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Having joined Van Avermaet and Valverde in a front trio, Stybar reacted to an attack from the Belgian on the climb to the finish before powering clear on his own to win the Strade Bianche

Photo: © Etixx - Quick-Step / Tim de Waele

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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GREG VAN AVERMAET

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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STRADE BIANCHE

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ZDENEK STYBAR

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07.03.2015 @ 16:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) showed that he will be a leading classics contender when he took a hugely impressive win in the Strade Bianche. The Czech joined forces with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the finale and after having reacted to an attack from Van Avermaet on the short, steep climb to the finish, he distanced the Belgian to take the biggest one-day win of his career.

 

Last year Michal Kwiatkowski took a memorable win for Omega Pharma-Quick Step when he rolled across the line with the Polish national champion’s jersey on his shoulders to conquer the 8th edition of the Strade Bianche. Today it was another national champion from the Belgian team – now known as Etixx-QuickStep – which succeeded the world champion by delivering an equally impressive performance.

 

Having shown great condition in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Zdenek Stybar went into his first participation in the race as a man to watch and he fully delivered on his promises from the first classics on the year. With his great technical skills and powerful climbing skills, he was perfectly suited to the difficult course which is famously known for its many gravel sectors and short, steep climbs.

 

Throughout the entire race, Stybar seemed to be at ease. First when he made it into a small group that briefly went clear before the riders hit the key gravel sector of the Monte Saint-Marie and later when the main selection was made on those brutal gravel roads. Exiting the sector, Stybar was joined by Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alejandro Valverde and it briefly seemed as those three riders were going to decide the race.

 

However, a strong chase group with Greg Van Avermaet, Daniel Oss (both BMC), Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Diego Rosa (Astana), Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) managed to close a 20-second gap and so it was a 9-rider front group that hit the final three gravel sectors to decide the race. Anticipating the action, Oss launched the first attack and he entered the third last gravel sector with a solid advance.

 

Vanmarcke accelerated hard and together with Stybar he passed the lone Italian. Valverde managed to join them while Sagan completely blew up as he tried to follow suit. Cancellara and Van Avermaet were the final riders to join the move and it was a 5-rider front group that started the penultimate sector.

 

Sagan and Oss almost rejoined the leaders but as Valverde set a brutal pace on the climb, they never made the junction. Instead, Cancellara fell off the pace and it was a four-rider group that exited the sector.

 

At this point, Cancellara and Oss were already 20 seconds behind and they were caught by Rosa as they approached the final sector. Van Avermaet who had looked like the weakest rider in the front group made a wise move by anticipating the action and he entered the sector with a nice little advantage.

 

Stybar made a big acceleration on the 11% climb and while Vanmarcke lost contact, the Czech and Valverde rejoined the lone Belgian. The trio immediately started to work well together but Vanmarcke refused to give up, keeping the distance at around 20 seconds for a long time. Meanwhile, Cancellara and Oss caught Rosa who had briefly distanced them but the trio was constantly losing ground.

 

With 3km to go, Van Avermaet decided not to do any more work and so the pace went completely down. As they passed the flamme rouge and started the final climb to the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Vanmarcke had nearly bridged the gap but he never made contact as Van Avermaet attacked on the steepest section.

 

Valverde responded to the attack but suddenly the Spaniard cracked. Stybar was quick to react and sprinted back up to Van Avermaet just as they finished the steepest part. Having briefly recovered, he went to the front and easily distanced the BMC leader before hitting the small descent to the beautiful finish in Siena. Van Avermaet rolled across the line in second while Valverde had to settle for third.

 

Strade Bianche started several days of exciting racing in Italy. Many of the riders from today’s race will be back in action on Wednesday when the WorldTour hits the country with the start of Tirreno-Adriatico.

 

45km of gravel

The 9th edition of Strade Bianche was held on the same 200km course that was used for last year’s race. The riders took the start in San Gimignano and on their way to the finish in Siena, they tackled a total of 4.4km of gravel roads over 10 sectors. The course was characterized by its many short, steep climbs in the Tuscan countryside and the key gravel sector was located with 153km to go. Later the riders would tackle another three sectors with very steep climbs – the final one ending just 15.1km from the finish – before they entered Siena where they would end the race by climbing up the steep ramp to the Piazza del Campo.

