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The Pole escapes with the pre-race favourite and the duo work s well together to stay clear; in the end, Kwiatkowski drops Sagan on the climb to the finish while Valverde takes third

Photo: OPQS / Tim de Waele

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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MICHAL KWIATKOWSKI

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PETER SAGAN

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SOUDAL - QUICK STEP

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STRADE BIANCHE

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08.03.2014 @ 16:39 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) continued what has been a truly amazing 2014 season when he beat big favourite Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in today's Italian classic Strade Bianche. The duo rode away from everyone else on a gravel section and worked well together to stay clear before Kwiatkowski emerged as the strongest on the final climb to the finish on the Piazza del Campo in Siena.

 

With a win on Mallorca and a dominant victory in the Volta ao Algarve, Michal Kwiatkowski has had an amazing start to the season but the real sign that he has now entered the cycling elite came at today's Italian one-day classic Strade Bianche when the Pole beat some of the best races in the world to take a beautiful solo win. In the end, he dropped no less of a figure than Peter Sagan who had to be content with second for the second year in a row.

 

The duo had combined forces with 21km to go when Peter Sagan had launched a surprise attack just as the race favourites had caught a 6-rider breakaway containing some very dangerous riders. Kwiatkowski was quick to respond to the acceleration and from there they started a seamless cooperation.

 

In just a few kilometres, they had built up a gap of more than 30 seconds over a group that contained most of the other pre-race favourites. The gap kept growing and had reached a massive 1.20 when they hit the final gravel sector 11km from the finish despite the combined efforts of Giant-Shimano, Sky, Movistar, and Lampre chasing hard.

 

Alejandro Valverde attacked on his own on the final piece of gravel roads and was joined by Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) after a lonely chase chase. The quartet worked perfectly together but despite their hard effort, they failed to make much inroads on the front duo.

 

Sagan and Kwiatkowski were both comfortable in their sprint abilities on the steep climb to the finish on the Piazza del Campo and the first to strike on the slopes was Sagan who made an acceleration halfway up the ascent. However, Kwiatkowski made an immediate counterattack and quickly out daylight between himself and his Slovakian rival.

 

Sagan admitted defeat immediately and from there Kwiatkowski could solo to a beautiful win in the Italian classic. Sagan rolled across 19 seconds later to take second while Valverde made an acceleration on the final climb to take a comfortable 3rd.

 

Most of the riders will be back in action tomorrow when the Roma Maxima continues the weekend of Italian one-day races. The race has some hard climbing but is expected to come down to a reduced bunch sprint, meaning that new riders will come to the fore.

 

Famous gravel sectors

The 200km Strade Bianche took the riders on a beautiful ride from San Gemigniano to Siena. The rolling roads had several short, steep climbs and very few flat metres and contained no less than 10 of the famous gravel sectors that characterize the race. The final of those was located 11km from the finish and the race ended with the tough climb to the finish on Piazza del Campo in Siena.

 

Team tactics always play a crucial role in this kind of races as it is important for the major teams to either have riders up the road or make sure that none of their main rivals have any. Hence, the race was off to a very fast start as several riders tried to get clear.

 

Frattini and Pagani are aggressive

Davide Frattini (UnitedHealthCare) was the first to try but the Italian had no luck and was quickly brought back. Instead, Angelo Pagani (Bardiani) opened up a promising gap and he was joined by Nicola Testi (Androni). Again, the peloton was in no mood to let them get clear and their move was neutralized.

 

A little later, Matteo Di Serafino (Androni), Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthCare), Niccolo Bonifazio (Lampre-Merida), and Pablo Colonna (Bardiani) got clear but that move was similarly ill-fated. The riders had now reached the first gravel sector and it was on the dusty roads that the right break was finally established.

 

The break is formed

The move was initiated by Marco Frapporti (Androni) and he was quickly joined by Frattini and Pagani who had both been active earlier on. Matteo Fedi (YellowFluo) also bridged across and the peloton now took a break to allow the gap to grow very quickly.

 

The advantage reached a massive 11.20 while Movistar was the first team to set a modest pace on the front of the peloton, the Spanish team being keen to deliver Alejandro Valverde to another win. However, it wasn't until Cannondale came to the fore that the gap really started to come down.

 

Fedi chases back

Fedi had an unfortunate mechanical and as his companions didn't wait for him, he spent a long time on his own, trying to get back to the break. He manged to rejoin the break but the effort surely cost him a lot of energy.

 

Cannondale brought the gap down to around 7 minutes where they kept it rather stable. With 70km to go, they started to accelerate again as the battle for position started, with BMC and Sky both being very prominent near the front.

 

Bodnar does the work

The gap was down to 4.20 when 67km remained as Maciej Bodnar was doing the hard work for Cannondale. The race was marred by a lot of punctures, with Kwiatkowski and Tobias Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano)  some of the riders to be unlucky.

