Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin Fenix) was utterly dominant as he stormed to victory with a magnificent performance at the 2021 Strade Bianche.
The Dutch national champion was simply too strong as he powered to a stunning win, with Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – QuickStep) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) in second and third respectively.
In what was a thrilling finale, Alaphilippe attacked and dropped Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) and Britain’s Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) with 20km remaining. But that was just the start, with van Aert and Pidcock able to battle back into contention and rejoin a leading group of seven riders.
It took eight more kilometres of racing before van der Poel blew apart the race with a sudden, explosive attack on the final section of ‘sterrato’ with 12km to go, at which point only Alaphilippe could match him. Bernal, initially dropped by the sheer ferocity of the van der Poel attack, was able to fight his way back in.
However, once they reached the medieval streets of Siena, it had become a two-horse race – with van der Poel setting an infernal tempo up the last cobbled climb. Alaphilippe held on briefly, but was ultimately unable to stick with the Dutchman.
Van Aert bagged fourth, leaving Pidcock, Michael Gogl (Qhubeka Assos) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) to fight for places five to seven. Gogl’s teammate Simon Clarke won the sprint from the chasing group, who by the end were some two minutes behind the leaders. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana PremierTech) in ninth and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) in 10th rounded out the top 10.
At the finish, van der Poel said: “Strade is one of the races I really wanted to win and it’s really cool to win it today.
“I felt really good, I launched an attack at the last gravel section and I came with Bernal and Alaphilippe in the lead, and we did a pretty strong ride with the three of us. I felt I had something left in the legs to go all out on the last climb here. It’s amazing to finish it off this way.
“I think Julian was a bit tired at the end, he told me as well that his legs weren’t that good anymore. Normally he always rides full gas with us but he skipped some turns so I knew that he was not lying. It was especially Egan Bernal who gave me a good impression on the uphill sections, but I knew the last section was really something for me.”
Much like Bernal, Pogacar was something of a surprise package today, in the sense he is much better known as a stage racer than for his one-day chops. He told media of a moment of “crisis” in his post-race interview.
“I was in the front of the race and in the break but on the sector when van der Poel attacked I had a moment of crisis and I was barely coming to the top. I didn’t give up and I was fighting for fourth place in the end. We were trying to catch the front group but there were no way that we could catch them. Then I tried to do my best in the final to Siena but I was quite finished then. I’m quite happy with my seventh place.”
Earlier in the day, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Anna Van der Breggen made it a day to remember for SD Worx as they came first and third at Strade Bianche Donne.
Van den Broek-Blaak powered clear of Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek–Segafredo) inside the final 500km to secure victory.