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Bettiol just misses the podium for EF Pro Cycling at Strade Bianche

Tuscan rider Alberto Bettiol just missed the podium for EF Pro Cycling at Saturday's Strade Bianche.

It was just one hill too far for Alberto Bettiol and EF Pro Cycling.

Bettiol led the American team into Saturday’s Strade Bianche looking to take a major win on his local roads one year after his stunning 2019 Tour of Flanders victory. Bettiol rode aggressively in the final, accelerating into the chase group just after Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) made his winning attack on the Le Tolfe sector of gravel.

But the Italian lost his legs on a grinding uphill with 7.8 kilometers remaining, and saw Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) and Max Schachmann(Bora-Hansgrohe) ride away with the final two podium spots.

Bettiol finished alone in fourth, 1:31 down on van Aert.

“I tried to catch van Aert but he was really strong and was the strongest out there,” Bettiol said. “This race is won by the strongest rider, and he was the strongest out there today. Schachmann and Formolo dropped me and maybe I paid for my previous efforts but for me I have no regrets because I tried to win this race.”

Bettiol came into the race as an outside favorite and a co-leader of the EF Pro Cycling team. He hails from Tuscany and lives 70 kilometers northeast of Siena.

EF had two riders in the front group with 50 kilometers remaining, and it was Australian Simon Clarke who attacked to draw out other riders and split up the group. Eventually Clarke’s move was shut down, but the acceleration allowed Bettiol to surf wheels into the finale.

He made the last major selection alongside Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team), Schachmann, van Aert, Formolo, and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana).

“The goal for this race is never to try to anticipate and be behind. It’s about being in front and doing the work and the team executed exactly how we wanted them to,” said team DS Fabrizio Guidi. “Alberto was in front during the hardest parts of the race and he probably thought that he was stronger than expected and he might have made his move a little early, but I am really happy with his performance. You never know in the final stages of a race what could happen.”

Indeed, Bettiol appeared to have the front group reeling after unleashing a blazing attack with 18 kilometers remaining on the penultimate gravel sector. The Italian powered away from the group and appeared to have a sizable gap up and over the top of the sector.

It was van Aert who rode to the front and eventually shut down the attack after several tense minutes. After his move Bettiol followed wheels for several kilometers until van Aert attacked on Le Tolfe, at which point the Italian gave chase. While van Aert powered away, Bettiol was able to crest the climb in second place alongside Schachmann and give chase.

But ultimately Bettiol lost energy on the final push to the line. Still, fourth marks his best finish on home roads.

“For me, I tried to play my card in the final and tried to anticipate the moves and attack,” Bettiol said. “It was really special for me because I was in front of my fans and racing in my region so I had a lot of people supporting me. At the end I got dropped by climbers on a climb so I have no regrets and I did my best. In the end this fourth place finish is great to restart the race season with.”