Belgium’s Tiesj Benoot of Lotto Soudal claimed the first victory of his career aged 23, three years after he took fifth place at the Tour of Flanders on his pro debut. He won the Strade Bianche in a solo effort after leaving breakaway riders Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems – Crelan) behind. It was also a breakthrough result for the career of Van Aert, the triple cyclocross World Champion, who proved how well he can perform in the Spring classics, too.
STRADE BIANCHE FINAL RESULT
1 – Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) 184 km in 5h03’33”, average speed 36.369km/h
2 – Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) at 39”
3 – Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems – Crelan) at 58”
Olympic Champion Anna Van der Breggen (Boels Dolman Cycling Team) became the fourth winner of the women’s Strade Bianche ahead of Katarzyna Niewadoma (Canyon // SRAM Cycling), who came second for the third straight time, and 2017’s victor Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) who took third place this year. Van der Breggen took victory after making a solo move with 15km to go.
STRADE BIANCHE NAMEDSPORT> WOMEN ELITE FINAL RESULT
1 – Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans Cycling Team) 136km in 4h10’48”, average speed 32.536km/h
2 – Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon // SRAM Cycling) at 49”
3 – Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) at 59”
The winner of Strade Bianche, Tiesj Benoot, said in the press conference: “I was feeling very good behind Van Aert and Bardet and I knew there was a nice gravelled section coming up. It was pretty funny that my DS told me to go when I had already decided to do it! When [Pieter] Serry pulled, the speed went slower a bit and I remembered two years ago the decisive split was made on colle Pinzuto [with 19.4km to go]. When I bridged the gap, I knew I was the strongest as otherwise I wouldn’t have closed 30’’. Once alone, I had a nice gap, it was a case of keeping going, no crashing, no punctures… I’m delighted that my first pro victory happened at the Strade Bianche – it’s one of the nicest classics. On my first time here, I was 8th, and I Tweeted that I’d come back for more. I also came here on holiday with my girlfriend; having an ice cream on the piazza del Campo, I got less attention than today! I’m proud I’ve won but to feel like a hero is too much to say.”
Second placed Romain Bardet, said: “This was my first experience of the classics other than Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Amstel Gold Race. This winter, I told the team I wanted to race them all, including the Flemish classics on the cobbles, but I was told that I first had to do the Strade Bianche. This is really the kind of cycling I enjoy. Racing at the front is my favourite way of doing my job but here, anything can happen. We have to never give up. In the end, the strongest guys make the front part of the race. [Tiejs] Benoot was for sure the strongest today. I went at my own pace. I had a mechanical issue on the most difficult gravel road section and it was hard for me to recover from this. But I managed to go away and we did a great job with Van Aert to maintain a fast pace. I really enjoyed this race. After such a first experience, for sure I want to come back and win!”
Third placed Wout Van Aert, said: “I was a lot closer to the win than I thought but I suffered in the last part of the race. I guess I made a good move with Romain Bardet – it was far from the finish line – but in the last 50km I ran out of sugar. I was completely dead. I had only the podium on my mind so I’m happy that I succeeded in that. Especially for the coming years, this is a great start to my Spring classics career. I didn’t expect to achieve such good performances on the road and I first have to enjoy this podium at the highest level of cycling. My goal is already achieved with this third place. It’s already super. Anything else in the coming classics this year will be something extra and I’ll come back to the Strade Bianche for more in the future.”
Anna van der Breggen, winner of Strade Bianche Women Elite, said in the Press Conference: “It was a really strange race today. At the beginning, we all knew it was going to be quite a long day – and then it got colder and colder. After the fourth dirt section, there was some tarmac and we all got very cold. The main thing was to try and keep warm – the hot tea I was given helped tremendously! You know when the finale starts, it gets better but you can’t use your hands anymore to grab food in the pockets and, in the downhills, you get mud and wind in your face! But I still felt quite good in the end, although we all could feel it was tougher than normal. The dirt was very sticky, so I felt it was better to attack in the steep climbs. I actually felt better alone. I looked back in a downhill, I saw a gap, it was early but Megan [Guarnier] was still in my group and Chantal [Blaak] was a good backup plan. I’ve won a lot of races but cycling isn’t only about winning. If I win it’s great, but if not, we will still have done great things. It’s wonderful to start the season with an epic race like this; I have a lot left, not only in winning but also for having fun racing. I also had a new bike today and I enjoyed how beautiful to ride it was. I have never rode a race like today’s. It’s truly a race on its own: this is the only one with dirt roads, uphills and downhills. I don’t know if I should make a list of wins but it’s absolutely one that will remain in my memory.”
Second placed Katarzyna Niewadoma said: “It looks like I’ll always come second in the Strade Bianche. It was an extremely tough race and I have a huge appreciation for all the riders who finished it. There aren’t enough words to describe everything that was happening on the roads today and, to be honest, I’m very happy to be on the podium. My family is here. There were on the road cheering for me. Both Anna [Van der Breggen] and Elisa [Longo Borghini] are amazing – I’m delighted to accompany them on the podium.”
Third placed Elisa Longo Borghini said: “It was an epic day for me. I had a puncture, my team car was last in the convoy and I couldn’t find anyone to change my wheel until one of my team-mates came so I had to chase back to the peloton. In the end I was alright but it’s never nice to have a mechanical during the race. I couldn’t stay with Anna till the end though because something got stuck into my wheel. When you lose her slipstream, you never come back! She’s so strong. I wasn’t surprised – it’s just her way of riding. It’s amazing.”
TOMORROW – THE GRAN FONDO
On Sunday, over the very same course as the women’s pro race the previous day, the Gran Fondo will see 5,000 sportive riders taking on the Strade Bianche of the Terre di Siena.