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With over 50km to go in this year’s Strade Bianche, only eight riders were left at the front of the race as Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) attacked on the Monte Sante Marie gravel sector. The chasing group pulled themselves together and poured water over their heads as temperatures climbed up to 40°C (104°F) in the afternoon heat. Drenched in a mix of sweat, salt, and Italian dust, they fought with everything they had as the race approached its second breaking point.
World Champions and Tour de France winners had already dropped, and with 18km to go, Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) went off the back after a series of attacks on a steep gravel grade. A few kilometers later, just five were left in front when three-time world cyclocross champion and Tour de France stage winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) attacked on the final gravel sector, Le Tolfe.
The Belgian forged an unassailable lead, and 11km later, van Aert approached the steep climb up to the Piazza del Campo, where he had traumatically cramped two years ago en route to a famous third-place finish. This time, the wall was no match for van Aert, who powered up the almost-empty streets to take a dramatic solo victory at this year’s Strade Bianche.
There was lots of chatter before racing returned post-lockdown. Would racing be the same, or would it be a tale of two pelotons? And who would be the best – would we see the usual suspects come to the fore, or would a group of relatively unknowns burst onto the scene?
On Sunday, we saw a combination of both, with surprises like Formolo, Bookwalter, and Gogl in the top 10, but also a resurgent van Aert who came into Strade Bianche with consecutive third-place finishes and a point to prove. In the end, the 25-year-old Belgian was the strongest man in the race, and he took a deserving victory at the race that so nearly broke him just two years ago.
Despite post-lockdown uncertainty and extreme heat, van Aert’s physical performance was one for the books – after the entire five-hour race, van Aert finished with a normalized power of 350 watts. In this column, we dive into the unbelievable power output from van Aert and others at this year’s Strade Bianche.
Heat was the story of the day, with the starting temperature being recorded at 36°C (96.8°F). Countless bottles were consumed and poured over heads during the 184km (114mi) race which included 11 sterrato (dirt or gravel sectors). An early breakaway of six formed in the opening 20km – Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) would be the only finisher from this group, crossing the line in 40th place, out of the 42 riders who made the time cut.
The peloton relaxed as the break stretched its advantage, but that didn’t stop Pellaud from attacking solo with over 120km (74.5mi) to go. The Swiss rider soon had a multi-minute gap to the chase group as he powered over the sterrato at over 5w/kg.
Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) – Solo Breakaway
Average Power: 313w (4.6w/kg)
Even after giving the breakaway a three and a half-minute lead, the peloton hardly slowed with still 100km to go. Astana led the charge for their team leader, Fuglsang, who finished second at Strade Bianche in 2019. Sitting closely behind the light blue train was Maximilian Schachmann (Bora–Hansgrohe), a brilliant all-rounder and winner of this year’s chaotic Paris-Nice. The German made a huge effort from kilometer 75 to kilometer 95 to stay with the rapidly shrinking peloton as they closed in on the early breakaway.
Schachmann (Bora–Hansgrohe) – 75km to 95km
Normalized Power: 355w (5.1w/kg)
Into the second half of the race, and a series of short, sharp climbs crunched the bunch even more. Efforts from van Aert and Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling) highlight the intensity of each climb, which left just 20 riders left in contention with some 60km to go.
Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – Climb on Sterrato 7
Average Power: 520w (6.8w/kg)
Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling) – Climb on Sterrato 8
Average Power: 465w (6.6w/kg)
The Monte Sante Marie – the race’s second-longest sterrato at 8.8km – tore the group to shreds. Fuglsang put in a solo dig, catching a motorbike in a cloud of dust on one of the descents, but the Dane was pulled back before the end of the sector by a group of seven: van Aert, Schachmann, Gogl, Van Avermaet, Davide Formolo (UAE-Team Emirates), and Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling). Struggling at the back of the group was the Olympic Champion Van Avermaet, his suffering a sign of things to come for the experienced Belgian.
Van Avermaet (CCC Team) – Monte Sante Marie
Average Power: 330w (4.5w/kg)
Four and a half hours of racing coupled with extreme heat and dusty roads began to cause cracks in the lead group. First, it was Van Avermaet, then, surprisingly, Fuglsang who seemed to be struggling. On the final sterrato with just 12km to go, van Aert launched up the center of the road with not a smirk or a smile on his face. The young Belgian looked laser-focused as he left his break mates in the dust (literally) and crested the sector with a solo lead. After nearly five hours of racing, van Aert’s attack was enough to break both the legs and hearts of his rivals.
Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – Climb on Sterrato 7
Average Power: 595w (7.7w/kg)
Max Power: 780w (10.1w/kg)
Formolo, Schachmann, and Bettiol attempted to mount a chase, but van Aert’s gap only increased all the way to the line. The 2019 Belgian Time Trial Champion, van Aert knows how to ride a solo effort, and he put on an absolute clinic en route to the Piazza del Campo.
Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – Final 12km Solo
Average Power: 390w (5.1w/kg)
Passing the spot of his demise two years ago, van Aert powered up the city streets with Formolo and Schachmann nowhere to be seen. He looked over his shoulder one last time to make sure this is not a dream, and let out a guttural roar laced with the emotion of last year’s career-threatening crash. Moments later, van Aert crossed the line in the almost-desolate Piazza del Campo to win this year’s Strade Bianche.
Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – Strade Bianche
Average Power: 275w (3.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 350w (4.5w/kg)
Average Speed: 36.8kph (22.9mph)
Max Speed: 92.5kph (57.5mph)