Mathieu van der Poel wins Strade Bianche

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) won Strade Bianche after an intense battle between the biggest names in the sport on the dirt roads of Tuscany.

Van der Poel attacked on the final dirt sector at Le Tolfe dirt sector, where only Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) were able to go with him.

The Dutch champion then attacked and dropped them on the Via Santa Caterina climb into the heart Siena to win alone on the Piazza del Campo.

2020 winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) was distanced with 23km to go and though he fought back up on the Colle Pinzuto, he was then unable to go with Van der Poel, Alaphilippe and Bernal’s decisive move.

Van Aert eventually finished fourth at 51 seconds. Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) was an impressive fifth just behind him, with Michael Gogl (Qhubeka Assos) sixth and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) seventh at 54 seconds. Van der Poel, however, has struck the first blow in what promises to be a superb Spring of racing.

“Strade is one of the races I really wanted to win, and it’s really cool to win it today,” van der Poel said.

“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. It’s amazing to finish it off this way.”

How it unfolded

The men arrived in Siena for the start of their 184km race just after the women rolled out for their race, happy to see the sun warming the air and the roads dry. It was a perfect Tuscan spring day for a race on the dirt roads.

With Siena in a red zone due to a high number of COVID-9 cases, riders rode to the start area wearing masks and were rightly cautious about any close contacts.

The peloton rolled out of the Fortezza at 11:40 and descended from central Siena south into the Tuscan countryside. There was a high pace but no real attacks in the opening 30km.

Philipp Walsleben (Alpecin-Fenix), Kévin Ledanois (Arkéa-Samsic) and Simone Bevilacqua (Vini Zabù) were the first to move on dirt road sector 2, and they were eventually joined Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Samuele Zoccarato (Bardiani-CSF), Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal), Samuele Rivi (Eolo-Kometa) and Filippo Tagliani (Androni-Sidermec).

Those eight riders pushed out their lead to over three minutes as the race headed south and climbed up to Montalcino, but the peloton soon reacted, with Jumbo-Visma taking up the chase as the 11.9km Lucignano d'Asso dirt sector neared. An indication of the high speed in the peloton was a nasty crash that involved American champion Alex Howes (EF Education-Nippo), who was one of three riders left sitting on the roadside.

Sector six at Pieve a Salti comes just a kilometre after the Lucignano d'Asso sector and together they sparked a clear shake-out in the peloton and in the break, leaving only five riders a minute clear of the peloton.

The smooth main road to Buonconvento with 80km to go often marks a moment of truce only for the racing to explode on dirt road sector 7 at San Martino di Granaia. Indeed, the peloton eased to take on food and drinks and so Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) and Loic Vliegen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) jumped across to the break. However, the peloton accelerated again as they fought for position before the San Martino in Grania sector. The speed closed down the race and Vliegen was the last of the escapees to be caught here as the teams prepared for the finale of the race.

Monte Sante Marie marks a turning point

A group of 16 riders, including Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroen) and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafedo) edged clear on a climb after the San Martino in Grania sector, trying to get ahead of any major attacks, with Kasper Asgreen on hand to protect Alaphilippe’s interests.

As the Monte Sante Marie sector neared, Jumbo-Visma carefully moved Van Aert up to the front and led onto the key 11.5km sector. Simmons was the only rider to stay out front as Jumbo-Visma closed the gap. He was caught at the top of the early steep climb during Monte Santa Maria and so was well-placed among the big-name favourites.

Van Aert looked strong, as did Alaphillipe, while Van der Poel was focused on making an effort to move up near the front. He was in the right place by the time the race exploded with 50km to go under a huge surge from Alaphilippe on Monte Sante Marie. 

Fuglsang struggled and missed the move but Van Aert, Alaphilippe, Van der Poel, Egan Bernal and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), Simmons, Michael Gogl (Qhubeka-Assos), Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) were all there. The cream had risen to the top.

After Monte Sante Marie they had a gap of 25 seconds, with the cross winds across the hill tops making the racing extra hard. Petr Vakoc, Gianni Veermersch (Alpecin-Fenix), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain), Simon Carr (EF Education -Nippo), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech) Rob Power and Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-Assos) were in the chasing group.

Simmons was unfortunate to puncture with 40km on the asphalt. He was able to stay in the attack, but with his team car delayed behind several chase groups, he had to take a wheel change from the Shimano neutral service. He lost at least 30 seconds and was lucky to get back into the chase group. However, a crash with another rider on a fast corner eventually ended his race.


Van der Poel's grand finale

The long asphalt sector on the road west towards Siena and the final three dirt sectors again sparked a moment of quiet as the leaders took on board some final food and thought of their tactics for the finish. The chasers stayed close, at just 20 seconds, but couldn’t close the gap, sparking some frustrated arm waving from Fuglsang.

