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The gruppo has gathered in Siena for the start of Strade Bianche, which gets underway at 11.40 CET. 184km through the rolling hinterland of Siena awaits them, including some 63km of unpaved roads. RCS Sport bills Strade Bianche as the 'most southern Northern Classic' but they do their event a disservice. It's a race apart.  

That said, most of the stars of the cobbled Classics have made the journey to Tuscany this week, led by the three men who formed the decisive move at the Tour of Flanders last October: Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). Van Aert and Alaphilippe won in 2020 and 2019, respectively. Van der Poel, meanwhile, has made a fast start to 2021 and will fancy his chances of joining them on the roll of honour.

Our man in Tuscany, as ever, is Stephen Farrand, and he has unpacked some of the secrets of the Strade Bianche route, from the gravel roads to the importance being first to the top of the stiff Via Santa Caterina. "The dirt road sectors remind many of Paris-Roubaix, yet the hills of Tuscany are like those of the Ardennes: short, often very steep and painful to ride," Stephen writes. "Together the dirt roads and the dozens of climbs create a unique race that is suited not only to the best Classics riders but also the Grand Tour climbers." Read more here.

While we're waiting for the men's edition of Strade Bianche to get underway, the women's race has reached its midpoint. Sadhbh O'Shea has live coverage here.

Unlike the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, where there is a long grace period before the race's first cobblestones, Strade Bianche takes to the gravel almost as soon as the walls of Siena are out of sight. The first of eleven sectors comes after 17.6km. The full rundown of the 63km of unpaved roads is as follows:

-184km

Mathieu van der Poel is lining out with a different bike today after his handlebars broke on the cobbles at Le Samyn in midweek. The broken bars didn't prevent the Dutchman from helping to tee up teammate Tim Merlier for victory but Alpecin-Fenix have confirmed that the team are not using their 2021 team issue Canyon Aeroad bikes in Tuscany today after Canyon told all customers to discontinue using its Canyon Aeroad CF SLX and CFR models and asked all their professional teams to switch to "alternative bikes." Read more here.

-178km

-171km

The weather forecast suggested rain earlier in the week but it now looks set to be a dry edition of Strade Bianche, while the temperature in Siena is currently 11°C.

With the gravel roads of Tuscany featuring on stage 11 of this year’s Giro d’Italia to Montalcino, it’s no surprise to see a number of corsa rosa contenders in the field today at Strade Bianche, including Egan Bernal (Ineos), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Simon Yates (BikeExchange), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Romain Bardet (DSM). Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), fresh from overall victory at the UAE Tour last week, is also in action.

-166km

The peloton is still intact as it rattles off the first sector of gravel. The second sector follows shortly, however, and it offers more of a challenge. It's some 5.8km in length and incorporates a climb with ramps in excess of 10%.  

-158km

Lilian Calmejane (AG2R-Citroen), Simon Pellaud (Androni-Sidermec) and Diego Sevilla (Eolo-Kometa) attempted to bridge across to the three escapees, but they were swept back up by the bunch on this gravel section.

-152km

Walsleben, Ledanois and Bevilacqua emerge from sector 2 with a lead of 23 seconds over the peloton. They're now on the smooth, sweeping descent towards Radi and the beginning of the third sector of gravel. 

-146km

Beyond Van Aert and Alaphilippe, there are two more past winners in the field today: Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos). Kwiatkowski crashed at the Trofeo Laigueglia in midweek, but he lines out here alongside Egan Bernal and Tom Pidcock in a strong Ineos squad. The British team are without Gianni Moscon, who suffered a fractured scaphoid at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne last weekend.

Visconti's attempt to bridge across to the leaders on sector 3 came to nothing, but Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) and Samuele Zoccarato (Bardiani-CSF) are now trying to make it across that gap to the break.

-137km

Situation

It looks as though Van der Sande, Rivi and Tagliani are on the cusp of making it a group of eight riders at the head of the race on this fourth gravel sector. The peloton is at 1:30.

