Everyone was hoping for a spectacular show at Strade Bianche, and both the men’s and women’s races delivered in style.
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak took the victory for SD Worx after the team had again dominated the racing. The Dutch team didn’t have it easy however, as a resilient ride from Elisa Longo Borghini kept the race on a knife-edge until the final minutes.
Mathieu van der Poel laid the hammer on the men’s race with two mind-blowing attacks out of an all-star lead group. The Dutchman’s performance made for a warning for the season to come, but Strade showed that there are plenty in the peloton ready to take him on.
So what were the movers and shakers saying after the showdown on the white roads of Tuscany? Here’s what:
Elisa Longo Borghini shows grit and grace
Elisa Longo Borghini took second after being overwhelmed by an SD Worx power-play on Saturday.
The Italian champion countered van den Broek-Blaak’s decisive attack on the stretch into Siena and was forced to tow her Dutch rival toward the crucial final climb as SD Worx packed numbers in the group that chased just a few hundred meters back.
Longo Borghini led van den Broek-Blaak up the opening pitch of the ascent to Siena but found herself out of gas when van den Broek-Blaak accelerated in her winning move.
“I was not frustrated or irritated. I just wanted to try to get van den Broek-Blaak to go, and sometimes you have to try and get the other one to work,” Longo Borghini said about doing all the pulling in the final kilometers. “I absolutely knew that she would not work with me as normally I drop Chantal on a climb like this. Of course, today, she had something more in the legs in the finale compared to me.”
“Chapeau to her for the victory because it’s an important one and a special one,” she continued. “Arriving in Piazza del Campo di Siena is just beautiful and a win to enjoy.”
Egan Bernal surprises everyone – including himself
The select group of seven that formed on the final gravel sector contained all the usual suspects – Alaphilippe, van Aert, van der Poel – and Egan Bernal. The former Tour de France champion was on the start sheet but barely mentioned before the race, but showed to the world that his recent battle with injury may be over and that he’s more than just a three-week diesel.
Bernal finished third after hauling himself back to van der Poel and Alaphilippe when the pair went clear on the final gravel sector. The Colombian was finished off by van der Poel’s massive attack on the decisive climb, but third-place was more than anyone was expecting – including himself.
“I’m a bit surprised to be in the top three because I’m not a specialist in one-day races so to get on the podium with Mathieu and Julian is a big honor for me. I’m really surprised and motivated for my next goals,” he said.
“I have to be happy with that. I’m not a classics specialist, so it’s harder for me. I want to enjoy this podium place and then look forward to my big, big goals. It was hard for me to win against those two.”
Annemiek van Vleuten teetering on edge of excellence
Annemiek van Vleuten was as attacking as ever Saturday, pulling back attacks on the final handful of gravel sectors before throwing her own haymaker on the La Tolfe off-road climb.
Van Vleuten continued to battle through the final five kilometers after Longo Borghini and van den Broek-Blaak escaped, and she launched one of the first accelerations in the race for third-place on the climb to the piazza. Although “AVV” was overhauled by van der Breggen in the final few hundred meters and left to make do with fourth, she took comfort from her progress after a sub-par showing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend.
“I had everything I needed – I just wasn’t able to finish it off. I am especially satisfied with the fact that I didn’t make any mistakes after a really disappointing Omloop, when I lost sight of the front due to a bad position,” she said.
“I am very proud of how I reacted during the race, always in a good place and doing what I needed to do. It’s not far away – it will be there soon.”
Julian Alaphilippe goes down swinging
Julian Alaphilippe set the race to light on the final La Tolfe gravel sector with a short-lived attack. The Frenchman’s move set the race in motion, and he was the first to counter van der Poel’s explosive acceleration on the steep stoney climb a few kilometers later.
Alaphilippe was again the first to counter when van der Poel made a testing acceleration on the climb into Siena, but when the Dutchman turned on the turbo to launch his winning kick a few seconds later, the world champion had no response.
“Mathieu was very strong – I have no regrets. Of course, I would have preferred to win but in the end, I am happy to be on the podium in the rainbow jersey. I’m not disappointed, because I really gave everything. I already had cramps in the last kilometers. Mathieu was simply better, so I have to congratulate him,” Alaphilippe said.
“On the finish in Siena, I did everything I could do and this meant coming runner-up. But I feel that the shape is getting where I want it, so that’s good, it makes me look forward to the next races.”
Tom Pidcock encouraged by increasing progress
Tom Pidcock made his way into the stellar group of seven that emerged at the front of the race with 12km to go.
The WorldTour rookie was put in trouble by Alaphilippe’s initial attack, but slowly but surely winched his way back into the bunch. When van der Poel made the selective move a few minutes later, Pidcock was blown out of contention and left to fight for fourth-place in the chase group.
The Brit ended up fifth in Siena, but after an attacking ride at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and podium finish at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne last weekend, Pidcock is continuing to impress and is as confident as ever.
“I’m quite happy with how I went, I didn’t feel I had that much of a punch but … yeah it was good fun,” he said.
“I just didn’t really have the legs to go any faster [when van der Poel attacked] to be honest,” he continued. But I can’t complain, I’m there in the front group with those guys. It will take a few more races, a bit more experience, miles in the legs, and I’m sure I’ll be there soon.”