Full live coverage of the 2018 Strade Bianche, the iconic Italian Classic that is raced over the dirt roads in the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Good morning and a very warm welcome to the Cyclingnews live race centre for the 2018 Strade Bianche.
This Italian one-day has quickly become one of the most popular races of the year, with its already iconic white dirt tracks making for stunning scenery and gripping racing. We’ll have every pedal stroke covered for you right here throughout the day.
The team buses have all arrived in Siena and the riders are signing-on and going through their pre-race rituals. Things will get underway at 10.35 local time and, after a short neutralised section, racing proper will commence at 10.45.
Before we go anywhere, now’s probably the time to have a read of our 2018 Strade Bianche preview, courtesy of our European Editor and adoptive Tuscan, Stephen Farrand.
The teams are being presented to the fans in Siena. And here are those fans...
Far from glorious conditions in Tuscany today, as you can see. The snow has cleared but it's going to be a wet one, and particularly sloppy on those dirt tracks. Here's Stephen Farrand with the weather.
Peter Sagan, dressed up in black world champion's layers to keep the weather out, is presented to the crowd. He cracks a joke on stage, battles his way through the selfies and locates his bike. With that, we're just about ready for the start of the race.
As well as the men’s race, we also have the women’s Strade Bianche today, kicking off the 2018 UCI Women’s WorldTour.
That’s already underway, having started at 9.15 CET, and it’s due to finish at around 1pm. We’ll keep you posted on the key developments right here. You can have a read of Kirsten Frattini’s race preview at the following link.
The riders have rolled out of Siena. Racing underway shortly.
So, 184 kilometres and 11 sectors of strade bianche separate the riders from the finish line.
The race can crudely be divided into four parts. The first four sectors all come in the first 50km but then the Montalcino climb signals an end to the preamble. After a couple of longer and harder sections the race is set to intensify on sectors 7 and 8, which is where we should see race-defining selections starting to be made. Sectors 9, 10, and 11 are short but represent the endgame, with the favourites going hammer and tongs ahead of the stunning finale up through the narrow streets to Siena's Piazza del Campo.
The flag has dropped and we are racing. Let's see who's up for getting in the breakaway today.
Still all together in the opening kilometres.
174km remaining from 184km
Plenty of attacks but nothing has stuck yet.
In the women's race the peloton is also as one as they near the half-way mark. They're through the feed zone and heading to the fifth sector, which is the longest of the 136km route and which should see a shake-up.
Strade Bianche has quickly acquired a reputation as one of the most visually striking races in professional cycling, so while wait for the race to take shape, why not have a flick through these photos from the last 10 years.
We have what looks like a promising breakaway attempt as we come off the first sector and head towards the second.
The peloton is still chasing as the race hits the second sector at Bagnaia. It's 5.8km long and is mostly uphill, with gradients of 10%.
Here's the list of sectors, by the way. The first distance marker is how far into the race it appears, then in brackets is the length of the sector itself.
1. Vidritta - 17.6km (2.1km)
2. Bagnaia - 25km (5.8km)
3. Radi - 36.9km (4.4km)
4. La Piana - 47.6km (5.5km)
5. Lucignano d’Asso - 75.9km (11.9km)
6. Pieve a Salti - 88.7km (8km)
7. San Martino in Grania - 111.7km (9.5km)
8. Monte Sante Marie - 130km (11.5km)
9. Monteaperti - 159.8km (0.8km)
10. Colle Pinzuto - 164.7km (2.4km)
11. Le Tolfe - 170.8km (1.1km)
31km remaining from 184km
Splits in the peloton over the top of the climb.
153km remaining from 184km
Splits in the peloton over the top of the climb.
Big split in the peloton and we now have 70 riders in the first group.
30 seconds is the gap at the moment.
Over in the women's race, things are taking shape. There are three riders off the front in Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), Ellen van Dijk (Sunweb), and Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM). 2017 champion Elisa Longo Borghini has punctured.
Team Sky set the pace in the front group as we head towards the fourth sector. It's an absolute mudbath out there already.
Here's Peter Sagan at sign-on this morning.
134km remaining from 184km
It seems the second peloton is already 2:30 in arrears, and therefore pretty much out of the game. We expected drama but not this early. This could easily become one of the most memorable editions in Strade Bianche's short history.