-130km

There are some 22km to the next gravel sector, but there is only partial respite. The road soon climbs towards Montalcino. Men like Bernal and Buchmann will want to take a close look. They'll be back in this neck of the woods on May 19 for stage 11 of the Giro. Montalcino was previously the finish for a memorable, mud-encrusted afternoon on the gravel on the 2010 Giro, when world champion Cadel Evans claimed stage victory.

Strade Bianche Women has just finished, with Chantal van den Broek-Blaak claiming victory in Siena ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini and Anna van der Breggen. Full details to follow here, while live updates are available here.

-122km

Peter Sagan is an absentee this afternoon, with the Slovakian preferring to delay the start of his season until Tirreno-Adriatico. He already missed Opening Weekend after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 during a training camp in Gran Canaria and he decided that the gravel of Siena was not the place to feel his way back into action. Emanuel Buchmann leads Bora-Hansgrohe today in the absence of Sagan and Max Schachmann, who is defending his Paris-Nice title. Also of interest in the line-up is mountain biker-turned-WorldTour pro Ben Zwiehoff, who  impressed at the recent UAE Tour. Read more about Zwiehoff's path to Bora-Hansgrohe here.

Peter Sagan, meanwhile, is the cover star of the latest edition of Procycling magazine. “The important thing is to understand why you don’t win 22 or 23 races a year anymore: it’s because it’s always more complicated,” Sagan says in exclusive interview. “But rather than getting annoyed, it’s important to deal with it. Basically, you just have to accept it.”

Tagliani was a faller in the front group, but the Italian remounts and quickly rejoins the breakaway as they reach Montalcino.

The intensity has eased considerably in the peloton after those early exchanges on the gravel and the break's lead has stretched out to 4 minutes as they descend from Montalcino.

-111km

-109km

There's a discernible change in tempo from the peloton as they hit the longest section of gravel in the race, and the break's lead is beginning to be pared down accordingly.

-104km

-100km

As live television pictures start, the first image presented is of the aftermath of a crash, with American champion Alex Howes (EF Education-Nippo) one of three riders sitting on the roadside.

-95km

The break splinters at the very start of the 8km-long sixth sector of gravel, with Rivi and Petilli pushing clear. Back in the peloton, meanwhile, Danish champion Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) is part of a small group trying to forge clear. 

Petilli and Rivi are rejoined by Philipp Walsleben (Alpecin-Fenix), Kévin Ledanois (Arkéa-Samsic), Simon Bevilacqua (Vini Zabù), Samuele Zoccarato (Bardiani-CSF) and Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Soudal), while Tagliani has been dropped and picked back up by the peloton. 

-91km

Rivi's day in the break is ended by a mechanical issue on this sixth sector of gravel. He is forced to walk as his one-time companions disappear up ahead. Shortly afterwards, the strung out peloton clatters past him.

Out in front, the break is constantly fragmenting and reforming. There is precious little chance of cohesion on terrain like this and with the Jumbo-Visma-led peloton closing in. Simone Petilli presses on alone at the head of the race.

A sweeping helicopter shot shows that the peloton has been reduced significantly by the terrain and the pace. There are perhaps 50 or 60 riders in there. Meanwhile, a determined group of chasers is trying to extricate itself from the peloton and set off in pursuit of the leaders. 

Five riders remain in front from the break: Petilli, Walsleben, Ledanois, Van der Sande and Zoccarato. Jumbo-Visma continue to set a brisk tempo in the peloton, which is now just 36 seconds down.

-86km

Van der Poel and his Alpecin-Fenix squad are represented out in front by Walsleben, and they're content to allow Van Aert's men hold the reins for the time being. Deceuncink-QuickStep have a strong squad and we can surely expect to see them on the offensive in time, given that they have Asgreen, Stybar and Joao Almeida in their ranks alongside Alaphilippe. 

UAE Team Emirates have now taken over in the peloton, where the gap is now 50 seconds down on the escapees. 

We're a little under 10km from the sector 7 at San Martino in Grania, which ripples gradually upwards for 9.5km or so, with the toughest part coming right at the end.

