Tadej Pogačar soloed 50 km to his first Strade Bianche victory on Saturday. It was the third round of the 2022 WorldTour, the UAE Tour of Round 1 also going to Pogačar, and the second one-day race. Pogačar is the first Tour de France champion to take the Strade Bianche. The winners of the 14th and 15th editions over the last two seasons, Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, were absent. 2019 winner Julian Alaphilippe survived a wild crash but wouldn’t crack the top-50. The top Canadian was Alex Cataford in 77th.
Strade Bianche revolves around eleven sections of Tuscan white gravel (sterrati) over the 185-km route totalling 65 km. The longest sector is Number 5, Lucignano d’Asso, at 11.9 km, while Number 8 is the toughest of the day, 11.5 km with stiff ramps and tricky descents. The race concludes with a 16-percent ascent to the historic Piazzo del Campo in Siena.
The men are on their way! 🏳
Here's what is coming today with 11 gravel sectors as the peloton races back into Siena and into the Piazza del Campo. pic.twitter.com/KBRwkaSGaY
— Team BikeExchange-Jayco (@GreenEDGEteam) March 5, 2022
The Canadian Contingent
Saturday’s Canadians were Groupama-FDJ’s Antoine Duchesne and Israel-Premier Tech’s Alex Cataford.
Immediately from the gun a breakaway sprang away, finding 2:50 before the first sector of sterrati. By the taxing fifth sector, nine fugitives were 3:00 up the road. Brutal crosswinds in Sector 5 caused a big crash in the peloton that took down Alaphilippe and Pogačar and caused Michael Matthews, Tiejs Benoot and a dozen other riders to abandon.
The front part of the peloton that wasn’t delayed by the crash, which somehow included Pogačar and Cataford, drew closer to the breakaway, with Alaphilippe having to chase back with teammates. At the end of Sector 6, with 86 km remaining, a quintet of escapees were 49 seconds clear of the crash-reduced peloton and 2:00 ahead of the Alaphilippe group.
Alaphilippe and others made it back to the front with 76 km and five sectors to race, the break still 1:08 up the road. Riders fought to be well-positioned going into 9.5-km-long Sector 7, where the peloton drew closer.
Movistar drove the field toward the toughest sector of the day, Sector 8, Monte Sante Marie. There, the fugitives finally capitulated. Alaphilippe raced at the front and made an acceleration, with Tim Wellens and then Pogačar going hard with 50 km to go. Pogla continued to ride solo, with Ineos’ Carlos Rodriguez his closest pursuer.
With 43 km to race, the Tour de France champion’s lead over the peloton was 1:09, and Rodriguez was +0:34. The gap stayed the same over the next five kilometers. Rodriguez was absorbed with 24 km remaining.
Sector 9 brought the Slovenian closer. Alaphilippe was having problems going with the accelerations in the chase. A quintet of pursuers containing Alejandro Valverde distinguished itself. Pogačar completed the penultimate sector, 18 km to go, with a minute’s lead and Kasper Asgreen now in the Rodriguez role as lone chaser. Valverde latched on to Asgreen before they were joined by Attila Valter, Pello Bilbao, Wellens and a couple of others.
Valverde was runner-up and Asgreen rounded out the peloton.
On Monday, Pogačar begins his defense of the Tirreno-Adriatico title.
2022 Strade Bianche
1) Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia/UAE-Emirates) 4:47:49
2) Alejandro Valverde (Spain/Movistar) +0:37
3) Kasper Asgreen (Denmark/Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl) +0:46
77) Alexander Cataford (Canada/Israel-Premier Tech) +13:36