@nedboulting Sat, 3rd Mar 2018 08:29:45
The weather is playing havoc with the communication of race information. We'll let you know who's in which group, who's missed out, etc, as soon as possible.
A group of eight riders has broken free from the first peloton and has opened up a lead of 45 seconds.
Two more riders have clipped off as well and are trying to make the bridge to the leaders.
@quickstepteam Sat, 3rd Mar 2018 11:13:04
@BMCProTeam Sat, 3rd Mar 2018 11:13:47
126km remaining from 184km
It seems this breakaway is being allowed to go clear. We're nearing the start of the Montalcino climb.
The women's race hangs in the balance. Chantaal Blaak (Boels Dolmans), Ellen van Dijk (Sunweb), and Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM) have 45 seconds on the peloton with 35km remaining.
The break is clear in the men's race, but Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and a Bahrain-Merida rider are still chasing to get up to the group.
120km remaining from 184km
That duo make the junction, so we have 10 riders out front.
It seems the peloton is already more than 5 minutes in arrears. It's unclear at the moment if that's 60 riders or if the second dropped peloton has come back.
@PatLefevere Sat, 3rd Mar 2018 11:27:26
Peter Sagan is making his European season debut after riding the Tour Down Under in January. He skipped the opening weekend last week in order to be fresher for the main spring classics period, and so his form is something of an unknown.
It was quintessential Sagan in the pre-race press conference yesterday, saying he hadn't been out to recon the route and predicting that "the winner will be the first to the finish". Here's the full story:
109km remaining from 184km
75 kilometres on the clock, the Montalcino climb is done, and the 10 leaders are heading onto sector 5, which is the longest of the race at 11.9km.
The wet and muddy conditions have contributed to a relatively slow average speed so far of 38.5km/h.
All change in the women's race. That trio has been caught and 2017 champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) is off the front with Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans). 18km to go.
Van der Breggen drops Longo Borghini and goes it alone. There's a group of 7 just behind Longo Borghini.
@mrconde Sat, 3rd Mar 2018 11:50:57
We're still waiting on confirmation of the full list of riders in the breakaway in the men's race.
Michal Kwiatkowski's Team Sky lead the peloton, and the gap to the break has come down to a more manageable 3:30.
We've lost images from the women's race - it's that kind of day - but Van der Breggen is on her way to victory. She has a lead of over a minute now.
@TeamSunweb Sat, 3rd Mar 2018 12:14:52
Still no images of the women's race apart from a wet Piazza del Campo. Van der Breggen will be nearing the final kilometre now. Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma are chasing but were 1.25 back a few moments ago.
Anna van der Breggen wins the 2018 women's Strade Bianche
Van der Breggen with an incredible victory. Niewiadoma finishes second, 49 seconds down, and Longo Borghini third, a further 10 seconds back.
79km remaining from 184km
Back in the men's race and still the weather disrupts the information. The breakaway has lost a couple of members due to punctures and the peloton is riding hard and continues to close the gap.
Just over a minute is the gap now as they approach sector 7 and a crucial phases of the race.
Here are 8 of the 10 riders out front.
Pierre Latour, Quentin Jauregui (AG2R La Mondiale), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Truls Korsaeth (Astana), Mark Padun (Bahrain-Merida), Valentin Madouas (FDJ), Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal), Sepp Kuss (LottoNL-Jumbo).
@quickstepteam Sat, 3rd Mar 2018 12:41:56
65km remaining from 184km
The break has split up on sector 7. Six riders left in front with Boasson Hagen chasing at nearly half a minute.
As we come to the end of sector 7, Pierre Latour and Valentin Madouas lead the race. And now a Movistar rider comes across.
It's Jose Joaquin Rojas for Movistar. That trio has 14 seconds on what is an extremely fragmented peloton.
The peloton is reforming and coming back now. Remember that the peloton actually split in two very early on, and the front 'peloton' has only reduced since then. No more than 50 riders in there.
60km remaining from 184km
The leaders are caught and therefore we have this reduced peloton leading the way.
Just as the junction is made, a new group of 10 clips away on the downhill tarmacked roads.
