Here’s why Strade Bianche had big winners but no clear losers
Mathieu van der Poel and SD Worx were dominant at Strade Bianche, but they won't always have it their way.
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Mathieu van der Poel and SD Worx stole the show at Strade Bianche this weekend, but they won’t always be having it their own way.
Trek-Segafredo pushed Chantal van den Broek-Blaak’s wrecking crew to the limit while Julian Alaphilppe led a resilient defense against van der Poel and his sledgehammer attacks. Though “MvdP” and SD Worx won big Saturday to fire a warning across the heads of the peloton, there were no clear losers in Siena, and that points toward an upcoming classics season that could be sensational.
Van der Poel’s two race-winning moves – first on the Tolfe dirt sector and again on the closing climb – will live long in the memory, not just for their outright power but also for those he blew off his wheel. The Dutchman left a stellar group in his dust Saturday, with world champ Alaphilippe, multi-terrain masters Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock, grand tour winners Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar all left swinging at thin air.
Also read: Mathieu van der Poel relishes Strade Bianche victory against who’s who of peloton
Van der Poel was in a class of his own in Tuscany, and looks like he could win from the pavé of Roubaix to the hills of Il Lombardia. He could even beat Philippe Gilbert to his long quest for a full sweep of the monuments. If his win in Amstel Gold in 2019 is rated as one of the most impressive victories in recent decades, Strade Bianche pushes it close.
The men’s race was a case of a bunch of plucky individuals looking to match van der Poel, a disparate rabble resisting an unstoppable force. Contrastingly, the women’s race made for a masterclass in racemaking that saw a collective of SD Worx riders systematically tear down wily opponents.
Ataque de Chantal van den Broek-Blaak para ganhar a #StradeBianche https://t.co/SuWHByYeB9
— Junimba (@junimba) March 6, 2021
Just as they did at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, SD Worx played the numbers game and suffocated the race out of anyone daring to try.
Also read: SD Worx outmuscles the opposition at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Annemiek van Vleuten and Marianne Vos – two of the most respected and prolific riders of the bunch – hit out with 12km to go. Van den Broeck-Blaak and Co. pulled them back without worry. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Demi Vollering launched a flurry of attacks to test the rival teams shortly afterward. And when van den Broeck-Blaak made a move purely to set up Anna van der Breggen, a defiant Elisa Longo Borghini was outmaneuvered and forced to burn her matches before she needed to light the fuse on the climb to the Piazza Del Campo.
It was textbook tactics made real, and SD Worx ended up winning it with a worker bee. So what happens when their leaders take the driving seat?
The classics are never a done deal
But the season is far from over. In fact, the classics season is just getting started. Last weekend’s race shows that the next few months are poised perfectly for some explosive and unexpected action.
Van Aert is the clear challenger to van der Poel’s seat on the throne of one-day racing, and his fourth-place made for a rare divot in his all-podium record at Strade. However, van Aert was on the back foot before he even rolled out Saturday morning. Having spent the past three weeks perched atop Mount Teide rather than gritting out race miles, the Jumbo-Visma ace was making his season debut and had no race conditioning. Even his coach predicted he wouldn’t be at his best.
Also read: Julian Alaphilippe goes down swinging at Strade Bianche
Van Aert has a packed schedule in the next month as he builds toward the cobbled monuments. His team dictated and controlled the opening hours of the race in a way they’ve never done before, even without the injured Mike Teunissen. The spring is just starting and van Aert was just dusting off the cobwebs. The classics have been touted as the Wout vs. Mathieu match-up, and it will become one.
Alaphilippe is the other major threat to van der Poel’s big watts and brawny finesse. “Alapanache” didn’t quite have enough to match the Dutchman on Saturday, but what he lacked in raw power he more than made up for in resilience and relentlessness. If van der Poel intends to dominate the spring Alaphilippe won’t make it easy for him.
Away from the “Big Three,” Strade Bianche showed how the unpredictability of the classics and the high level in the bunch means anything may happen.
The final selection included all the usual suspects, plus grand tour stars, a young and untested Quinn Simmons, and bona fide wildcard Michael Gogl. The group chasing after them contained a pair of riders from underdogs Qhubeka-Assos and Alpecin-Fenix.
Nobody was talking about Egan Bernal before the race. A lot of people may not even have known he was racing. His trip to the podium in Siena shows anything is possible, and that the classics are not going to just be a “Wout and Mathieu Show.”
Lizzie Deignan was notable by her absence Saturday due to an illness. Without her, Longo Borghini was without her sidekick and Trek-Segafredo lost out on one of the riders that could hold the key to unlocking SD Worx hold.
Also read: Trek-Segafredo braces for high-stakes women’s Strade Bianche
Yet even without Deignan, Trek-Segafredo took SD Worx to the wire Saturday. Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk slotted themselves into the lead group and when the Italian champ went up the road with van den Broeck-Blaak, it was Trek-Segafredo rather than SD Worx that played police.
With the Dutch team unsure of van den Broeck-Blaak’s climbing chops, Moolman Pasio attempted to bridge only for van Dijk to shut her down. It left the final climb to a simple test of what was left in the legs between two riders, and no surprise, Longo Borghini lost.
Van Dijk and Longo Borghini resisted SD Worx and nearly pulled a surprise. When Deignan is back and Lucinda Brand hits full road form after her ‘cross season, Trek-Segafredo will be back to the strength that took them to the top in 2020.
Strade Bianche also showed there’s another player in the classics power struggle.
Just like Liv Racing had done at Omloop, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope played disruptor Saturday. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Évita Muzic, and Marta Cavalli were B-list contenders for the race but threw wrenches into SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo’s plans through the final.
Cavalli and Uttrup Ludwig both made dashes out of the chasing group and made a nuisance of themselves when SD Worx was looking to focus on snuffing out Longo Borghini. Uttrip Ludwig is always there or thereabouts, and with Muzic and Cavalli at her side, the team will have a big part to play this year, and they showed it Saturday.
Oh, and did we mention that Vos? Like her teammate van Aert, was making her road debut on Saturday and was still a bit rusty? Or that van Vleuten is confident she’s improving in every race? Forget those two at your peril.
This season is far from done. Bring on Milano-Sanremo and Trofeo Alfredo Binda in two week’s time. The odds say it won’t be van der Poel or SD Worx every weekend.