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Bernal, Alaphilippe and van der Poel had gone into the final 900-meter-long climb to the Piazza del Campo locked together after the trio emerged at the front of the race when der Poel forced the selection on the final gravel sector with 12km remaining.
Van der Poel had led the way up the lower slopes of the steep climb into the Siena square. The Dutchman accelerated once only for Alaphilippe to respond, but his next move just seconds later was unstoppable. Bernal exploded off the back and Alaphilippe was unable to answer.
Van der Poel opened up 100 meters in seconds and soloed into the city center square with a handful of seconds of a lead to take his first classic of the 2021 season in swashbuckling style.
“Strade is one of the races I really wanted to win, and it’s really cool to win it today,” van der Poel said shortly after the race.
“I felt I had something left in the legs to go all out on the final climb, and it’s amazing to finish it off in this way,” he continued. “I think Julian was tired at the end, he told me as well that his legs weren’t good anymore. Normally he always rides full gas and he had skipped some turns, so I knew that he wasn’t lying. It was Egan who gave me a really good impression on the uphill sections, but I knew that the last section was really for me.”
Alaphilippe came home second, and the revived Bernal third.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) was first of the chasers, finishing fourth.
Superstar selection with 50km to go
After the early break was caught by the Jumbo-Visma led peloton at 70km to go, a flurry of attacks saw a group of around 30 riders go clear which included all the major players.
The long eighth gravel section saw the first major split, with van Aert, van der Poel, Alaphilippe, Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Tom Pidcock and Bernal (both Ineos Grenadiers), Michael Gogl (Qhubeka Assos) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) getting into the stellar escape.
Simmons drops into malfunctioning chase
Simmons punctured and was dropped out of the leaders as he had to take a slow neutral service wheel change. The Coloradan caught back to a chase group of around 10 riders. With two Alpecin-Fenix and two Qhubeka Assos riders in the bunch, the chase malfunctioned and dangled around 15 seconds off the leaders which were in eyesight but seemingly out of reach.
Simmons was active in leading the chase, but saw his chances come to an end when he slid out on a corner and lost contact. Simmons finished 54th, with Brent Bookwalter (Team BikeExchange) the top U.S. rider in 44th.
Alaphilippe, van der Poel launch haymakers
Alaphilippe attacked on the dirt with 23km to go, exploding the group, leaving van Aert and Pidcock swinging off the back. Though van Aert looked to have popped, he slowly but surely winched his way back by the end of the sector, with Pidcock joining soon afterward.
It was van der Poel that made the first decisive move on the steep gravel La Tolfe climb. The Dutchman kicked hard, exploding out of the group, marked by Alaphilippe. Bernal was initially distanced but clawed his way back a few hundred meters as van Aert led the chase quartet around 10 seconds behind.
The lead trio worked together well on the tarmac approach to Siena to carry more than 20 seconds going into the final showdown to the Piazza del Campo and set up the dramatic finale.
- Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix): 4:40:29
- Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): +0:05
- Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers): +0:20
- Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma): +0:50
- Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers): +0:54
- Michael Gogl (Qhubeka-Assos): S.T
- Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates): S.T
- Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-Assos): +2:25
- Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech): S.T
- Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious): +2:39