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Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) pounced on the steep slopes of Via Santa Caterina to leave the last of his rivals behind and win Strade Bianche ahead of Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
As the three hit the final climb into Siena, the punchy French rider’s victory felt inevitable, but nothing is certain at the end of nearly five hours in the saddle. “I was confident only in the last corner,” Alaphilippe said.
It was the Frenchman’s first time racing Strade Bianche.
Fuglsang kicked off the winning move with 22km to, on a steep sector of the white gravel that gives this race its name. Van Aert, third in this race last year, was the first on his wheel, followed by Alaphilippe. The trio quickly extended its gap.
Fuglsang continued to push, attacking again on the penultimate gravel sector at 19km to go, this time distancing Van Aert. That gap would grow to 30 seconds, and wouldn’t close until Fulgsang and Alaphilippe began playing games on their way into Siena.
Behind, Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) attempted to bridge, then Simon Clark (EF-Education First) did the same. Neither could close the gap, which at 15km to go hovered over a minute.
Alaphilippe and Fuglsang began eyeing each other with 4km to go. Alaphilippe reached down and tightened his shoes, then stretched his back, eyeing his rival the whole time. Fuglsang stood and bounced on his pedals. The cheeky stretching allowed Van Aert to get within 17 seconds.
The gap was 10 seconds at 1.5km to go, the base of the final climb, and then the gap suddenly closed. Van Aert, still in time trial mode, went past the two on their left. Alaphilippe was the first to jump on. Van Aert pushed on, aware that his tired legs would be no match for the other two when they decided to punch it.
Fuglsang went first, on Van Aert’s right. Alaphilippe went left, jump on Fuglsang’s wheel, and stayed on it until Via Santa Caterina turned right. Then he put in a dig of his own, opened a gap of a few bike lengths, and held it to the line.
“I was lucky with zero flat tires, and my team did a great job to protect me,” Alaphilippe said from Siena’s square. “I needed to be on a great day to win. Jacob was really strong, I made no mistakes, I was working with him but in the end, I also had to be careful.”