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We’ve missed cycling alright!
What a day’s racing in Tuscany as Annemiek van Vleuten and Wout Van Aert ride to victory in their respective races at Strade Bianche. Impressive performances from both, the perfect race to kick-off a new rescheduled season and hopefully much more to come.
Here are five talking points from the 14th Strade Bianche and the 6th Strade Bianche Donne.
1 A welcome return to racing for Wout Van Aert
Victory doesn’t get much sweeter than this for Wout Van Aert. After an awful injury at his Tour de France debut last year it was fantastic to see him back performing to his absolute best! Cyclocross skills were used to great effect and to be fair he played the perfect tactical game by attacking on the final gravel sector.
Third place in 2018, third place in 2019 and now the top step for the Jumbo-Visma man. Lots of expectation has been put on Van Aert’s shoulders, he’s a superb talent and he’s delivered. As each and every pre-race favourite was spat out the back, Van Aert made it look easy, so what more can he achieve during this new revamped season?
As we’ve seen last year, Wout Van Aert certainly has the ability to ride on all forms of terrain. He will certainly win a Monument sometime soon, he can time trial and already has a Tour de France stage win in the bag.
More to come, more stage wins at Grand Tours – Wout Van Aert is the man to watch right now!
2 Some unexpected surprises
Three individual riders flew under the radar and finished in decent positions. Italians Davide Formolo and Alberto Bettiol plus German road champion Max Schachmann certainly sprung a surprise.
After winning the Tour of Flanders last year, perhaps the time has come to take Alberto Bettiol seriously as a contender for numerous Classics. There were times on the climbs where he looked strong but just couldn’t quite make the cut to finish on the podium.
We know so much about Max Schachmann after winning Paris-Nice before lockdown and in previous years he’s taken some impressive wins at the Giro d’Italia and Tour of Catalunya. He’s a classics man, a decent climber and just like Wout Van Aert, a Monument will come his way sooner than you think.
Italian fans haven’t seen a home winner of Strade Bianche since Moreno Moser in 2013, so they’ll be left wondering how Davide Formolo finished second. Chasing Wout Van Aert was always going to be tough but fair play to the Italian road champ for surprising the pre-race bookies by coming close.
Bettiol, Schachmann and Formolo deserve huge amounts of praise.
3 Jakob Fuglsang’s pleasing performance
35-years of age, time is running out in search of a Grand Tour podium place for Jakob Fuglsang but he should be smiling after finishing fifth overall. The Dane attacked with around 40 km to go before being caught alongside six other favourites. He paid for his efforts earlier in the race and that showed as he was dropped on the final gravel section.
Fuglsang is likely to head to the Giro d’Italia this year and could skip the Tour de France. He’s had a lot of misfortune at the Tour in recent years so maybe a new target to aim for in Italy could be a good thing.
Winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year, there should be more to come from Jakob Fuglsang this season.
4 Some riders left with no luck and no form
Pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel unfortunately went down in a crash, former winner Tiesj Benoot abandoned, last year’s champion Julian Alaphilippe suffered a puncture and in the final 20 km the Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet found himself distanced.
It isn’t the end of the world for lots of riders who’ve suffered from bad luck and for van der Poel in particular he’s still got plenty of racing to come. Julian Alaphilippe was probably not the main man as Zdenek Stybar performed well to finish in sixth.
For Greg Van Avermaet indeed so many it just wasn’t meant to be. Peter Sagan was barely involved and for Michal Kwiatkowski he’ll be left disappointed finishing 12th. We can’t be too harsh on the riders though. Conditions were tough and motorbikes raising dust in the face probably wasn’t pleasant either!
5 Van Vleuten continues her winning streak
Last but by no means least, the women’s race offered some superb racing. A second consecutive Strade Bianche title for Annemiek van Vleuten and she did in fine style. Bridging across to the lead chasing group from the peloton, it was another vintage performance by the current world champion. Chasing Alé BTC Ljubljana’s Margarita Victoria García it didn’t look as though van Vleuten would make the catch but in the end she breezed past on the Via Santa Caterina to take the win.
Since winning the world championships last September, Annemiek van Vleuten has won every race that she has started. First at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and first at all three of the recent one-day classics in the Basque Country – chapeau!
Margarita Victoria García produced the ride of the day attacking with 46km to go. She had the gap but just couldn’t contain van Vleuten as she caught up with 7km.
American rider Leah Thomas for Equipe Paule took third place and former champion Anna van der Breggen finished in fouth, two minutes and five seconds behind van Vleuten.
The women’s World Tour is back and the big question ahead – how many can Annemiek van Vleuten win?