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In a dramatic finale, Cancellara and Stybar passed Brambilla less than 200m from the line before the Swiss held off the Czech to win his third Strade Bianche; Brambilla completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti










05.03.2016 @ 16:32 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Fabian Cancellara (Trek) made history by becoming the first rider to win Strade Bianche three times when he came out on top in a hugely dramatic finale of the 10th edition of the race. With a powerful surge on the climb to the finish, he and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) passed Stybar’s teammate Gianluca Brambilla less than 200m from the finish and the Swiss managed to hold off the defending champion in the technical finale to take his second victory of the year. Brambilla completed the podium.


After his disastrous 2015 season, Fabian Cancellara has made it clear that he wants to end his professional career with a bang. He showed his intentions in January when he won the hardest race at the Challenge Mallorca and his motivation has been evident in the first races of the years.


His first big goal was today’s Strade Bianche, a race that has always been dear to his heart and which he was the only rider to have won twice before the 10th edition of the race. Reports from the Trek camp were that he was flying in the build-up to the race which offered him an opportunity to get a gravel sector named after him if he could become the first rider to take a third win.


Impressively, Cancellara managed to kick his classics campaign off in the best possible way as he did everything right in a very tricky finale where the odds were clearly against him. Despite being up against the Etixx-QuickStep pair of Gianluca Brambilla and Zdenek Stybar he managed to come away with the win and write his name even deeper into the short history of the new classic.


After a relatively slow start, the race had been less selective than usual when the riders hit the third last gravel sector with 23km to go. At that point, Brambilla was already in front as part of a front quartet that also included Andriy Grivko (Astana), Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal). They were chased by a relatively big group of 30-40 riders that was led by Michal Golas (Sky) and Andrey Amador (Movistar).


As they hit the steep gravel roads, the peloton exploded under the pressure applied by Giovanni Visconti (Movistar). The gap that had mostly been around 40 seconds, was quickly reduced to less than 20 seconds and this forced Brambilla to up the pace. Initially, Bookwalter could match him but as the American surrendered, the Italian emerged as the lone leader.


Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) made a short-lived attack but as they were back on the tarmac, he was back in the fold. Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) tried on a descent but it was a 20-rider group that emerged in pursuit of the lone Brambilla.


Daniel Oss and Bookwalter took over the pace-setting 15 seconds behind the leader until they hit the next gravel sector which was extremely steep. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) made an immediate attack and only Stybar could follow the world champion. Cancellara was in lone pursuit while Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Kwiatkowski led the first bigger group.


Sagan and Stybar caught Brambilla at the end of the gravel sector and Cancellara rejoined the group on the descent. Van Avermaet, Fuglsang and Kwiatkowski were their nearest chasers but as they sped down the descent, Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Oss and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) regained contact.


Brambilla sacrificed himself for Stybar and so the quartet managed to maintain a 15-second advantage. Meanwhile, Nibali, Bob Jungels, Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), McCarthy, Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) and Bookwalter rejoined the chasrs.


With 14km to go, Cancellara made a small attack but Stybar easily shut it down. The quartet started to cooperate while Nibali was sacrificing himself in the chase group for Fuglsang.


On the final gravel sector with 12km to go, Sagan tried to up the pace but the quartet was still together as they were back on the tarmac, leading the chasers by 13 seconds. Van Avermaet tried to bridge the gap on his own but was caught by Valverde, Benoot, Ulissi, Nordhaug, Fuglsang and Vakoc on the descent from the small climb. Kwiatkowski, Nibali, Bookwalter and Oss formed a group further back.


The chasers and front quartet all cooperated well and so the gap stayed around 15 seconds as they approached the finish in Siena. That changed when Brambilla made a first attack with 7km to go. Cancellara quickly joined him before Stybar and Sagan also regained contact.


Just one kilometre later, Brambilla went again and this time no one responded. He got an advantage of 5-10 seconds and this put Stybar in the perfect position as it was now up to Cancellara and Sagan to chase.


The gap stayed around 8 seconds as they approached the final 1km climb to the finish in Siena. As they started to climb, it was up to Cancellara to close the gap as Sagan was clearly on his limit.


Things were looking good for Brambilla who was still ahead as he reached the top of the steep section but his chances disappeared when Cancellara accelerated. Sagan was distanced but Stybar stayed with the Swiss.


