Van Vleuten solos to victory in Strade Bianche
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) attacked on the steep slopes of the final section of gravel and held off an elite chase group to win solo in Siena, Saturday. Annika Langvad (Boels-Dolmans) distanced Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) on the steep final climb to take second, denying the Polish rider her fourth-straight second place in the race.
The win marks an outstanding comeback from a serious injury sustained at the 2018 world championships for Van Vleuten, who was racing in only her second outing since the incident in Innsbruck.
“It’s one of my best victories, to win here,” said the winner. “I thought it was maybe a bit too early because I’ve just had ten weeks of training after I broke my knee at the world championships. But I worked very, very hard because the race was on my wishlist to win one time, it’s one of my favorite races.”
The weather was dry and sunny, a total opposite from the wet and muddy conditions of 2018. The 136-kilometer route was some 50km shorter than the men’s race, but included 30km of the iconic gravel sectors that give the race its name, as well as the steep final climb of the Via Santa Caterina into the finish line in Siena.
The first half of the race was punctuated by short-lived attacks that were quickly reeled in by the peloton, with the racing fast and furious on the dry roads and gravel.
As the race entered the final 50km, a select group of 11 riders went clear, including Van Vleuten, Langvad, Niewiadoma, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv). Attacks and counter-attacks went in the following 15km but none stuck more than several seconds. Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo), Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) and Karol-Ann Canuel (Boels-Dolmans) gained a small gap with 30km remaining, however, they too were quickly reeled in.
As the road kicked on the last section of sterrato, Van Vleuten took the initiative and made her decisive move on the steep gravel slopes, and despite efforts to follow by Vos and Marta Bastianelli (Virtu Cycling) Van Vleuten soon gained 30 seconds advantage.
The group behind were disorganized and failed to launch a concerted chase, with Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) doing the majority of the work.
Van Vleuten’s gap had extended to 40 seconds as the climb to Piazza del Campo came into sight, by which point the victory was all but assured. She finished confidently, looking powerful all the way to the finish line.
“I just waited for a good moment [to attack], there was only one teammate with me, only Lucy Kennedy, and it was really good for us to be there together but we were a bit outnumbered,” the winner said. “We were only two in a big group so we had to poker a bit, then I thought I had to put the hammer down on the uphill.”
The chase group fractured in the final kilometers, with defending champion Van der Breggen being dropped. In the final tussle on the steep climb to the Piazza del Campo, Langvad managed to outclimb Niewiadoma to take second place, 37 seconds behind the leader. Niewiadoma finished third, on 40 seconds. Behind them were Bastianelli, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla), and Moolman-Pasio consecutively.