Kwiatkowski is in this front group.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar)
Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems)
Stefan Kung (BMC)
Pierre Latour (AG2R)
Valentin Madouas (FDJ)
Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Rob Power (Mitchelton-Scott)
Soren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb)
54km remaining from 184km
The lead group hit sector 8 with a lead of 15 seconds.
Sector 8 is the hardest of the whole race. It is 11.5km long and is a constant mix of climbing and descending.
15 seconds is still the gap but the chasing group is blowing apart on this sector.
Amazing to see Wout Van Aert up there. The young Belgian has been cyclo-cross world champion the last three years in a row and there's plenty of excitement over what he could achieve on the road. He made the late selection at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend and here he is again. His 'cross skills should come in handy on this terrain. Here are his pre-race thoughts.
Madouas dropped from the lead group.
Sagan, Stybar, Vanmarcke all in the chasing group of 15. No sign of Van Avermaet.
Valverde attacks from the lead group. Benoot is in that group too.
In the chase group behind Romain Bardet is on the move.
Sagan, sorry, has made it up to the front group now.
Great effort from Bardet to make contact with the lead group himself now.
Bardet comes straight to the front of the group and drives the pace. He's a Grand Tour climber making his Strade Bianche debut but likes one-day racing too and has been looking forward to this one all week.
Bardet has a gap as the rest of the group look around at each other. Van Aert comes across now to make it a duo.
The hesitation in what was the lead group means that the chasers, including Stybar, have come back up to join them.
42km remaining from 184km
Bardet and Van Aert come off sector 8 with a lead of 16 seconds.
That was indeed a crucial phase of the race. There are now 15 or so kilometres of normal roads before the final three sectors of dirt appear in quick succession.
There are around 25 riders in the chase group.
Gianni Moscon is in this chase group and hits the front. Sky also have Salvatore Puccio in there along with Kwiatkowski. Moscon has actually slightly distanced Kwiatkowski with that acceleration. He eases up.
38km remaining from 184km
Giovanni Visconti attacks from the chase group as the pace drops. Bahrain-Merida also have Sonny Colbrelli in there. No Nibali, though.
Benoot attacks now. He's followed by Pieter Serry from Quick-Step and others want to get involved too.
Benoot calls for cooperation from those who've bridged across to him.
35km remaining from 184km
Meanwhile Bardet and Van Aert have increased their lead to 47 seconds.
The chase group has pretty much split in two as a result of that flurry of attacks.
Nine riders in that first chase group: Moscon, Puccio, Benoot, Latour, Muhlberger, Visconti, Kung, Serry, Amador, Madouas.
Sagan and Kwiatkowski wait in the wings behind as others from that second chase group try to raise the pace.
Benoot and Serry now leave the rest of that group behind.
Sagan has teammate Marcus Burghardt doing the work in his chasing group behind. Kwiatkowski and Valverde are up there too, Stybar, too.
27km remaining from 184km
Bardet and Van Aert have 40 seconds as they approach sector 9. Just three sectors left now.
We've had some fresh time gaps in and here's how it looks.
Bardet and Van Aert
Benoot and Serry
Chase group of nine, inc Moson
Chase group with Sagan, Kwiatkowski, Stybar, Valverde
Here we go with sector 9. It's only just under a kilometre but they all hurt at this point in the race.
The two leaders
19km remaining from 184km
As we hit the penultimate sector (2.4km), Bardet and Van Aert are proving an even match for Benoot and Serry and the gap stays at 37 seconds.
Benoot waves goodbye to Serry and ploughs on alone. Meanwhile Rob Power and Giovanni Visconti have set off from the first big chase group.
Here's our full report from the women's race
That was a big acceleration from Benoot and he's cut 10 seconds from the gap in an instant. He's now 23 seconds behind the leading duo.
@EdwardPickering Sat, 3rd Mar 2018 14:14:52
16km remaining from 184km
Here comes Benoot. The young Belgian is about to make the junction to make it a trio out front.
We finally get a glimpse of Sagan and his group behind. He's with Stybar but that's the fifth group on the road and I think we can assume they're out of the picture now.
Power and Visconti catch Serry to make it a chasing trio, 1:10 behind the leading trio.
12km remaining from 184km
Onto the final sector, a steep one, and the Lotto Soudal rider bursts out of the saddle. There's pain all over his face as he gasps for air. Bardet and Van Aert are out of the saddle now in what's almost a slow-motion battle on this steep incline.
