It would be nice to ask Alexander Kolobnev if he was aware, on that dusty afternoon back in 2007, that he had just won a race that was about to become one of the most important in the world and by far one of the most spectacular and eagerly awaited of the year. The Strade Bianche was created in 2007 as Monte Paschi Eroica and, for the first time ever, it involved professional athletes, facing each other on the dirt roads of Tuscany, amidst walls and dust, in an experiment that intrigued both athletes and fans alike.
That first edition was held in October, a few days after the World Championships in Stuttgart won by Paolo Bettini. The world champion had decided to skip this brand-new race, but he was nonetheless covering the event from an organisation car, and after the finish he did not hesitate to describe it as “spectacular and unique with all that dust”. However, Alexander Kolobnev, who had taken home the silver medal in Stuttgart and was reported to be in great form, was ready to put on a show. The favourites, however, were those riders who were usually strong on the cobbles, most notably Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), winner of the Tour of Flanders, and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), who had won the Het Volk. The general level was not yet what we would admire a few years later, only 14 teams were present, many of them Italian teams of a lower category.
With 60 kilometres of “white roads” out of 180, it was hard to imagine what the plot of the race would have been like, so the captains sent a few of their squires ahead on a breakaway. Among them was CSC’s Kolobnev, whose initial intentions were to keep the Schleck brothers covered in the peloton. With him were team-mate Marcus Ljungqvist, Eros Capecchi (Liquigas), José Alberto Benitez and Manuele Mori (Saunier Duval-Prodir), José Enrique Gutierrez (Team LPR), Jure Golcer, Giairo Ermeti (Tenax-Salmilano), Ricardo Serrano (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Mikhaylo Khalilov and Manuele Spadi (Ceramica Flaminia).
As no team in the bunch took it upon themselves to lead the chase, the breakaway gained six minutes, soon realising that they would be the ones competing for victory in the historic first edition of the Strade Bianche. Kolobnev broke away with 20 km to go on the penultimate stretch of gravel road, waving goodbye to the company and heading off alone towards Siena and Piazza del Campo, a square which, in the upcoming years, would also cheer Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert, Julian Alaphilippe, Wout Van Aert, Mathieu Van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar, to name but a few.
Back in the peloton, Pozzato and Ballan’s attempts to catch up were to no avail, nor was Gilberto Simoni’s (Saunier Duval) attempt to make the race tough. Ljungqvist finished second, completing a splendid one-two for CSC as Khalilov completed the podium. “This area is really beautiful, with a lot of olive groves around it,” Kolobnev said after the win. “It’s a pity that because of the dust I couldn’t see further than 30 metres.”