Strade Bianche: Tom Pidcock delivers sublime solo victory
Pidcock jumped with 50km to go but it all came down to the final wall into Siena.
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Strade Bianche lived up to its reputation as one of cycling’s most exciting races with a thrilling battle Saturday that went all the way down to the final wall into Siena.
Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) jumped with 50km to go, and rode strategically to nurse a slender lead all the way to Piazza del Campo to become the first British winner of the iconic race.
“When I went that was completely not the plan. Obviously that sector is normally the decisive place, so I was just riding hard. I got a gap on the descent and I just carried on,” Pidcock said.
“This week I had a good feeling and I knew something good was going to happen. I knew today was my day. That it actually paid off is pretty incredible honestly. I don’t even know what to think right now.
“The day was so fast all day. If I get a gap and keep going, it’s hard to bring back,” Pidcock said. “It will take awhile to let it set in.”
Some discord in the five leading chasers gave Pidcock a bit more space before the gripping finale. Pidcock held a 45-second lead at the red kite, and looked back once on the final climb.
A sea of fans cheered Pidcock as he chugged up the final steep ramp before turning into Siena’s historic piazza.
Pidcock had just enough gas left in the legs to win a sublime and pressure-cooked victory.
Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) and Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) finished second and third to round out the podium.
Jumbo-Visma had two riders with Benoot and Atilla Valter in the lead group of chasers, but there wasn’t cohesion between the two teammates. Matej Mohorič later said the team should have sacrificed Valter to close the final gap to Pidcock.
“A few times they came close and I thought ‘I’ve messed it up, I’ve gone too early and wasted my shot here,'” Pidcock said. “The thing is in races like this, the day was so fast all day, I thought if I get a gap and keep going it’s hard to bring back.”
Down to the wire
Pidcock jumped with 50km to go when he followed a surge from Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost). The Ineos Grenadiers star soon bridged out to the day’s main breakaway, and then powered alone with 25km to go.
Behind him, it was a real dogfight as some of the biggest names in the peloton were desperately chasing in his wake.
Pre-race favorites Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin Deceuninck) and Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) didn’t have the legs to figure in the dramatic finale.
Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) crashed out with Bettiol, and Quinn Simmons (Trek Segafredo) rode into the final select group, but couldn’t match the closing attacks.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) gave chase on the final gravel climbing sector to push Pidcock, but the Ineos Grenadiers star held on to a slender 15-second lead with 10km to go.
Five riders joined for the final chase.
Things ramp up: Pidcock goes at 50km to go
The action finally picked up with about 50km to go when Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) powers clear. Andrea Bagogli (Soudal-Quick-Step) covered to mark the move, and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) followed as well.
It was from about the same distance that Tadej Pogačar attacked for a dramatic solo victory in 2022 on the gravel sector at Monte Santa Marie. Peter Sagan was among the riders who could not follow the pace.
The day’s early break of Sven Erik Bystrøm (Intermarche-Wanty-Circus), Alessandro De Marchi (Jayco-AlUla), and Iván Romeo (Movistar) seemed doomed as Pidcock surged ahead.
A lone Pidcock in his natural environment 😍#StradeBianche is heating up with @tompidcock showing some epic skills on the gravel to open out a 30-second gap. pic.twitter.com/fQkrhQG6tu
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) March 4, 2023
Pidcock revealed his early intentions, and powered clear on the technical descent. His excellent descending skills soon gave him a handy head start on the main favorites bunch.
Pidcock’s acceleration put a panic into the favorite’s group, and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) and Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) led the chase.
Van der Poel counters with 42km to go
Van der Poel couldn’t wait. With 42nd to go, the Dutch superstar accelerated out of the bunch.
Rivals were quick to mark the wheel, but the tone in the favorites’ group tensed up after Pidcock linked up with De Marchi and Bystrøm off the front.
ATTAQUE DE MATHIEU VAN DER POEL ! Le Néerlandais, qui reprend sa saison sur route, sort à 42km alors que Tom Pidcock est revenu sur le duo de tête. #StradeBianche pic.twitter.com/2Lo9DoaOz3
— Le Gruppetto (@LeGruppetto) March 4, 2023
Many of the pre-race favorites formed an elite front group of about 15 riders, but only a few had teammates to work. That meant the race soon evolved into a mano-a-mano fight all the way back to Siena.
Bettiol crashed out the leading group, and Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) was also involved. The Italian was sprawled out on the pavement, while Sheffield looked off toward the horizon knowing that his chances of victory were finished.
Andreas Kron (Lotto Dstny) attacked out of the chasing group, with Bilbao and WorldTour rookie Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) latching on. Others desperately tried to bridge across.
With 35km to go, Pidcock and Co. held a slender lead between 20 to 45 seconds to the different chasing groups. The race was on.
Pidcock goes alone with under 25km
Things consolidated with about 25km and three gravel sectors to go.
The first chase group formed with 11 riders, including Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma), and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) as the main figures at 25 seconds back.
Van der Poel trailed with a second chase group that saw the likes of Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora Hansgrohe) rejoin as the top names about 1 minute further adrift.
#StradeBianche 🌫 / 🇧🇪 Tiejs Benoot (TJV) sort, derrière en contre 🇫🇷 Valentin Madouas (GFC) et 🇵🇹 Rui Costa (ICW). #LesRP pic.twitter.com/CM7k2f2EBW
— Renaud Breban (@RenaudB31) March 4, 2023
Pidcock soon dropped De Marchi and powered alone. Benoot — a winner at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last week — didn’t want to wait, and bounded out of the lead chase group to keep Pidcock at 20 seconds.
The chase groups fragmented in their wake as riders desperately tried to close the gaps.
Benoot joined Rui Costa (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty), and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) to keep Pidcock at 20 seconds.
Benoot hit the steep gravel climb only to see Jumbo-Visma teammate Attila Valter leading the pace of a chase group including Simmons. Benoot couldn’t hide his disappointment, and Pidcock continued to pour on the gas alone.
With 15km to go, it was Pidcock riding alone at 15 seconds ahead of the Costa-Benoot-Simmons group. The Van der Poel group was ceding ground at 1:50 in arrears.
The closing fireworks saw Mohorič attack on the final gravel climbing sector to trim Pidcock’s lead to 15 seconds.
It was every rider for themselves in the closing 10km. Anyone at the front could still win.
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