The fragmented chase groups are coming back up to Power, Visconti, and Serry. They're 1:10 down on Benoot, Bardet, and Van Aert.
Benoot has timed that well and comes over the top of the climb without going too far into the red. He's onto a downhill section now with a sizeable gap.
11km remaining from 184km
Benoot has 15 seconds.
Probably time to get your predictions in.
Let us know via Twitter @cyclingnewsfeed
Stybar is back in the mix! He's reached that Visconti/Sery/Power group along with Amador. That is now a five-man group and the third group on the road. They're 1:19 in arrears, however.
Benoot, caked in mud with no arm warmers, leg warmers, or glasses, extends his lead to 24 seconds with just over 8.2km remaining.
Benoot is heading towards a huge victory. Remarkably, it would be his first as a professional. The Belgian has been touted as a star since he finished fifth at the 2015 Tour of Flanders in his neo-pro season but he's yet to land even a small victory. He's always preached quality over quantity, and this would certainly justify that.
6km remaining from 184km
35 seconds for Benoot. It looks like the race is his, barring a collapse on the steep roads up to the Piazza del Campo.
It's Valverde, not Amador, in that chase group, but they're 1:30 down.
Words exchanged between Bardet and Van Aert but this is slipping away from them and is becoming a battle for the podium.
2km remaining from 184km
46 seconds for Benoot as he confidently takes on a downhill section. Onto the flat and he's out of the saddle again. He's not far away from town.
1km remaining from 184km
Flamme rouge for Benoot!
Here the roads kick uphill into the fortified section of town.
Benoot hits the viciously steep narrow road up towards the square. You can lose seconds quickly here with empty legs but he's looking strong.
Benoot is over the climb and just has to negotiate a couple more corners before he drops down to the line
Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) wins Strade Bianche
Delight for Benoot as he punches the air with both arms.
Bardet drops Van Aert on the climb and takes second place.
And now Van Aert crosses the line for third place. A huge ride from the cyclo-cross world champion.
Valverde takes fourth place, followed by Visconti and Power, with Stybar a few seconds further back.
Peter Sagan comes home now for a top 10 finish.
1 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal 5:03:33
2 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:39
3 Wout Van Aert (Bel) Veranda's Willems Crelan 0:00:58
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:25
5 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 0:01:27
6 Robert Power (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott 0:01:29
7 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors 0:01:42
8 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:02:08
9 Pieter Serry (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 0:02:11
10 Gregor Mühlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:02:18
Here's reaction from Benoot
"We came on the Santa Maria section with 55k to go I think and there was already a big group of 10 guys away with a lot of strong riders. So then I bridged over with Sagan, and I felt really good but it was a shit situation because I was alone of the team and there were a lot of teammates from Kwiatkowski and Sagan attacking. I was talking with my sport director and we said OK, go yourself now, because everyone is fucked and otherwise I’d be in a defending situation. So I went behind Bardet and Van Aert, and then it was first a big group and didn’t turn well, so I attacked again with Sierry and then on the ? section I crossed over. I felt it was the moment, and it was the last super hard section of the race. It was amazing. I didn’t expect to go this well, but I had a really good day."
Here's our full race report
More from Benoot
"It was really nice. In Belgium the journalists get crazy when a young guy makes nice results, so I had some pressure to have a first win.
"I always said it would be there one day, and I won't win a lot of races, but when I win it can be a big one. I was already two times eighth here, so I knew this race suits me really well. Eventually it turned out well today."
Van Avermaet had no impact on the race today. He was open about his distaste for the cold at a particularly chilly opening weekend a week ago, and today he blamed the conditions.
“I felt good until the race really opened up. My body couldn’t go deep in this weather, and my legs didn’t respond as I wanted," he said. "I was disappointed because I really like this race but there was nothing that I could do.”
Video footage has emerged of Van Aert on that final ramp towards the finish. He's completely spent, cannot turn the pedals anymore and literally falls off his bike. He gets back up, runs with his bike à la cyclo-cross and gets back on to secure the podium. Incredible day for the young Belgian. Our man Stephen Farrand spoke to him at the finish and will have a story shortly.
As promised, here's the story on Van Aert
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