Strade Bianche: Alaphilippe pounces on final climb to take the win

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) timed his attack to perfection on the steep final climb into Siena to come around Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and extend his team’s run of wins to four from four.

Alaphilippe, Fuglsang, and Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) had gone clear on the third from last gravel sector of the race, distancing a powerful lead group. Van Aert was dropped from the trio and rode solo for nearly 20km, but staged a remarkable chase to regain contact with the lead pair in the final kilometers. However, he was outmaneuvered in the final battle on the race’s iconic Via Santa Caterina, finishing third.

“Strade Bianche was my first big goal of the year, and to win here, at my very first presence, is truly amazing”, said Alaphilippe.

In contrast to 2018’s freezing, muddy conditions, the Tuscan roads were dry and the skies were blue, with the iconic white roads ranging from loose and gravelly to hard packed and fast. The 184km course contained 11 sectors of sterrato, amounting to 60km of unpaved surface, many of which contained steep grades of up to 20 percent.

A break went away after 30km to go, with Alexandre Geniez and Nico Denz (both AG2R-La Mondiale), Diego Rosa (Sky), and Leo Vincent (Groupama-FDJ) going clear. However, as the race wore on, the group fractured, leaving just Rosa out front as the pace hotted up in the peloton in the second half of the race.

The first meaningful move was launched with 50km to go by Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team), drawing out a powerful group that included Tiesj Benoot, Tim Wellens (both Lotto-Soudal), Zdenek Stybar, Yves Lampaert (both Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Simon Clarke (EF-Education First), and Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo). The upping in pace led the group to soon catch lone-surviving breakaway man Rosa.

A second group on the road included big names such as Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), but they never looked to be gaining on the leaders.

The decisive move that pulled out the lead trio was initiated on a gravel sector with 25km to go, Fuglsang punching hard off the front. Van Aert was quick to jump on his wheel, and Alaphilippe followed soon after. The trio soon forged a significant gap, and efforts by Skujins and Clarke to bridge across soon withered.

The chase group failed to work well, with the Deceuninck pair of Lampaert and Stybar stifling the pace on behalf of teammate Alaphilippe, and Lotto-Soudal men Benoot and Wellens failing to launch a concerted effort to make the catch.

Fuglsang dominated the lead trio, while Van Aert looked fatigued, and was distanced on the penultimate section of gravel. The lead pair built a lead of around 30 seconds, with Van Aert holding the chase pack at around 1:30. Eventual winner Alaphilippe looked to be racing tactically, always taking his turns, but never doing more work than required, shutting down an attack from Fuglsang on the final sterrato sector.

As the lead pair approached the final 5km, it was evident neither wanted to work, Fuglsang wary of the Frenchman’s renowned kick and explosivity which would benefit him on the 16 percent grades of the final climb. Alaphilppe initiated the mind games, slowing to tighten his shoes and stretch his back.

The slowing of the pace allowed Van Aert to confidently work his way back to the pair, regaining contact with just 2km to go. The Belgian looked to be going straight over the top of the leaders, but Alaphilippe and Fuglsang held his wheel and allowed him to lead them into the base of the Via Santa Caterina.

As the slope steepened, Fuglsang attacked, but was unable to drop Alaphilippe, and sure enough, as the gradient eased around 200m to go, the Frenchman kicked hard. Fuglsang was unable to hold on, and Van Aert was left legless and unable to respond after his solo chase.

Alaphilippe came into the Piazza del Campo solo for his victory, with Fuglsang crossing the line two seconds later. Van Aert came third at 27 seconds. Alaphilippe’s win extended his team’s winning streak to four, after victories at Omloop, Kuurne, and Le Samyn.

“In every race, others are looking at us to take the responsibility, and that’s what we did today,” said Alaphilippe. “We were with three riders in the main selection, controlled every move and did a really smart race in all the key moments. When Fuglsang went, I knew that it might be the winning move. He was very strong today, but I made no mistakes and remained confident, although it wasn’t until the final corner that I believed I could win this race, in my opinion, one of the toughest of the calendar. It’s a wonderful victory, one which makes me extremely happy and boosts my confidence ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico.”

Last weekend’s Omloop winner, Stybar, led home the chase group to take fourth, one minute behind the leader, with 2018 winner Benoot in fifth. Van Avermaet took sixth.

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