Van Aert, meanwhile, drops back to the team car, possibly with a mechanical issue, but he has two teammates to pace him back up to the peloton without any undue stress. 

The bunch crosses the Arbia, an evocative sort of a place, given that the river was depicted by Dante as being "coloured red" with blood after the Battle of Montaperti of 1260.

-79km

We're approaching a point in the race where the tier of contenders below Alaphilippe, Van Aert and Van der Poel might be tempted to go on the offensive rather than go toe-to-toe with the Big Three in the finale. Delegations from Lotto Soudal and EF-Nippo move towards the front of the peloton.

Meanwhile, Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) and Loic Vliegen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) have managed to forge across to the break after escaping the pelootn on sector 6 of gravel. Petilli briefly dropped back to help pace his teammate up to the front, and there are now seven riders in the break.

-74km

There's quite a scramble for positions in the peloton on the approach to sector 7, and the pace is rising accordingly. Trek-Segafredo are trying to place the on-form Bauke Mollema near the front, while EF-Nippo are performing a similar task for Alberto Bettiol.

The world champion Alaphilippe is tucked safely in between Asgreen and Stybar as he moves up ahead of sector 7.

The break hits the 9.5km sector at San Martino in Grania with a lead of 37 seconds over the peloton. Jumbo-Visma are back in front and Van der Poel moves up to keep a close eye on proceedings.

The neutral service car has called out from behind the break as the gap drops beneath 30 seconds. The intensity is ratcheting upwards in the peloton, where Van der Poel, Van Aert and Alaphilippe are all posted near the front. 

-70km

Kasper Asgreen overshoots a corner and has to put a foot down to stop. He is quickly back in the fray but the Danish champion has lost a lot of positions in a lined out peloton.

Loic Vliegen is alone in front on this long section, grinding against the gradient. It looks as though his erstwhile companions have been brought back by the peloton, which is now closing in on Vliegen.

-67.5km

Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) and Gonzalo Serrano (Movistar) have attacked from the peloton on this gravel sector and they quickly bridge across to Vliegen before dropping him. 

Vermeersch and Serrano have a lead of 13 seconds over the peloton, with a lone chaser somewhere amid the plumes of dust in between. Vliegen's brief foray in front, meanwhile, looks to be over. 

Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal) is the Third Man. He catches Vermeersch and Serrano at the head of the race. This trio is 18 seconds clear of the peloton, where Ballerini, Alaphilippe and Van Aert occupy the first three positions. Also prominent near the front are the Ineos trio of Pidcock, Bernal and Kwiatkowski, as well as Van der Poel, Greg Van Avermaet.

-65km

Tadej Pogacar has rejoined the peloton after his mechanical issue at the very start of this gravel sector, and now he moves right up to the ringside seats alongside Van Aert, Alaphilippe et al. Romain Bardet (DSM) is also pedalling to good effect in this peloton. 

Puncture for Davide Ballerini, who had been setting the tempo for Alaphilippe in the peloton. 

The peloton is on the last uphill part of his long sector of gravel and several riders are losing contact at the rear of the group. Kron, Serrano and Vermeersch, meanwhile, are still 18 seconds clear in front. 

-63km

Brambilla's forcing means that the peloton splintered into four groups on exiting that sector, but it looks as though it will all come back together now they are back on smooth roads. It's notable that Alaphilippe, Van der Poel and Van Aert were all  careful to mark that Brambilla move. 

-61km

The race is just under five miles from the eighth and most demanding gravel sector, the largely uphill 11.5km around Monte Sante Marie.

A puncture for Joao Almeida on the smooth antechamber to the 'Cancellara sector'. The Portuguese rider should be able to make it back on, but the pace is winding up considerably ahead of this key sector.

Indeed, there's a split in the peloton, with a dozen or so riders in the front potion, including Greg Van Avermaet and Kasper Asgreen. They're about to catch the three escapees.

-57km

Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ), Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Owain Doull (Ineos), Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix), Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal), Gonzalo Serrano (Movistar), Petr Vakoc (Alpecin-Fenix), Gorka Izagirre (Astana), Romain Seigle (Groupama-FDJ), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange) and Mauro Schmid (Qhubeka-Assos) hit the gravel with a lead of 20 seconds on the Jumbo-Visma-led peloton.

