Van Aert solos away from elite group to take victory –

Van Aert solos away from elite group to take victory –

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Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) made his move on the final gravel section of Strade Bianche Saturday and rode clear to take victory in Siena.

The Belgian cyclocross star attacked from an elite group of five with ten kilometers to go and soon forged a gap over remaining chasers Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling) and Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates).

Having twice placed third in his first two appearances at the race, van Aert made it third time lucky, coming to the line 30 seconds ahead, coated in dust and sweat after just under five hours of racing in the near-40 degree heat.

Behind him, Formolo took second and Schachmann third.

“If you get two third-places in a row, of course that gave me confidence,” Van Aert said after the race.

“Today was one long day of suffering, I don’t think anyone felt that great. The heat was exhausting but I really focused on hydration and keeping cool and in the end I had something left.”

“There was not a guy with us that I had to be really afraid of in the last uphill,” van Aert said of his winning move. “Attack is the best form of defense, and I saw in the previous editions that attacking is never a disadvantage here.”

Many pre-race favorites including defending champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Ineos) all suffered in the fearsome return to racing, with all three being ruled out of contention before the closing phases of the race.

A day of dirt, steep hills and baking sun made for a tough return to WorldTour racing. Photo Tim de Waele/Getty Images
A day of dirt, steep hills and baking sun made for a tough return to WorldTour racing. Photo Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The iconic race through the gravel roads of Tuscany marked the first major one-day race of the post-COVID season, and the 184-kilometer gravel-strewn event started fast and furious start with riders full of post-lockdown nerves and energy setting a fierce pace. There were a number of crashes early on, with pre-race contenders Vincenzo Nibali and Julian Alaphilippe among a large pileup 70km out.

With around 60km and just 4 gravel sectors remaining, only 25 riders remained at the front of the action, and after skirmishes from Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Simon Clarke (EF Pro Cycling) were neutralized, the race settled down to an elite lead group. With 45km remaining, only Schachmann, Bettiol, Formolo, van Aert, Fuglsang and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) were left in contention.

Behind the lead group of six, a small bunch led by former winner Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) gave chase around one minute back, with Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling) and Brent Bookwalter (Mitchelton-Scott) in tow.

Van Avermaet, van Aert and Bettiol all looked the most comfortable in the lead group as the race moved into its final hour, with Formolo and Fuglsang hanging on at the back.

With Stybar gaining ground and the lead bunch failing to co-operate with each other, Schachmann and van Aert jumped clear on a paved stretch with 22km remaining, leaving Bettiol to drive the pursuit, bringing Formolo and Schachmann back to the front of the race

With Van Avermaet trailing behind, van Aert powered away from his remaining rivals on the final gravel section of the day and never looked back as he took his biggest one-day win to date.

“A victory in the Tour de France was already really big, but Strade Bianche is one of the nices one-day races on the calendar,” van Aert said. “I really fell in love with this race two years ago, it was my goal to win this race. I’m 25 years old and I’ve done it already, so I’m really happy.”

The intensity of the race was evident as the rest of the peloton rolled to the line in dribs and drabs, each looking exhausted and dehydrated.

Bike racing is back.

Top 6

  1. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
  2. Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates)
  3. Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)
  4. Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling)
  5. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
  6. Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)