Fabian Cancellara takes his third career Strade Bianche title, getting the better of defending champion Zdenek Stybar on the final climb

Fabian Cancellara took another step towards putting a frustrating, injury-marred 2015 in the rearview mirror Saturday, taking his third win of the season in Italy’s Strade Bianche. The Swiss classics star outgunned defending champion Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step) in the closing meters of the race to take the victory, his third career Strade Bianche title.

Stybar’s Etixx teammate Gianluca Brambilla finished third in the 176-kilometer race that started and finished in Siena.

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Eight riders formed the initial breakaway in the Tuscan race, but the peloton reeled in the early escapees a little over halfway through the day. That allowed a new group of four riders, with Brambilla among them, to get clear on the event’s iconic white gravel roads.

The breakers grew their advantage to over a minute before the peloton — or what was left of it after a hard day’s racing on challenging terrain — began to close down the gap.

Three of the four breakaway riders were caught, but Brambilla stayed clear, and with just under 20km left to race, Cancellara, Stybar, and Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan jumped from the pack and bridged to the Italian. BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde were among those in hot pursuit in the group behind the leaders, but they were unable to bring the escapees to heel as the kilometers ticked down.

Brambilla left his companions behind to take on the race’s steep finishing climb alone, but Stybar and Cancellara caught him with less than 500 meters to go.

From there, Cancellara was able to hold off Stybar in the finale’s winding, narrow streets to take the victory with enough of a margin to celebrate before crossing the line.

Four seconds later, Brambilla gave a fist pump of his own to celebrate his podium finish, among his strongest career results to date. Sagan crossed the line 13 seconds behind Cancellara to take fourth place.

“This day is special,” Cancellara said. “I had to play my best cards. I’m speechless. I knew that I couldn’t let Brambilla get too far ahead, despite Etixx – Quick-Step outnumbering me.

“I used my experience and confidence to leave it to the very end. It’s because I know myself very well. To win it for the third time means that I have made history as I’ll now have my name on a gravel road. I put my mark in Siena forever. It makes me happy.”

For Cancellara, the win is a welcome marker of form ahead of what will likely be the final cobbled classics campaign of his career.

Strade Bianche results