Mathieu van der Poel rode Julian Alaphilippe and Egan Bernal off his wheel in the final 400 metres to become the first Dutchman to win Strade Bianchi Saturday in Siena, Tuscany. It was van der Poel’s second victory of the young WorldTour season. Hugo Houle was top Canadian in 51st; Guillaume Boivin and 19 others were outside the time limite.
Starting and ending in Siena, the men’s race held 11 sectors of gravel for a total of 63 km. Rippling sections five and six were so close together, they practically made a 20 km long sector in the middle of the 184 km course. Sector 8, ending 43 km from the finish line in Siena, was the toughest of the race: 11.5 km of gravel featuring fatiguing climbs, including Monte Sante Marie. There was demanding climbing both on the approach to Siena and on the Via Esterna di Fontebranda and Via Santa Caterina in town.
The breakaway established itself piece by piece over the first four sectors of gravel, and by the end of the Buonconvento sector, there was an octet up front with plenty of Pro Continental team representation. By the time it hit Sector 5 with 108 km remaining its gap was 3:40.
The long, almost continuous gravel of Sectors 5 (Monte Sainte Marie) and 6 took its toll on the fugitives’ gap and the size of the field, with Wout Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma whipping along the peloton.
Before Sector 7 (San Martino in Grania) the peloton eased up and the escapees carried on. But Sector 7 would spell the end of the breakaway. Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar was one of the several riders who came to grief with mechanicals, slide outs and entanglements. A new trio skipped away in the latter half of the sector.
There was a lot of slicing and dicing before the crucial eighth sector containing Monte Sante Marie. A strong baker’s dozen led by Greg Van Avermaet got loose and joined the trio.
Van Aert, van der Poel and Alaphilippe pulled a few more riders over to Van Avermaet’s gang and were prominent at the front of the strung out group.
In the Alaphilippe group was Bernal, Tom Pidcock and Pogačar. The “Great Eight”–Van Avermaet no longer present after blowing up–were 23 seconds ahead of the closest chase containing Jakob Fuglsang by the time Sector 8 was completed. Forty-three kilometres and three sectors remained. It was a frustrating pursuit for the Fuglsang group, with the lead gang within a stone’s throw for kilometre after kilometre. It would never get on even terms.
On Sector 9 Alaphilippe immediately attacked, dropping Van Aert and Pidcock. The world champion kept pushing heading towards the penultimate piece of gravel, Colle Pinzuto. It was there where Van Aert and Pidcock latched back on.
On the final sector, Le Tolfe, Van Aert led the way on the descent. On the 18 percent grade, just as Pogačar began to fade, van der Poel attacked and at first only Alaphilippe could hang, but Bernal found the duo with 11 km remaining.
Mathieu van der Poel getting a move on so he is home in time for The Wall on BBC 1 tonight 👇pic.twitter.com/0Z9yX9Sa0K
— Cyclist (@cyclist) March 6, 2021
Van Aert led the chasing quartet, one that would never made the crucial junction. Van der Poel attacked just on the outskirts of the old city, a warning.
Van der Poel was first under the red kite. He couldn’t shake his companions until a powerful thrust with 400 metres to the line disloged them. Van der Poel adds a Strade Bianche win to victory in the first stage of February’s UAE Tour. Alaphilippe was second best on the day. Van Aert was fastest from the chase group, finishing just off the podium.
2021 Strade Bianche
1) Mathieu van der Poel (The Netherlands/Alpecin-Fenix) 4:40:29
2) Julian Alaphilippe (France/Deceuninck-Quick Step) +0:07
3) Egan Bernal (Colombia/Ineos Grenadiers) +0:20
51) Hugo Houle (Canada/Astana) +7:04
OTL) Guillaume Boivin (Canada/Israel Start-up Nation)