde, Vanmarcke, Sagan and Lars Boom is the rider on the front for Nibali.
And now we have a split with Vanmarcke, Boom, Haas, Nibali Sagan, Rosa, Valverde, Stybar in the mix. There are a few others but the pace is electric with gaps all over the place.
Serpa has a problems with his bike and he has to stop and wait for assistance. He was challenging with the leaders up until that point. 47km to go and the race is splitting apart.
Cancellara, Vanmarcke, Sagan, Stybar, Rosa, Valverde, Cort Nielsen, Van Avermaet, Oss and Haas are the leaders.
But now we have a three man move: Sagan, Valverde and Stybar have gone clear with 46km to go.
All three riders are working well together but the gap is down to BMC to close as they have Van Avermaet and Oss in the chase.
Such a long way to go but this move has to be closed down. The gap is just ten seconds.
We're still on the Monte Sante Marie as the three leader dive down a left hand corner at full-speed. The gap is now out to 20 seconds.
The three leaders continue to take even turns at the moment as Oss leads the chase now for BMC with Vanmarcke on his wheel.
Stybar does his turn and give Sagan and Valverde a little glance as he drifts to the back of the trio. All three riders look strong at this stage as we come to the end of the Monte Sante Marie sector.
Sagan takes a bottle from the side of the road and the gap is now out to 21 seconds.
So much will depend on the direction of the wind. If there's a headwind it should all come back together.
40km remaining from 200km
40km to go and the gaps is at 16 seconds.
We now have a group of nine riders in the front, with Sybar, Valverde and Sagan brought back. So in the lead are Cancellara, Vanmarcke, Sagan, Stybar, Rosa, Valverde, Cort Nielsen, Van Avermaet, Oss and Haas.
Nibali is in the next group, around a minute down.
Vanmarcke drifts right to the back in order to make Haas come through and take a turn. With 36km to go the gap is at 1;11 to the peloton.
Stannard has crashed out the race.
Daniel Oss as the only extra man in the lead group, takes a huge turn on the front of the pack. The peloton, with Orica on the front are going to struggle to bring this all back.
It's Orica who are leading the chase at the moment as Oss takes on food from the team car. The gap is at 1'12.
The Australian team have three men on the front, although Gerrans has already crashed out of the race. Sagan is calling for his team car as Cancellara drifts back to his. The gap is down to 57 seconds.
Katusha have missed the split but have all their men near the back of the peloton at the moment. Moser is in the main field but still at the back as Valverde pushes the pace once more.
He knows the gap is down to under a minute so he wants to keep the pressure on. The Spaniard is looking so strong with 30km to go.
Rosa and Haas are missing turns at the moment as Cancellara leads the break down a descent.
Orica are down to two men at the front of the field but there's no help from a number of teams, including Katusha.
And there's an attack from Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke, Sagan and Haas but the move is coming back together.
So there's not much harmony in the leading group of nine and the gap comes down to 44 seconds with 26km go to go.
Cancellara and Valverde try and keep the peace and move up and swap turns.
And Daniel Oss has taken off and he has decent gap. A nice little move from the BMC rider. It was Valverde who let him go.
Oss has around 10 seconds on the rest of the break.
Orica are still leading the chase from the field with Oss looking strong as he pushes on alone.
The BMC man reaches the next section of dirt roads. Some climbing but it's only 800m in length. Will anyone try and bridge up to him?
A few more Orica riders move up and start to increase the pace in the chase.
All three groups are between 30 seconds of each other with Oss around 10 seconds clear.
Oss makes it through that sector and is back on the tarmac as he steams down a descent, his body neatly tucked over his frame as he looks to cut through the air.
And over the top of that section Vanmarcke has attacked.
22km to go and Vanmarcke has gone clear but the entire group is back together now as Vanmarcke goes over the top of Oss.
And Sagan has been dropped. 21km to go and he's really blown.
Sagan has been distanced and it's Vanmarcke and Stybar who look strong. Valverde is still there with Cancellara too.
19km remaining from 200km
19km to go and the leaders are down to Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke, Cancellara, Stybar and Valverde.
