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Swedish rider Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia-Highroad) bolted home to victory in the 3rd Monte Paschi Strade Bianche Toscana on Saturday as foreign riders dominated the popular one-day race on gravel roads across Tuscany.
Coming through second was German Fabian Wegmann (Milram) at four seconds back with Swiss rider Martin Elmiger (Ag2r-La Mondiale) completing the podium with third.
“This is the most beautiful victory of my career,” Lövkvist told reporters after the race. “There were a lot of nerves in the race. It was very stressful before the first sector of gravel. The key was the final climb. I knew I could win if I had good legs.”
Giovanni Visconti (ISD) in sixth was the only Italian in the top 10 in the 190km race that included 57km of gravel roads – strade bianche – split among eight sectors in the rolling course through the heart of Tuscany.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream) matched his result from last year with 10th as the top North American.
It was another impressive showing for Columbia-Highroad, which has already pushed into double-digits on the 2009 season with 10 victories.
It’s the first win for the 24-year-old Lövkvist since he won the time trial stage at the 2007 Criterium International and the ninth of his career.
Lövkvist turned pro at 19 and joined Columbia-Highroad last year, where he enjoyed his most consistent year despite not winning a race.
“Monte Paschi is different from all the other races, a little for the gravel roads, a little for the terrain and for the arrival in Siena,” Lövkvist continued, who races next week at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished third overall last year.
“Now I will enjoy this victory,” he said. “I am strong on the climbs and since I am good in the time trials, I can do well in shorter stage races.”
Milram was one of the strongest teams in the race, putting three of its men in the decisive 15-rider group that pulled clear with about 25km to go, with Linus Gerdemann, Peter Velits and Wegmann.
Milram set a blistering pace to bust up the main pack late in the race. Gerdemann tried a solo move out of the lead group with 10km to go and carved out a small margin, but he was caught on the last climb coming into Siena by the desperately chasing favorites.
Lövkvist attacked on the final pitch and held a slender margin to the chasing Wegmann, who came through four seconds later.
“We had three guys in the front and could try some tactics,” said Wegmann, who flatted with 50km to go and swapped bikes with teammate Peter Wrolich. “The form is good and I am satisfied. The team’s performance and results give the whole team confidence for more.”
A four-man move – Luca Pierfederici (Acqua e Sapone), Diego Caccia (Barloworld), Riccardo Chiarini (LPR) and Oleksandr Kvachuk (ISD) – broke clear at 28km to quickly build a six-minute lead. It was nearly a major miscalculation by the favored teams and the quartet held on until less than 30km to go.
Pre-race favorite Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) was still aching from his crash at Het Nieuwsblat last weekend and couldn’t follow the decisive moves when it all went down.
“I had cramps at 100km and when I was on the last hill, I lost the lead group,” Pozzato said. “I couldn’t train for three days this week from my fall at Het Volk (sic), so I had some cramps. I need a lot of training to go well. Next up is Tirreno-Adriatico and I hope to finish in good shape for the spring classics.”
Two riders – Gerard Ciolek (Milram) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) – didn’t take the start in Gaiole in Chianti for the hilly, dusty ride to the Piazza del Campo in Siena. World champion Ballan was runner-up last year, but succumbed to a stomach bug that zapped him Friday.
Defending champion Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) didn’t race due to a shoulder injury from a training crash.
Racing in Italy continues with Tirreno-Adriatico, March 11-17.
