Mathieu van der Poel wins Strade Bianche

by Dane Cash

photography by Gruber Images


Mathieu van der Poel powered to victory at Strade Bianche on Saturday, besting some of the biggest names in the peloton in a thrilling finale in Siena, Italy.

The reigning world cyclocross champion hit the final climb into the Piazza del Campo with world road champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and 2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), and it was Van der Poel who proved strongest in the end.

Alaphilippe, Van der Poel, and Bernal had powered clear of a slightly larger lead group that included the likes of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) on the final gravel sector of the day with around 12 km to go. From there, the trio kept their chasers at bay and rolled into Siena together to contest the victory on the steep ascent to the finish.

Alaphilippe led the group into the last 600 meters before Van der Poel took over at the front. Then, with 500 meters to go, Van der Poel made his move, exploding away from Alaphilippe and Bernal to make his way up the climb alone. He soared into the Piazza del Campo to take the victory with an emphatic celebration at the line. Alaphilippe took runner-up honors five seconds later with Bernal securing the final spot on the podium 20 seconds back.

How it happened

The 184 km race rolled out from Siena under cool but clear conditions, making for a dry day in the rolling hills of Tuscany after forecasts earlier in the week had pointed to the possibility of rain. It took some time for the break start forming in the early goings of the race, and even more time for it to really come together.

The pack rolled through the first of the day’s 11 gravel sectors with no big splits, and then Philipp Walsleben (Alpecin-Fenix), Kévin Ledanois (Arkéa-Samsic), and Simone Bevilacqua (Vini Zabù) broke clear as the riders approached the second sector. Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Samuele Zoccarato (Bardiani-CSF) then bridged across on the approach to the fourth gravel sector, where five became eight with the addition of Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Soudal), Samuele Rivi (Eolo-Kometa), and Filippo Tagliani (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec).

Those eight were given some breathing room as the peloton eased off the tempo around 60 km into the race, and the gap between the pack and the escape grew out to four minutes before it stopped growing and then began to tighten again. With a little under 110 km to go and the fifth gravel sector – the longest in the race – looming, the pack picked up the pace. The tough terrain and a high tempo whittled away at both peloton and break. Rivi, Tagliani, and Bevilacqua were distanced from the escape over the ensuing kilometers, while Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) and Loïc Vliegen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) moved to bridge across. They eventually made the catch but the gap was down under a minute with around 73 km to go as things continued to heat up in the pack.

Vliegen set off alone on the seventh gravel sector but he did not last long out front. He was caught by a small group of attackers with around 65 km to go as the riders traversed the seventh gravel sector, and then the attacks really began to fly on the run-in to the eighth gravel sector, which would prove decisive. A strong lead group formed as the Monte Sante Marie approached with Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroën) among those out front, but the situation changed quickly on the gravel. The second group on the road caught up with the leaders and then some big names, including Alaphilippe, put in big digs. Within moments, a new group of leaders had formed, and it was from this group that the eventual winner would come.

As the race rolled out of the Monte San Marie sector with a bit more than 40 km to go, the lead group comprised Van der Poel, Alaphilippe, Bernal, Van Aert, Pogacar, Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Gogl (Qhubeka-Assos), and Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ). A group of chasers that included Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech) remained within striking distance over the next several kilometers, but would never close the gap.

Simmons punctured out of the lead group inside the last 40 km, and then Geniets was distanced, leaving seven out front. On the punchy ninth gravel sector with around 24 km to go, Van der Poel put in a big surge that Van Aert and Pidcock could not immediately follow, but both riders caught back on within a few minutes. The seven riders traversed the penultimate gravel sector together before the decisive final gravel sector at Le Tolfe. With the group lined out on the tricky terrain, Van der Poel put in a massive attack.

Only Alaphilippe could stick with the move at first, with Bernal a little ways behind in pursuit, and the rest of the group distanced almost immediately.

Bernal joined Alaphilippe and Van der Poel at the front and as they maintained a gap of more than 15 seconds to Van Aert, Pogacar, Pidcock, and Gogl over the next few kilometers, it became clear that the win would go to one of the three out front. With around 4 km to go, Van der Poel put in a sudden strike that initially distanced Bernal and Alaphilippe, but things came back together as the steep final ascent loomed. The three riders hit the final climb and covered the first few hundred meters together before Van der Poel hit the front.

The Dutchman pushed a steady pace up the climb for a few seconds, but then he put in a devastating attack that catapulted him clear. He covered the last few hundred meters alone to take his first career Strade Bianche victory at the line.

Alaphilippe settled for second with Bernal taking third in his debut Strade Bianche appearance. Wout van Aert was the next rider over the line, 51 seconds behind Van der Poel, with Pidcock taking fifth at 54 seconds back.

Top 10

1 VAN DER POEL Mathieu (Alpecin-Fenix) 4:40:29
2 ALAPHILIPPE Julian (Deceuninck – Quick Step) 0:05
3 BERNAL Egan (INEOS Grenadiers) 0:20
4 VAN AERT Wout (Team Jumbo-Visma) 0:51
5 PIDCOCK Thomas (INEOS Grenadiers) 0:54
6 GOGL Michael (Team Qhubeka ASSOS)
7 POGAČAR Tadej (UAE-Team Emirates)
8 CLARKE Simon (Team Qhubeka ASSOS) 2:25
9 FUGLSANG Jakob (Astana – Premier Tech)
10 BILBAO Pello (Bahrain – Victorious) 2:39

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