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Strade Bianche: Cancellara makes it three

Fabian Cancellara won his third Strade Bianche on Saturday, edging out last year’s winner Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) in a thrilling finale on the tight streets of Siena.

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.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek-Segafredo4:39:35
2Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step
3Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step0:00:04
4Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team0:00:13
5Petr Vakoc (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step0:00:34
6Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:00:37
7Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - Merida0:00:41
8Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal
9Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Team Sky
10Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team0:00:50
11Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team0:00:52
12Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team0:01:53
13Jay McCarthy (Aus) Tinkoff Team0:02:02
14Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team
15Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team
16Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team0:02:22
17Bob Jungels (Lux) Etixx - Quick-Step0:02:24
18Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky0:02:25
19Matteo Trentin (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step
20Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky
21Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team0:02:26
22Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
23Grega Bole (Slo) Nippo - Vini Fantini0:02:41
24Davide Rebellin (Ita) CCC Sprandi Polkowice0:05:15
25Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal
26Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo0:05:18
27Julien Vermote (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step
28Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:05:25
29Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale0:05:27
30Matteo Busato (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela0:05:30
31Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
32Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF0:05:35
33Sébastien Turgot (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:05:37
34Manuele Boaro (Ita) Tinkoff Team0:05:45
35Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge0:05:48
36Gatis Smukulis (Lat) Astana Pro Team0:07:55
37Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
38Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal
39Davide Vigano (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
40Michal Golas (Pol) Team Sky
41Simone Ponzi (Ita) CCC Sprandi Polkowice0:08:01
42Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team0:12:18
43Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky0:12:58
44Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Tinkoff Team0:13:00
45Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:13:01
46Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team
47Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:16:02
48Pim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto Soudal
49Bertjan Lindeman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo0:16:04
50Dayer Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
51Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
52Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team
53Eduard Michael Grosu (Rom) Nippo - Vini Fantini
54Daniele Bennati (Ita) Tinkoff Team
55Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team0:19:43
56Hugo Houle (Can) AG2R La Mondiale0:21:20
57Timo Roosen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
58Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
59Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-Segafredo
60Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
61Marcin Mrozek (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice0:21:23
62Jesse Sergent (NZl) AG2R La Mondiale
63Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela0:24:15
64Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - Merida
65Charles Planet (Fra) Team Novo Nordisk
66Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
67Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
68Federico Zurlo (Ita) Lampre - Merida
69Martijn Verschoor (Ned) Team Novo Nordisk
70Eros Capecchi (Ita) Astana Pro Team
71Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
72Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
73Daniel Martínez (Col) Southeast - Venezuela
74Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
75Lukasz Owsian (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice
76Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team
77Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step
78Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky
79Marco Bandiera (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
80Marco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
81Oscar Gatto (Ita) Tinkoff Team
82Alessandro Tonelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF0:30:37
83Giorgio Cecchinel (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
84Marco Coledan (Ita) Trek-Segafredo0:30:40
85Eugert Zhupa (Alb) Southeast - Venezuela0:31:43
OTLPrzemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - Merida
OTLCharles Planet (Fra) Team Novo Nordisk
OTLMirko Selvaggi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
OTLTiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
OTLFederico Zurlo (Ita) Lampre - Merida
OTLMartijn Verschoor (Ned) Team Novo Nordisk
OTLAndriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team
OTLTom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
OTLMike Teunissen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
OTLDaniel Martínez (Col) Southeast - Venezuela
OTLPrimoz Roglic (Slo) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
OTLLukasz Owsian (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice
OTLTaylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team
OTLTony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step
OTLChristian Knees (Ger) Team Sky
OTLMarco Bandiera (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
OTLMarco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
OTLOscar Gatto (Ita) Tinkoff Team
OTLAlessandro Tonelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF
OTLGiorgio Cecchinel (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
OTLMarco Coledan (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
OTLEugert Zhupa (Alb) Southeast - Venezuela
DNFYves Lampaert (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step
DNFHubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
DNFMatteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
DNFDaniele Ratto (Ita) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
DNFSerghei Tvetcov (Rom) Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
DNFValerio Agnoli (Ita) Astana Pro Team
DNFMichele Scarponi (Ita) Astana Pro Team
DNFSimone Andreetta (Ita) Bardiani CSF
DNFEnrico Barbin (Ita) Bardiani CSF
DNFNicola Boem (Ita) Bardiani CSF
DNFStefano Pirazzi (Ita) Bardiani CSF
DNFLorenzo Rota (Ita) Bardiani CSF
DNFLuca Sterbini (Ita) Bardiani CSF
DNFManuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team
DNFVictor De La Parte (Spa) CCC Sprandi Polkowice
DNFFelix Grosschartner (Aut) CCC Sprandi Polkowice
DNFNikolay Mihaylov (Bul) CCC Sprandi Polkowice
DNFMaciej Paterski (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice
DNFMattia Cattaneo (Ita) Lampre - Merida
DNFRoberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre - Merida
DNFSacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre - Merida
DNFManuele Mori (Ita) Lampre - Merida
DNFXu Gang (Tpe) Lampre - Merida
DNFJens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal
DNFRafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Lotto Soudal
DNFJorge Arcas Pena (Spa) Movistar Team
DNFMarc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team
DNFFrancisco Ventoso (Spa) Movistar Team
DNFAlessandro Bisolti (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini
DNFDamiano Cunego (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini
DNFPier Paolo De Negri (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini
DNFIuri Filosi (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini
DNFAntonio Nibali (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini
DNFRiccardo Stacchiotti (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini
DNFAlexander Edmondson (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
DNFDamien Howson (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
DNFChristopher Juul Jensen (Den) Orica-GreenEdge
DNFChristian Meier (Can) Orica-GreenEdge
DNFManuel Belletti (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela
DNFEnrique Sanz (Spa) Southeast - Venezuela
DNFMirko Tedeschi (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela
DNFMirko Trosino (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela
DNFEnrico Battaglin (Ita) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
DNFThomas Leezer (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
DNFKevin De Mesmaeker (Bel) Team Novo Nordisk
DNFJoonas Henttala (Fin) Team Novo Nordisk
DNFBrian Kamstra (Ned) Team Novo Nordisk
DNFDavid Lozano Riba (Spa) Team Novo Nordisk
DNFJavier Megias (Spa) Team Novo Nordisk
DNFStephen Clancy (Irl) Team Novo Nordisk
DNFAndrew Fenn (GBr) Team Sky
DNFPeter Kennaugh (GBr) Team Sky
DNFAdam Blythe (GBr) Tinkoff Team
DNFNikolay Trusov (Rus) Tinkoff Team
DNFStijn Devolder (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
DNFMarkel Irizar (Spa) Trek-Segafredo
DNFJulien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo
DNFYaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Trek-Segafredo
DNFFilippo Pozzato (Ita) Southeast - Venezuela

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