Onto section number and and Sagan and Oss are coming back. We're soon to have seven riders left in the lead.
And Cancellara is starting to struggle.
It's Valverde who is doing all the damage, Stybar, Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke in that order.
Valverde just keeps the pace up with Stybar coming through on the steep sections.
And Valverde has attacked with 18km to go. He's closed down by Van Avermaet, Stybar and Vanmarcke. Oss and Cancellara are a little further down the road so it looks like Sagan has cracked again.
Oss will not work so Cancellara has to do all the work. The pair are 10 seonds down on the leaders as again Valervde moves up. Every time he hits the front the pace jumps up.
The only constant in the last 30km? Orica are still leading the chase at the head of the field.
As up ahead Van Avermaet has to close a small gap but he just about does it.
Valverde drifts to the back of the group with one more sector still to come. Valverde the better climber has the most options.
And Cancellara and Oss are coming back and Rosa is there too.
Rosa will make it three chasers but there's still no sign of Sagan at this point.
And with 14km to go Van Avermaet has launched a stinging attack.
A huge kick from the BMC rider and now Stybar has made a move just before Cancellara makes contact.
But it's Van Avermaet looks pretty smooth as he leads the race with Sybar and Valverde lead the chase.
Vanmarcke makes it three chasers and Stybar is being forced to do the work. No time checks at the moment for Van Avermaet.
And Vanmarcke is struggling on this climb and Stybar wants to get rid of him. Valverde can match the pace.
All of the dirt roads are down and dusted as Vanmarcke cracks.
11km to go as Van Avermaet is caught so we have three riders leading the race.
Three leaders with a small gap on the chase. The winner should come from Van Avermaet, Valverde and Stybar.
Vanmarcke is at 18 seconds but he's chasing with everything he has. Unless the three leaders sit up it's not going to be enough.
The three strongest riders in the race are clear though as Vanmarcke slips to 53 seconds.
Valverde has a chat with Van Avermaet but the Belgian seems to pay little attention.
Valverde takes a turn but he's waiting to be hit by another attack.
Oss meanwhile just sits on Cancellara's wheel - as you would exect.
*expect. As Vanmarcke tries to close the gap to the three leaders. He looks back and he'll see Cancellara closing in on him.
And Oss does take a turn as they look to bring in Rosa, who had gone clear.
Just over 6km to go for the three leaders, Vanmarcke still chasing on his own as Valverde takes a long, long turn at the front of the break.
Van Avermaet drifts to the back. Is he in trouble or just waiting for another moment to attack?
Vanmarcke is maybe 15 seconds back on the trio.
There's a technical descent now as the trio head into the final 4km of racing.
The gap looks to big for Vanmarcke so it's down to the leading trio to decide this race.
Van Avermaet still at the back of this group as the road continues to descend.
Van Avermaet continues to miss turns.
It's all about this final climb as finally Van Avermaet takes a turn.
2km to go.
1.5km go to . Valverde on the front, Stybar and then Van Avermaet.
It's Valverde who leads towards the final climb and he keeps looking back, waiting for Stybar to attack.
1km to go.
Vanmarcke is just five seconds back.
Valverde still on the front.
And Van Avermaet has attacked from the back.
Valverde is chasing but now he's cracking.
It's Stybar who has to chase.
Sytbar makes it up to the BMC rider and jumps clear straight away.
Van Avermaet sits up. He can't follow Stybar.
He raises his hands and Stybar takes the win with Van Avermaet in second and Valverde in third place.
Vanmarcke comes home and finishes fourth.
Stybar just had enough in the tank as he came over the top of Van Avermaet. Valverde looked so strong early on in the race but when it came to the final climb he couldn't hold on.
@SEGcycling Sat, 7th Mar 2015 15:10:12
@Etixx_QuickStep Sat, 7th Mar 2015 15:06:46
Here's the final top ten for today's Strade Bianche:
1 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step 05:22:13
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 00:00:02
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:18
4 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 00:00:46
5 Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana Pro Team 00:00:56
6 Oscar Gatto (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 00:00:59
7 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx - Quick-Step
8 Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek Factory Racing 00:01:02
9 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida 00:01:03
10 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Team Katusha
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