The final three sectors of Monteaperti, Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe are short but include steep sectors and often expose the weakest riders. Nobody expected Van Aert to suffer but he did so massively when Alaphilippe accelerated over the top of the Monteaperti sector.

Last year’s winner seemed shocked and was unable to respond to the surge. Alaphilippe, Van der Poel, Bernal, Gogl, Pogacar could hardly believe their luck and upped the pace on the fast asphalt road to Colle Pinzuto. 

However, Van Aert did not panic and most of all did not give up. As they climbed up to the vineyards of Colle Pinzuto, he slowly closed down the gap and joined the front of the race again, with Pidcock also managing to make it across. There were again seven riders up front in a very elite group with just one dirt sector left to race.

The chasers had lost ground and slipped to more than a minute behind, allowing the team cars to pass and go up to their leaders.

Van Aert cleverly led the attack onto the Tolfe sector, trying to set a steady pace. It worked for a while but as the gradient touched 18 per cent, he struggled and Van der Poel launched a searing attack. He got a gap but Alaphilippe and then Bernal managed to get across to him. Van Aert, Gogl, Pidcock and Pogacar formed a chase group, but despite Van Aert’s efforts, they lost time all the way to Siena.   

Van der Poel led the trio onto the Via Santa Caterina climb up to central Siena. That exposed him to attacks from behind, but he gradually upped the pace and then decided to attack first.

Using his power, speed and intensity, honed in cyclo-cross, he soon opened a gap on the steepest part of the climb. Bernal threw in the towel and had no reaction, while Alaphilippe could only try to limit his losses.

By the time van der Poel descended into the Piazza del Campo, he was five seconds clear and had time to celebrate by punching the air several times.

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Full Results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix 4:40:29
2Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:00:05
3Egan Bernal Gomez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:20
4Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma 0:00:51
5Thomas Pidcock (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:54
6Michael Gogl (Aut) Team Qhubeka Assos
7Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
8Simon Clarke (Aus) Team Qhubeka Assos 0:02:25
9Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana-Premier Tech
10Pello Bilbao Lopez De Armentia (Spa) Bahrain Victorious 0:02:39
11Simon Carr (GBr) EF Education-Nippo 0:03:36
12Rob Power (Aus) Team Qhubeka Assos 0:03:45
13Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:04:19
14Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix 0:04:21
15Petr Vakoc (Cze) Alpecin-Fenix 0:04:26
16Kévin Geniets (Lux) Groupama-FDJ 0:04:30
17Davide Ballerini (Ita) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:05:12
18Samuele Rivi (Ita) Eolo-Kometa Cycling Team
19Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal
20Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team 0:06:26
21Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
22Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) AG2R Citroën Team
23Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM
24Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 0:06:30
25Alex Aranburu Deba (Spa) Astana-Premier Tech 0:06:32
26Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education-Nippo
27Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
28Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep
29Andrea Vendrame (Ita) AG2R Citroën Team 0:06:39
30Owain Doull (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
31Andreas Kron (Den) Lotto Soudal
32Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Movistar Team
33Robert Stannard (Aus) Team BikeExchange
34Stefan Küng (Swi) Groupama-FDJ 0:06:43
35Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
36Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
37Lorenzo Rota (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
38Nans Peters (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team
39Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
40João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:06:48
41Filippo Zana (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'
42Simon Guglielmi (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
43Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:06:51
44Mauro Schmid (Swi) Team Qhubeka Assos
45Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
46Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain Victorious
47Brent Bookwalter (USA) Team BikeExchange 0:06:59
48Toms Skujins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo 0:07:04
49Tobias Foss (Nor) Jumbo-Visma
50Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
51Luis Mas Bonet (Spa) Movistar Team
52Gonzalo Serrano Rodriguez (Spa) Movistar Team
53Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana-Premier Tech
54Hugo Houle (Can) Astana-Premier Tech
55Michael Schär (Swi) AG2R Citroën Team 0:07:19
56Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:07:23
57Quinn Simmons (USA) Trek-Segafredo 0:07:28
58Giovanni Aleotti (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:07:48
59Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain Victorious 0:08:49
60Diego Rosa (Ita) Team Arkea-Samsic 0:10:21
61Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
62Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Israel Start-up Nation 0:10:25
63Christopher Juul-Jensen (Den) Team BikeExchange 0:10:40
64Brent Van Moer (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:10:44
65Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:11:08
66Simon Yates (GBr) Team BikeExchange 0:11:48
67Romain Seigle (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 0:11:57
68Jan Bakelants (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux 0:12:54

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