Van Aert accelerates in the peloton and his effort effectively closes the gap to the Van Avermaet group. Alaphilippe and Pidcock are the men on Van Aert's wheel at the head of the group.

Van der Poel is a little further back but he is moving his way up the field.

-52km

Kevin Geniets and Quinn Simmons now swap turns on the front, before Alaphilippe takes over again as the road climbs again. Strade Bianche is being splintered into shards on this sector of gravel...

Alaphilippe has forced a selection. There are perhaps eight riders in front with him, including Van Aert, Simmons, Geniets and Van der Poel.

-49km

-48km

The game Kevin Geniets lost contact with the front group as Van der Poel, Van Aert and Pidcock swapped turns on the gravel. Van Aert takes up the reins again as thye hit a short, gravel ramp.

-45km

Van Aert, Van der Poel, Simmons and Pidcock have been the men doing most og the pace-making in this group, but Pogacar, Bernal, Alaphilippe and Gogl all appear to be pedalling smoothly. 

Alaphilippe and Bernal now take their turns on the front. This eight-man move is 23 seconds clear of a group of chasers including Jakob Fuglsang and Tim Wellens. 

-42km

Situation

Tim Wellens, Jakob Fulgsang, Simon Carr, Simon Clarke, Kevin Geniets, Bauke Mollema and Petr Vakoc are the men in this chasing group, which is now just 10 seconds down on the eight leaders.

A puncture for Quinn Simmons, who gets a slow, slow change. He has been passed by the chasing group and he won't make his way back up the front group. He returned to racing last week after he was suspended last October for his inflammatory comments on social media. Speaking last week, he denied any racist intent and claimed he "didn't deserve the suspension." 

-37km

Van der Poel has teammates Gianni Vermeersch and Petr Vakoc in the chasing group, but the Dutchman has no inclination to wait and he drives on the pace in the front group.

-34km

-33km

The chasers look to be losing momentum on this rippling, smooth roads that lead towards the next, short sector of gravel, which comes with 24km to go. Sector 9 is just 800m in length. The 2.4km sector up the Colle Pinzuto comes with 17km to go and the last sector at Le Tolfe comes 13km from home. The final ascent up the Via Santa Caterina into Siena will unfortunately, like last year, not feature any spectators due to the current coronavirus restrictions in the area.

-30km

Break: 

 

Jakob Fuglsang was hindered by a puncture earlier and that incident may well have proved very costly. He was on the back foot when the front group pressed clear, and the gap is now inching out towards 19 seconds. 

-25km

Van der Poel also has two teammates in the chasing group, but the Dutchman has been happy to ride here. Then again, his strength is such that it suits him to be left out in front with just the other favourites to fight it out à la pédale.

-24km

Pidcock and Van Aert are dropped from the front group on the climb, as Alaphilippe, Van der Poel, Bernal, Pogacar and Gogl press on.

-22km

-21km

Pidcock is clamped onto Van Aert's wheel. It's not entirely clear if he can't contribute to the chase or if he has simply decided against it, seeing as his teammate Bernal is pedalling very smoothly in the front group.

-19.5km

Van Aert comes past Pidcock. The Belgian is about 15 metres behind the five leaders, but he's struggling to close the gap... 

Van der Poel lifts the pace out in front. He doesn't want Van Aert to get back on, but the Belgian is almost upon them. A little further back, Pidock is gamely battling his way back on too...

The chasing group, meanwhile, has shattered. Quinn Simmons crashed just beofre the climb, and now Power and Bilbao are forging clear in forlorn pursuit of the leaders. 

-18km

The seven men in front on the Colle Pinzuto are: Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Egan Bernal (Ineos), Tom Pidcock (Ineos), Michael Gogl (Qhubeka-Assos), Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates).

-17km

-16km

-15km

The pace drops a little in the front group. Once allies of circumstance, the distrust now rises. Who will punch first at Le Tolfe?