 

The riders took the start in San Gimignano under a beautiful sunny sky and with 6-degree temperatures but a strong wind was blowing from a northeasterly direction, meaning that the riders would have a crosswind for most of the day. Two riders didn’t take the start as Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) who had fallen ill overnight, and Ruben Zepuntke (Cannondale-Garmin) didn’t sign in.

 

An 8-rider break

Surprisingly, the early break was created right after the beginning when Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani), Giacomo Berlato (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Julian Arredondo (Trek) went on the attack. They were joined by Ilya Koshevoy (Lampre-Merida), Daniele Colli (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Giuseppe Fonzi (Southeast), Artem Ovechkin (Rusvelo) and David Lozano (Novo Nordisk) and quickly started to gain an advantage.

 

At the 9km mark, they were 46 seconds ahead and while Movistar started to ride on the front, it continued to increase. At the 15km mark, it was 3.40 and at the 29km mark, it had reached 5.40.

 

Movistar and Katusha lead the chase

As the riders hit the first gravel sector, the escapees had an advantage of 6.30 but the peloton was still in no hurry. When they entered the third sector, the bunch has allowed the escapees a gap of 7.36.

 

While Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani) became the first rider to leave the race, Movistar got some assistance from Katusha and those two teams combined forces to reduce the deficit. On the fourth sector, the gap was down to 6.35.

 

Androni come to the fore

At the entrance of the fifth sector, Androni-Venezuela hit the front and their acceleration brought the gap down to 5.40. Movistar went back to work and kept the gap stable around that mark for a little while.

 

While several riders had to fight their way back after mechanicals, including Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), the peloton again accelerated. It reached 4.38 but the pace again went down when Movistar waited a bit for Valverde.

 

The break splits up

Androni-Venezuela again hit the front and they kept the gap stable for a little while. With 100km to go, the gap was 4.26 and that was the signal for Movistar to make another acceleration. Later they combined forces with Androni to keep the gap stable at around 4 minutes.

 

With 84km to go, the riders hit the next gravel sector and here the front group split up. Lozano was the first to lose contact and later Pirazzi, Koshevoy and Berlato also fell behind. Unfortunately, Pirazzi and Berlato both went down and the former seemed to be badly hurt.

 

A dangerous group

Astana accelerated on the gravel roads and suddenly a group with Lars Boom, Rosa (both Astana), Giovanni Visconti, Jasha Sütterlin, Valverde (all Movistar), Sagan, Maciej Bodnar (both Tinkoff-Saxo) and Stybar had formed. They quickly caught Lozano as Sütterlin tried to keep the move alive.

 

Behind, Trek started to chase and shortly after the end of the sector, they caught the Valverde-Sagan group. Movistar went back to work and the fast pace had brought the gap down to 50 seconds.

 

A fight for position

Oss accelerated hard for BMC in a crosswinds section but as they failed to split the field, Movistar again took over. Meanwhile, a group with Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Samuel Sanchez (BMC) and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale) rejoined the peloton that was whittled down to around 50 riders.

 

As the riders approached the key sector, BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo and Movistar lined out their troops on the front and they quickly caught Ovechkin who had been dropped from the break. Arredondo also fell back to the main group while Fonzi and Colli hit the gravel.

 

Rosa splits the field

Colli was unable to respond to an attack from Fonzi while Tinkoff-Saxo started to ride hard on the front of the peloton. They brought Colli back just before Movistar took over.

 

Rosa made an acceleration for Astana and his pace completely split the peloton. A strong crosswind made the race hard and as Sagan moved to the front, only Valverde, Vanmarcke, Stybar and Rosa could keep up.

 

A front trio takes off

Cancellera, Van Avermaet, Magnus Cort (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Haas managed to rejoin the four leaders that had passed Fonzi. Oss managed to rejoin them just before Sagan made a big attack.

 

Stybar and Valverde stayed with the Slovakian while Cort got distanced from the chase group. Rosa almost managed to make it into the lead group but he fell back to the chasers.

 

Oss makes his move

At the end of the gravel sector, the 6 chasers were 20 seconds behind while Astana’s Andriy Grivko was leading the chase in the peloton that was 1 minute behind. The chase group worked well together though and with 39km to go, they caught the front trio.

 

The new front group worked well together to keep the gap at 1 minutes but when Orica-GreenEDGE started to chase with Cort and Mathew Hayman, the gap started to come down. With 28km to go, they were only 35 seconds behind and now the attacking started. Vanmarcke launched the first move it was the subsequent attack from Oss that worked and set the scene for the dramatic finale.

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