Tag Archives: Strade Bianche

Strade Bianche was a race made for Cancellara to win

The Strade Bianche is a beautiful race. Long camera shots of rolling Italian hillsides show a peloton meandering its way through the Tuscan countryside with dust kicking up from the narrow gravel roads they traverse at a furious pace. It’s a single day classic, but not in the conventional sense with cobbles or Belgian bergs or Muurs, or history — it only began in 2007 — and it doesn’t have monumental status, though you can’t help but think with an extra 50km onto its distance and 50 years to breathe, it would be all but worthy. But it’s a race that is popular among the viewers and the riders who will hope to contest and win those conventional single day cobbled classics in the weeks ahead.

It comes with a magical finish up into the town of Siena, a punishing steep little climb that stretches the exhausting leg to breaking point after a day of little climbs. And today was no different. It’s the kind of race made for a man like Fabian Cancellara; powering along those dusty dirt roads and grinding up over those tight Tuscan hills. No wonder then that he has won it twice before in 2008 and 2012, and no wonder then that he won it again on Saturday. One on the short list that he would badly have wanted as part of his retirement tour of 2016. A shortlist that contains names like the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, another stage at the Tour de France, and even the World Championships.

Yes, it’s almost as though the events founders sat down in 2007 and decided to build a race for a young Fabian, something absolutely fitting to his talents that he could win a bunch of times. There must have been shock 9 years ago when Alexandr Kolobnev, and not Cancellara, won the first edition. Then again, back then Fabian had only one monument win to his name, his career as a single day great still to be carved out. Now, with retirement on the horizon and one last kick at the Monuments can lying in wait, he’s got a 33% win record at Strade Bianche. Indeed, the race organisors announced pre-race that should he win a third time they would name a dirt sector after him. His three fingered salute as he crossed the line only served as a reminder to them of their promise.

But this only tells the story of the result. Cancellara may have won in an epic final climb duel with reigning champion Zdenek Štybar, but it was a gripping race to even get to that point. An early break that had contained the Italian, Gianluca Brambilla, had been reeled in when Peter Sagan began to make noise on one of the later climbs of the day, yet Brambilla had been able to stay with that surge and soon the race had been broken into three clear groups.

At the front, the contenders: Sagan, Cancellara, Brambilla and his Etixx team-mate, Stybar; Behind, the pretenders: 10-12 men desperate to bring back a move that with every pedal stroke, was looking more and more like the winning one that they had missed; and finally, the rest: Everyone else who had been washed away, unable to hack the Sagan surge.

It seemed finely poised for Etixx, though we thought that at last years Omloop too when Ian Stannard looked dead in the water against three Etixx classic specialists. This time however they played their tactics right: Brambilla, the more exhausted of the two, went on the attack in the hope that one of Sagan or Cancellara would bring him back leaving the door open for a rested Stybar to make the winning move. The only problem was that Cancellara played his tactics right also. He recognised that Brambilla would tire quickly and so there wasn’t the need to pull Stybar across to him. He took his turn at the front but he kept it composed and he let Brambilla dangle. It was a supreme effort by the Italian, but it always seemed it would be in vain come the vicious final ramp up into Siena.

Brambilla lasted a fair while, into the final few hundred metres in fact, but when Cancellara and Stybar both kicked, his lead collapsed as Sagan too went out the back. The dueling pair of Cancellara and Stybar blew past the broken Italian and through the final corners shoulder to shoulder, all but touching. Cancellara got the right line as a man of his experience is apt to do and he got in front when it mattered, and on those narrow streets of Siena, Stybar stood no chance of getting past again as they swept down the final 50 metres to the line.

It was perfectly played by Cancellara in response to the Etixx tactic, perfectly timed to reel in Brambilla, and perfectly positioned to overpower Stybar and get position to win. A fitting win for a man headed out. Who knows what sector they will eventually decide to name after him though making it that final climb into Siena or even the final corner at the top of the climb, might be an idea instead!

Strade Bianche result:

1. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory)

2. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick Step)

3. Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx – Quick Step)

4. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

5. Petr Vakoc (Etixx – Quick Step)

6. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)

in 4h 39′ 35″

s.t.

@ 4″

@ 13″

@ 34″

@ 37″

Two of cycling’s biggest young stars duel at Strade Bianche

Ask almost any cycling fan who the biggest young talent is in the sport today and you’re likely to hear the name Peter Sagan. The young Slovak and his charasmatic style has entertained and thrilled us all over the last couple of years and big things are expected of him in 2013. But for all his talent there may be someone else of the same age who could go even further. He’s Polish national champion, Michal Kwiatkowski.

Each year it seems a young cyclist bursts onto the scene winning several years, showing a huge talent for success and as a result is designated the title of being the next Eddy Merckx. The pressure is put on and despite many going on to forge brilliant careers, nobody has lived up to such a moniker.

In 2013 at the age of just 23, Sagan won his second green jersey at the Tour de France to go with 21 victories on the year including wins at Gent–Wevelgem and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal. His second place results at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders only hinted at his bright future. Some even felt that on top of winning the big classics, he could one day win a Grand Tour. The pressure was heaped on. Now, that isn’t to say it has gotten to Sagan … quite the opposite for the he has done nothing but perform well in the majority of races he has been expect to shine in. It’s just that now it might be Kwiatkowski’s turn to come under that microscope of expectation. And on the weekend we got to see them both go head to head at the Strade Bianche.

A great situation for the fans, but it wasn’t the more widely known talent of Sagan who prevalied, but rather the Pole who burst clear of Sagan on the final climb after being the only one who could follow the Slovak’s attack with 21km to go. Looking at times far more comfortable than Sagan, he rode easily away when he made that move and when Sagan realised he couldn’t follow, he sat up to finish 19 seconds behind.

Sagan clearly wasn’t on his usual form, and admitted as much himself afterwards, and this is still early spring and it was only the Strade Biache, with all due respect, but on the other hand, this wasn’t the first signs of talent we have seen from the 23 year old Kwiatkowski either. Last year he broke through at none other than the Tour de France itself finishing 10th overall while getting in on the mix for the bunch sprints, hanging tough in the mountains, and finishing high up in the time-trials. If that didn’t completely sell his talent to those looking for potential winners in 2014 then this years superb start with an overall win at the Volta ao Algarve, as well as two stage wins (including an individual time-trial), and victory at Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, before this result over Sagan at the weekend can only have helped.

Now he’s being talked up as the favorite to win next weeks Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in which a number of Grand Tour favorites will be on hand. And I’m even going to go out on a limb and tip him for one of the Monument classics this year.

One thing that will see the hype-o-metre going into overdrive in Kwiatkowski’s case is that 10th place finish in last years Tour (second in the young rider competition) and his featuring near the front in the mountains. Unlike Sagan, Kwiatkowski is already built for success in Grand Tours and how long before another couple of big results leads to some speculating when and not if he will one day win a Giro, Tour or Vuelta?

The big wonder is whether he can win classics and also win a Grand Tour or whether he will face the cross-roads like so many before him to decide what kind of specialist he will become.

It’s not fun tempering expectations, and then again, with this kind of a start to a season to go with last years Tour, why should we. Let’s not go throwing out the ‘Next Eddy Merckx’ title though. Let’s enjoy watching a young talent like Kawiatkowski’s — and Sagan’s for that matter, which in itself is still very much on for big wins in 2014 — and see where they takes us.

Cycling is in good hands if these two are the ones setting the standard of what’s to come. Strade Bianche was, perhaps, a glimpse into the future.