Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) won the 2016 edition of Strade Bianche in Italy on Saturday, out-pacing fellow escapee and defending champion Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) on the tough final climb.
Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) placed third, with world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in fourth.
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Cancellara will now have a section of the race’s iconic white, gravel roads named after him in honour of his third victory in the race, having won in 2008 and 2012.
The forecast rain failed to materialise in any quantity despite heavy cloud cover, leaving the nine sectors of gravel roads – comprising 52.8km of the 176km total – dry and ensuring a fast-paced race.
After the start in Siena, the day’s escape group formed, made up of a strong quintet: Brambilla, Andriy Grivko (Astana), Brent Bookwalter (BMC), Maxime Monfort (Lotto-Soudal) and Salvatore Puccio (Sky).
Puccio suffered a badly-timed mechanical on Sainte Marie and his day in the escape was over. As he was dropped, Sky team-mate Lars Petter Nordhaug attacked from the chase group in an attempt to bridge to the remaining four up front, but he was swallowed back up.
With 35km to go the lead four held on to a slim, sub-one-minute margin as Sky and Astana riders set the pace of the chase group. The break continued to work well together in the blustery conditions and entered the undulating final 25km with a 45-second lead.
Brambilla attacked his companions with 22km to go on the penultimate gravel sector, and he was joined by Etixx-QuickStep team-mate Stybar, Cancellara and Sagan from the chase group. Despite being in the break for most of the day, Brambilla managed to stay with this trio of strongmen.
Behind, the chase group had been whittled down with pace being set by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). Sagan headed the lead group into the final gravel sector with its steep climb with 13 seconds on the chasers.
Inside the final 10km the co-operation of the four lead riders appeared to falter, with Cancellara gesticulating to the two Etixx riders to do some work. Shortly after, Brambilla answered with an attack, somehow finding energy in his legs and handing Stybar a ticket to sit on Sagan and Cancellara’s wheels.
The cohesion of the chase group seemed to fall apart, seemingly content to let the four riders in front fight it out for the victory. Brambilla hit the tough final climb solo but unsurprisingly could not fend off Cancellara and Stybar behind. Sagan, meanwhile, had faded and failed to catch Brambilla.
Cancellara and Stybar turned the final right-hand corner neck and neck, but Cancellara managed to put in a stronger sprint into the Piazza del Campo to take the victory in what is touted to be his final season.
Strade Bianche 2016: Siena to Siena, 176km
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek-Segafredo in 4-39-35
2. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx-QuickStep at same time
3. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx-QuickStep at 4 secs
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff at 13 secs
5. Petr Vakoc (Cze) Etixx-QuickStep at 34 secs
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 37 secs
7. Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida at 41 secs
8. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
9. Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Sky at same time
10. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 50 secs