For all the pre-race talk of Peter Sagan and two time winner Fabian Cancellara fighting it out on the way to the finish of Strade Bianche, it didn’t pan out anything like that.
The selection took place on the hardest stretch of gravel roads and saw a very elite group hit the front of the race with around 50km to go. The likes of Vanmarcke, Nibali, Sagan, Cancellara, Valverde, van Avermaet and Stybar got free and set a pace that meant the peloton never caught up.
Then with 20km to go, Vanmarcke attacked on the same spot where Sagan and Kwiatkowski got free last year which gave us a final elite group – Sagan blew up in a big way on the climb and Cancellara drifted on and off the back of the group until losing touch for good.
Valverde and van Avermaet went on the attack with 15km to go, Stybar joined them and they reached the final climb all together having dropped all other contenders.
Valverde, the best climber, found himself on the front of the group in the worst position. Van Avermaet attacked and came round him with Stybar on his wheel and surprisingly Valverde started dropping back unable to respond. Stybar had enough to overtake van Avermaet and drop to the finish line to celebrate the win.
The early season scenery in Tuscany in the sun gave an excellent background to the racing and as mentioned in the commentary, if Strade Bianche was 80 years old, we’d definitely consider it a monument.
The amount of top quality riders battling together from all the top teams led to some great racing and due to the nature of the roads it meant we didn’t see riders protected until the finished – with the exception of Oss working for van Avermaet, no other rider had team-mates to work for them and this led to the exciting finale.
Strade Bianche Top 5
1 – Stybar
2 – Van Avermaet
3 – Valverde (my pre-race tip for the win)
4 – Vanmarcke
5 – Rosa