Monte Paschi Strade Bianche Toscana
1. Thomas Lövkvist (Swe), Columbia-Highroad 4:59:02 (38.2kph)
2. Fabian Wegmann (Ger), Milram, at 0:04
3. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 0:06
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor), Columbia-Highroad, at 0:08
5. Linus Gerdemann (Ger), Milram, at 0:12
6. Giovanni Visconti (Ita), ISD, at 0:14
7. Peter Velits (Svk), Milram
8. Andy Schleck (Lux), Saxo Bank, at 0:16
9. Daniel Lloyd (GBr), Cervelo TestTeam, at 0:19
10. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Garmin-Slipstream, at 0:22
11. Daniele Bennati (Ita), Liquigas, at 0:29
12. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Katusha, at 0:30
13. Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu), Cervelo TestTeam, at 0:34
14. Roger Hammond (GBr), Cervelo TestTeam, at 0:34
15. Riccardo Chiarini (Ita), LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini, at 0:50
16. Oscar Gatto (Ita), ISD, at 1:18
17. Daniele Righi (Ita), Lampre-NGC, at 1:36
18. Dominique Rollin (Can), Cervelo TestTeam, at 1:36
19. Manuel Belletti (Ita), Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, at 1:36
20. Matti Breschel (Den), Saxo Bank, at 1:36
21. Leonardo Giordani (Ita), Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce, at 1:36
22. Martijn Maaskant (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:36
23. Bernhard Eisel (Aut), Columbia-Highroad, at 1:40
24. Mark Cavendish (GBr), Columbia-Highroad, at 1:41
25. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita), Barloworld
26. Francesco Failli (Ita), Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo
27. Luca Mazzanti (Ita), Katusha, at 1:47
28. Andriy Grivko (Ukr), ISD, at 1:47
29. Lorenzo Bernucci (Ita), LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini, at 2:14
30. Diego Caccia (Ita), Barloworld, at 2:14
31. Andreas Klier (Ger), Cervelo TestTeam, at 2:16
32. Alexandr Pliuschin (Mda), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 2:22
33. Filippo Pozzato (Ita), Katusha, at 4:20
34. Francesco Ginanni (Ita), Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, at 4:20
35. Michael Albasini (Swi), Columbia-Highroad, at 4:20
36. Dario David Cioni (Ita), ISD, at 4:33
37. Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe), Saxo Bank, at 5:43
38. Manuel Quinziato (Ita), Liquigas, at 5:43
39. Serguei Klimov (Rus), Katusha, at 5:43
40. Oleksandr Kvachuk (Ukr), ISD, at 5:43
41. Tyler Farrar (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 5:43
42. William Frischkorn (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 5:43
43. Gabriel Rasch (Nor), Cervelo TestTeam, at 5:43
44. Pavel Brutt (Rus), Katusha, at 5:43
45. Maxim Belkov (Rus), ISD, at 5:43
46. Svein Tuft (Can), Garmin-Slipstream, at 6:00
47. Christopher Sutton (Aus), Garmin-Slipstream, at 6:00
48. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Saxo Bank, at 6:00
49. Maurizio Biondo (Ita), Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce, at 6:00
50. Fabio Sabatini (Ita), Liquigas, at 9:56
51. Leonardo Scarselli (Ita), ISD, at 9:56
52. Brett Lancaster (Aus), Cervelo TestTeam, at 9:56
53. Daniel Oss (Ita), Liquigas, at 9:56
54. Luca Pierfelici (Ita), Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo, at 9:56
55. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor), Saxo Bank, at 12:27
56. Martin Reimer (Ger), Cervelo TestTeam, at 12:27
57. Kasper Klostergaard Larsen (Den), Saxo Bank, at 12:27
58. Mauro Da Dalto (Ita), Lampre-NGC, at 12:27
59. Jean Charles Senac (Fra), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 12:27
60. Alberto Ongarato (Ita), LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini, at 12:27
61. Michael Friedman (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 12:27
62. Julien Loubet (Fra), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 12:27
63. Vitaliy Buts (Ukr), Lampre-NGC, at 12:27
64. Ben Swift (GBr), Katusha, at 12:27
65. Giampaolo Cheula (Ita), Barloworld, at 12:27
66. Carlo Scognamiglio (Ita), Barloworld, at 12:27
67. Luigi Sestili (Ita), Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce, at 13:57
68. Adriano Angeloni (Ita), Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce, at 13:57
69. Luis Angel Mate (Spa), Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, at 13:57
70. Fabio Negri (Ita), LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini, at 13:57
71. Andrea Masciarelli (Ita), Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo, at 13:57
72. Simone Masciarelli (Ita), Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo, at 13:57