5 matters of dialog from Strade Bianche 2021
Van der Poel's amazing attacks
From the cobblestones of the classics to cyclocross tracks around the world, we've already seen Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) do many impossible things on a bike. But today in Tuscany he produced something that we have never seen him do before.
While much of his success on the road to date has been primarily due to his enormous engine and ability to drive for long periods, today's win at Strade Bianche was based on two sudden, mind-boggling accelerations.
The first came on the last gravel stretch when the Dutchman got out of the saddle, increased his cadence and wiped out the other six riders who remained in the top group.
After a few minutes to catch their breath, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) managed to join him, but both were helpless again when Van der Poel did exactly the same thing on the final climb did to the Piazza del Campo.
The fact that Julian Alaphilippe, a rider whose powerful kick has been unique in the last few seasons, could not come close to matching these accelerations showed how strong they were. Cycling has never seen anything like Mathieu van der Poel and he always finds new ways to amaze us.
Van den Broek-Blaak continues the purple stain of his career with another classic win
In all the speeches by Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), her Dutch compatriot Chantal van den Broek-Blaak has been just as productive in the great classics of late.
In just her third race since winning the Flanders Tour 2020 towards the end of last season, Van den Broek-Blaak won again today at Strade Bianche, attacking 6 km from the finish in a move that was reminiscent of the solo attack she made took to win the earlier race.
Although she was widely seen as an extra driver in preparation for attacks for teammates like Anna van der Breggen, she looked like SD Worx's strongest driver throughout the race today. Before her race as the winner, she had already taken to the streets twice, on the one hand as part of a small, dangerous group that had prevailed early on and which also included Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) and Mavi Garcia (Mavi Garcia) . Ale BTC Ljubljana), later again with Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo).
Despite all these efforts, she still had her legs to attack 6 km from the finish, again with Longo Borghini at the wheel. On the final climb, she managed to win the sprint with two women for victory, although she wasn't usually as strong as the Italian.
The result was another great day for the Netherlands as Van der Poel's victory in the men meant that the same two Dutch riders who won the Tour of Flanders last year triumphed again today.
Different groups of exceptional talent show why this is one of the best races of the year
One of the things that make Strade Bianche so special is that it appeals to every type of rider more than any other race on the calendar.
In the case of men, this was arguably more the case this year than in any previous edition, as a group of exceptional quality formed the decisive selection.
The classics Van der Poel, Alaphilippe and Van Aert were joined by the winners of the Tour de France, Tadej Pogacar (Team Emirates of the UAE) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) as well as the great youngsters Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Quinn Simmons (Trek -Segafredo). – plus 27-year-old Michael Gogl (Qhubeka-Asos), who needs to be recognized as a breakthrough talent to keep up with this crowd.
With an average age of just 24, it was also notable for his youth as Alaphilippe found himself in the new situation of being the senior statesman in the group.
The nature of women's racing being less specialized means we're more used to seeing groups of this quality figure out together, but even then the talent at the top of the race was a sight to see as the SD Worx riders came on from Van Vleuten, Borghini, Vos, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and, in front of an unfortunate mechanism, a very impressive Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal). The only bigger name missing (aside from the sprinters) was Lizzie Deignan, who didn't start after a cold.
SD Worx triumphs as Deceuninck – Quick-Step faltered
The first signs this spring were that SD Worx and Deceuninck – Quick-Step would once again be the dominant teams in the women's and men's peloton, while the former held another master class in Tuscany today, the latter surprisingly below average.
With Demi Vollering in sixth place, Van der Breggen in third and Van den Broek-Blaak's win, SD Worx drivers made up half of the top six and after selection they really counted their numerical advantage. While none of their rivers were necessarily the strongest in the race, together they were an unstoppable force and did a good job stopping attacks from other riders, particularly a very dangerous looking train from Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar).
There was no such cohesion in the chase when their driver, Van den Broek-Blaak, walked up the street with Borghini and allowed the duo to get free. Even then, the team had another card to play as Van den Broek-Blaak had the opportunity to cite their teammates in the group behind as an excuse not to take turns, forcing Borghini to do all the work in the run-up to promotion, just to overtake them in the sprint. It was a ruthless tactic, but a very effective one, in which she and the team took victory.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step would have hoped for a similar series of numbers to counter the threat from individuals like Van der Poel and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), but surprisingly they were missing at the end of the race. Davide Ballerini and João Almeida both suffered from mechanics on the dirt roads, which may partly explain why they were missing, but normally one would have expected Kasper Asgreen and Zdenek Štybar to be more involved.
This left Alaphilippe isolated in the leading group, and Ineos Grenadiers was more numerous than him with Tom Pidcock and Egan Bernal. Even Qhubeka-Assos and Alpecin Fenix had more drivers in the chase, which also had no Deceuninck – Quick-Step driver.
Nevertheless, Alaphilippe was able to win the race almost alone and only lost to the power of Van der Poel. It might have been a completely different race if he had had more teammates to help him out.
Monument or not, winning Strade Bianche is a big deal
As this becomes an annual phenomenon, this year's Strade Bianche was preceded by a debate about whether or not it should be considered the sixth monument.
While opinions remain divided and no consensus has been reached, one thing is certain that it is a race that riders will appreciate, as demonstrated by the competitive races and line-of-business celebrations.
"It is one of the races that I really wanted to win," said Van der Poel after taking the win, even though his blows in the air on reaching the finish line did not quite match the ecstasy with which he was confirming his Flanders Tour Hailed Last year's photo finish was still the celebration of a man who knows he has just achieved one of the best and greatest hits of his career.
Similarly, the hugs Van den Broek Blaak exchanged with her teammates at the finish line expressed strong emotions, and their own celebrations would undoubtedly have been more energetic had they not been so clearly exhausted.
As long as the drivers show up and run so hard, and as long as the dirt roads support the fun race, it doesn't matter what the official status of that race is.