 

With 66km to go, Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka) attacked and he was joined by Christopher Juul-Jensen (Tinkoff-Saxo). More attacks were launched from the peloton, with a NetApp, a Trek and another MTN rider bridging across. However, Sky were quick to react and shut it down immediately.

 

Eisel leads the peloton

The pace was now fierce as the riders approached the only gravel sector with a 5-star rating. Sky was riding hard on the front with Bernhard Eisel doing an awful lot of work while all the teams battled for position.

 

With the gap down to 2.30, the riders hit the feared sector and it was Eisel who set the pace from the start. As riders started to fall off, Tinkoff-Saxo took over on the front, with Daniele Bennati and Juul-Jensen both taking some huge turns.

 

The peloton splinters to pieces

Their fierce pace caused the peloton to split into several groups as only around 20 riders remained in the front selection. Meanwhile, Pagani took off on his own while Frapporti tried to bridge across on his own.

 

Luca Paolini (Katusha) got his race ruined when he suffered an untimely puncture and despite receiving a wheel from Rudiger Selig, his race was over. Pagani was unfortunate to crash but he was quickly back on his bike and continued to motor ahead.

 

Rosa bridges across

Another crash brought down Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) and Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) as Diego Rosa (Androni) set off in pursuit of Pagani. The three chasers had all been caught and after a little while, Rosa had closed the 20-second gap to the leader.

 

He continued straight past but moments later he found himself on the ground after crashing on a descent. He needed a new wheel and as the car was far behind, his race was over.

 

Stannard shows his cards

Pagani was now back in the lead while Juul-Jensen, Cadel Evans (BMC) and Matteo Trentin (OPQS) attacked. Valverde bridged across while Bennati, Ian Stannard (Sky), and another Michal Golas (OPQS) also made the junction.

 

Stannard set a fierce pace and the group quickly caught Pagani. Kwiatkowski, Sagan, and Cancellara also joined from behind.

 

OPQS have numbers

With three OPQS riders in the group, Golas and Trentin rode hard on the front as they exited the gravel sector. Nonetheless, they were caught by a second group to form a front group with most of the big favourites.

 

The group consisted of Sagan, Pellizotti, Evans, Ulissi, Cunego, Valverde, Golas, Trentin, Kwiatkowski, Uran, Poels, Barguil, Dumoulin, Geschke, Preidler, Vicioso, Stannard, Puccio, Kreuziger, Juul, Bennati, Cancellara, and Amador, meaning that OPQS had five riders in the move. Uran and Golas swapped turns on the front while a second group was chasing hard a little further behind.

 

The chasers lose ground

Despite the hard work from Tanel Kangert (Astana) and a Colombia rider, that group kept losing time and when it grew to 40 seconds, it was clear that they wouldn't come back.

 

With 28km to go, OPQS sent their first rider up the road as Trentin took off. He quickly got a big gap while Evans, Stannard, Amador, Geschke. and Vicioso took off in pursuit.

 

Tinkoff lead the chase

Tinkoff-Saxo had missed the move and started to chase with Juul-Jensen while the five chasers caught Trentin just as they hit the 8th gravel sector. Kreuziger and Valverde attacked from behind and together with Cancellara, Kwiatkowski, and Sagan, they bridged across.

 

Sagan continued straight past the group and the only rider who reacted was Kwiatkowski. As more riders joined the chase group from behind, the front duo started to work well together and quickly had a 30-second gap.

 

Giant try to get back

Giant-Shimano still had several riders in the chase group and now started to chase. They got some assistance from Salvatore Puccio (Sky), Amador, and Cunego but they kept losing time.

 

When the riders hit the final gravel sector 12km from the finish, the gap was 1.20. Valverde attacked hard on a climb and quickly brought his deficit down to a minute.

 

Valverde fails to close the gap

Kreuziger, Cancellara, and Cunego made up a second group of chasers while Poels, Evans, and Barguil followed a little further behind. Despite Valverde's best efforts, the gap remained stable around a minute and he finally decided to wait for his chasers.

 

The four riders worked well together and they gradually brought down the gap. When Sagan and Kwiatkowski reached the final climb with 1.5km to go, however, they were still 40 seconds ahead and the game of cat-and-mouse could start.

 

Sagan makes his attack

Sagan led all the way up the climb until he made a fierce acceleration at the midpoint. Kwiatkowski appeared to be at ease when he responded, and as soon as Sagan stopped his effort, he made an impressive counterattack. Sagan had no response and so Kwiatkowski easily rode away to take a big solo win.

 

Valverde made a late attack on the climb to take third ahead of Cunego and Kreuziger while Cancellara fell off the pace and had to settle for 6th. Evans had dropped Barguil and Poels and took 7th.

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