-13km

Fuglsang, Carr, Clarke, Bilbao and Power are over a minute behind. The winner will come from the front group.

Pogacar shows signs of struggling at Le Tolfe. Van der Poel senses his moment and he accelerates viciously at the front of the race. He immediately opens a gap. Only Alaphilippe can even contemplate trying to follow...

Van der Poel leads off the gravel but Alaphilippe does well to bridge across as soon as they reach smooth roads. The world champion rode smartly to move across, and this looks like concluding in a mano-a-mano between this pair. Egan Bernal is the third man on the road, and he's chasing alone in pursuit of the two leaders. 

-11km

-10km

-9km

Bernal sits on Alaphilippe and Van der Poel's wheel. He's not taking turns because he's got Pidcock behind. Pidcock isn't taking turns in the chasing group because he's got Bernal in front...

-8.5km

Van Aert leads the chasing group, even if his face betrays signs of struggling. 16 seconds the gap. 

-7km

-6km

-4km

-3.5km

-3km

-2km

-1km

Van der Poel climbs out of the saddle with Alaphilippe and Bernal on his wheel.

Alaphilippe briefly moves alongside Van der Poel. Bernal is content to tfollow for now...

Van der Poel accelerates but he can't open a gap. Alaphilippe and Bernal follow...

Van der Poel kicks again and this time Alaphilippe can't hold his wheel. Bernal has also been distanced...

Van der Poel has a handful of seconds in hand on Alaphilippe at the top of the climb, he won't be beaten from here. Bernal is distanced.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) wins Strade Bianche.

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) takes second place. Egan Bernal (Ineos) comes home a little further back in third.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) jumps clear of the chasers on the final climb to take fourth place.

Tom Pidcock (Ineos) wins the sprint for 5th ahead of Michael Gogl (Qhubeka-Assos) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates).

There was a triple punch of the air from Mathieu van der Poel as he crossed the line. After a disappointing and ill-starred debut last August, he more than made amends here. Alaphilippe offers his congratulations after they are guided towards the podium.  

Result

SIENA ITALY MARCH 06 Arrival Mathieu Van Der Poel of Netherlands and Team AlpecinFenix Celebration during the Eroica 15th Strade Bianche 2021 Mens Elite a 184km race from Siena to Siena Piazza del Campo StradeBianche on March 06 2021 in Siena Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

SIENA ITALY MARCH 06 Mathieu Van Der Poel of Netherlands and Team AlpecinFenix Julian Alaphilippe of France and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Egan Arley Bernal Gomez of Colombia and Team INEOS Grenadiers during the Eroica 15th Strade Bianche 2021 Mens Elite a 184km race from Siena to Siena Piazza del Campo Dust Gravel Strokes Attack StradeBianche on March 06 2021 in Siena Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Mathieu van der Poel speaks: "Strade is one of the races I really wanted to win and it’s really cool to win it today. I felt really good, I launched an attack at the last gravel section and I came with Bernal and Alaphilippe in the lead, and we did a pretty strong ride with the three of us. I felt I had something left in the legs to go all out on the last climb here. It’s amazing to finish it off this way. 

SIENA ITALY MARCH 06 Mathieu Van Der Poel of Netherlands and Team AlpecinFenix Julian Alaphilippe of France and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Egan Arley Bernal Gomez of Colombia and Team INEOS Grenadiers during the Eroica 15th Strade Bianche 2021 Mens Elite a 184km race from Siena to Siena Piazza del Campo Breakaway StradeBianche on March 06 2021 in Siena Italy Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Van der Poel's superiority brooked no argument. He began Van Aert's difficulties with an exploratory dig on the short uphill gravel sector with 24km to go, before letting Alaphilippe take over nearer the top and then he bided his time when Van Aert came back up to the lead group on the Colle Pinzuto. He had perhaps earmarked the final sector at Le Tolfe, and only Alaphilippe and Bernal could get back on terms after his acceleration there. They had no response, however, on the steep final kick into the heart of Siena.  

It's worth recallin