Stybar was in a difficult position as he could not move ahead to close the gap to his teammate and when the pair sprinted past Brambilla less than 200m from the line, it was too late. At that point, they had crested the summit and had reached the very technical downhill section which made it impossible for the Czech to come around. He tried in the final turn but had no luck, meaning that Cancellara could easily cruise across the line to claim the win. Brambilla had to settle for third while Sagan was fourth. Vakoc made the chase group explode on the final climb and made it five Etixx-QuickStep riders in the top 5 by relegating Van Avermaet to sixth.


Many of the riders will be back in action tomorrow in the Italian one-day race GP Industria & Artigianato which is held on a hilly course around Larciano.


A tough course

The 10th edition of Strade Bianche was held on a 176km course in the hilly terrain around Siena. It included a total of 53km of gravel roads during the nine sectors that were spread throughout the course. It was up or down almost all day, with several short, steep climbs in the finale. The key sector was the Monte Saint Marie with 54km to go and from there, another three sectors remained. The final gravel section came 12km from the finish before the riders headed to the final 1km climb to the finish at the Piazza del Campo in Siena.


Only Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) was absent when the riders gathered in Siena under a dry but cloudy sky. However, rain started to fall as soon as they left the city.


Eight riders get clear

As usual, there were lots of attacks in the first part but the break was established relatively early. Marcin Mrozek (CCC), Jens Debusschere, Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal), Riccardo Stacchiotti (Nippo), Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo), Jesse Sergent (Ag2r), Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Androni) and Lorenzo Rota (Bardiani) escaped already after about 10km of aggressive riding.


The peloton let the lead grow rapidly, and it was already 2.30 at the start of the first gravel road sector. Here Sergent went down but he was soon back in the group which increased its lead to four minutes on the uneven roads.


Etixx-QuickStep split the field

In the second sector, Movistar took control and when they were back on the tarmac, they had ensured that the gap was still only 4.06. Trek lend them hand and they reduced it to 3.53 after 50 kilometers of racing.


The break hit the climb to Montalcino with a lead of 3:40 and here they hit a crosswind section. It had a major impact in the field where Etixx-Quick Step split the peloton into three groups. The first group consisted of about 50 riders and reduced the gap to 52 seconds at the beginning of the fourth sector. Here the second group was 1.42 behind the leaders.


Rota is dropped

The first group was whittled down to just 30 riders as the sector took its toll. Rota and Stacchiotti were dropped from the break but the latter managed to rejoin the group. As they exited the sector, Rota was already 40 seconds behind.


With 92km to go, Rota was brought back by the peloton which was 1.07 behind the leaders. They calmed down a bit and allowed the gap to go out to 1.30 where it was kept stable for a while.


A new break is formed

In the fifth sector, a crash that forced Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) to abandon, split the field. The incident split the group in two and BMC were riding hard in the first group that was 20 seconds ahead of the second bunch. The increased pace spelled the end for the break which was brought back with 79km to go.


As the peloton regrouped, new attacks were launched and Grivko, Ligthart, Bookwalter, Puccio and Brambilla managed to escape. Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) also joined the move but was distanced as they hit a tough climb on the gravel roads. He stayed around 20 seconds behind but was ultimately brought back.


Trek take control

Ligthart had bad luck to puncture out of the break but instead his teammate Monfort managed to bridge the gap. Hence, it was a five-rider group that ended the sector with a 45-second advantage over the 40-rider peloton that was led by Yaroslav Popovych and Kiel Reijnen (Trek).


As they approached the crucial sixth sector with 60km to go, the fight for position intensified and BMC, Trek and Etixx-QuickStep were battle hard for control. As a consequence, the gap was down to 35 seconds as they hit the gravel roads.


Bad luck for Puccio

Reijnen set the pace in the peloton which exploded. Oss took over for BMC and he kept the gap stable at around 30 seconds.


Puccio had bad luck to drop his chain and when he finally got back on his bike, he was already in the tail end of the peloton. That forced Sky to play a new card and Nordhaug launched an immediate attack from the exploding peloton.


Movistar and Sky lead the chase

Nordhaug stayed 40-45 seconds behind the leader who managed to increase their lead to 1.10 over the peloton which was now led by Amador for Movistar. Jan Bakelants and Jurgen Roelandts were among the many riders to get dropped but they managed to rejoin the group as they approached the tarmac.


Puccio had bad luck to puncture but he managed to rejoin the peloton which brought Nordhaug back with 43km to go. Meanwhile, Amador managed to reduce the gap to 40 seconds with 37km to go.


The gap went back out to 55 seconds and this forced Sky to react. Golas started to work with Amador and the pair kept the gap stable at around 40 seconds until the fight for position for the seventh sector started with 25km to go. Moments later, they hit the gravel road and here the dramatic finale started.



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