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Dante, Michelangelo… Van Der Poel

06/03/2021

The fifteenth Strade Bianche started with an early escape group stealing away. Gratifying, it included Simone Petilli (IWG): a talented neo-pro, Petilli suffered a terrible fall at the end of the 2017 Il Lombardia which took him out until the 2018 Vuelta, when he fell again. He dropped down to Pro Continental level with Wanty – Gobert in 2020 on a 2 year contract, and he is riding against the clock to prove himself. Morning breaks are made for such riders.

With 50 km to go, a group of eight leaders emerged. And what a group they were: the reigning Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo champion (not to say three-time cyclocross world champion) Wout Van Aert (TJV); his great rival – crowned cyclocross world champion for the fourth time on 30 January – Mathieu Van Der Poel (AFC); the current road World Champion Julian Alaphilippe; the last two Tour de France champions Tadej Pogačar (UAD) and Egan Bernal (IGD); the extraordinary 21 year old Tom Pidcock, already competing with Van Der Poel and Van Aert in cyclocross and with junior world cyclocross and time trial titles in the baag; the 19 year old Quinn Simmons (TFS), the junior world road race champion in 2019, and a glorious interloper in Qhubeka-Assos’s Austrian Michael Gogl. 

A puncture for Simmons took him out of the group. A later crash (with Gianni Vermeersch) nearly took him out of the race. He crossed the line only 57th.

Meanwhile, an unexplained issue for Wout Van Aert and Tom Pidcock left them chasing the leading five on the Colle Pinzuto. It was too good an opportunity for the leaders to miss, and all took turns to make the chase back as hard as possible. 

On the 18% gradients of Le Tolfe, Van Der Poel posted a stunning acceleration. Alaphilippe gave chase, while Tadej Pogačar was the first to drop back. The Frenchman quickly made it across to Van Der Poel’s wheel, Egan Bernal took a little longer. Van Aert, Pogačar, Pidock and Gogl, held the trio at 15 seconds, but never closed as they approached the final, Santa Caterina climb. 

With hindsight, the remarkable thing is that there was some doubt over the final outcome. Van Der Poel’s sprint on the Via Santa Caterina was unanswerable. Dante’s race (the Divine Comedy mentions villages, battlefields and rivers on the stage route), on Michaelangelo’s birthday? How entirely appropriate. 

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