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"For me, I was not sure of my form because I came out of Oman ill. I could tell I was missing a little bit of punch, to be able to go four or five times deep and recover fast."

Photo: Muscat Municipality/Paumer/B.Bade

FABIAN CANCELLARA

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FABIO FELLINE

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STRADE BIANCHE

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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07.03.2015 @ 19:20 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Once again, Tuscany’s white gravel roads gave an exciting show, and once again it left more victims in its dust than survivors. In the final kilometers of the 200-kilometer race, only three men remained to contest the steep uphill finish.

 

Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step) proved to have the most power left for the 16 percent ending gradient as he accelerated past Greg van Avermaet (BMC) to take the win, leaving Movistar's Alejandro Valverde rolling across in third to settle the final podium step.

 

Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) finished alone to snag fourth place while a decimated peloton arrived on the heels of the small Fabian Cancellara chase group; a fatigued Cancellara urged the faster legs of Fabio Felline ahead and the Italian emerged to grab 8th place as Cancellara rolled across for 19th.

 

“This was my first time in this race, it was a beautiful race,” Felline explained to TrekFactoryRacing.com at the finish. “I had a puncture in the last bit, but so did so many; I was not alone in that aspect! Hayden and I were in the chasing peloton until close to the end when there was another selection. I am not satisfied because I was not up there for Fabian, and he needed the support. Sure it was a great experience and not a bad result for me, but for me it is only a success if we have the victory.”

 

Under a clear blue sky an 8-man breakaway group animated the action from the early kilometers. Trek Factory Racing’s Julián Arredondo played antagonist in their midst, allowing the team to sit back and not take onus in the chase.

 

When the race hit the crucial sector 7, the longest at 11.5kms, the last of the escapees were about to be swallowed by a fast-charging peloton.  Arredondo sat up, his hard work for the day finished.

 

As in previous years the lengthy five-star rated sector whittled the race to its final players and nine men formed a lead group out of the white dust, including Fabian Cancellara.

 

But with still over 40 kilometers to race, the crescendo had just begun.

 

The final three sectors, blustery wind and fierce attacks over the next kilometers carved the group down to its four strongest legs with around 25 kilometers remaining.

 

Fabian Cancellara lost contact over the penultimate white graveled sector when Alejandro Valverde accelerated up and over a climb; Cancellara’s never-say-die attitude clawed him back into contention, but just as he latched to the back wheels of the leaders the attacks flew again – no one wanted the savvy Cancellara back in the mix.

 

“On the long sector the hammer went down from the favorites and the best I could do was only follow there,” reported Cancellara about the crucial moment of the race. “On the steeper parts I was gapped off but managed to come back each time. That was important for me, because I never gave in, and fought to the end. I knew that Van Avermaet, Stybar, Valverde and Vanmarcke would be good. For me, I was not sure of my form because I came out of Oman ill. I could tell I was missing a little bit of punch, to be able to go four or five times deep and recover fast.  But overall I had good sensations; too bad we did not really get a result, but I am happy with how I felt.”

 

In the closing kilometers the peloton was never far behind as Orica GreenEdge led a furious chase and gradually closed in on the Fabian Cancellera three-man chase group.  However, ahead the three leaders had over a minute’s time, enough gap to carefully eye each other under the red kite as they began the last thrilling antics to an epic race.

 

The punishing white gravel roads always result in numerous punctures and crashes and this year the wind also threw a card into the game adding an extra level of stress. 

 

Both Jasper Stuyven and Calvin Watson ended up hitting the ground in separate incidents, with Stuyven landing a trip to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.  Watson escaped with scrapes and bruises while Stuyven sustained a nasty cut to the elbow in addition to plenty of gravel-induced road rash. 

 

Fabian Cancellara was hindered with three flat tires during the race, and it was a double puncture in rapid succession that highlighted the importance of teammates.  Markel Irizar quickly arrived to hand over his front wheel, and when Fabian was forced to a stop 100 meters later with a rear flat, Irizar didn’t hesitate: He sprinted his disabled bike to Cancellara, handed over his second wheel, and allowed Fabian to continue. Irizar then stood roadside and waited with an empty frame in hand – his job for the day completed.

 

 “Markel was my savior today,” said Cancellara. “I had three punctures total, but two came at almost the same time and he ran 100 meters to give me his second wheel!”

 

“It was a very interesting race,” he continued. “I can say it’s the only race where the cobblestone specialists and Ardennes specialists compete against each other, even though the Ardennes guys seem to have a little edge these days. It’s a great race.”

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