Tom Pidcock won Strade Bianche with a bold long-range attack on Saturday afternoon to become the first British man to win the Italian race.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider first went clear from the peloton on the Monte Sante Marie gravel sector about 50km from the finish, and, after dropping his breakaway companion Sven Erik Bystrøm (Intermarché - Circus - Wanty), rode the final 23km alone to take victory.
Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) outsprinted Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) behind to take second and third respectively, from a small chasing group that failed to work well enough together to make the catch.
Pidcock marked a move made from Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) and Andrea Bagioli (Soudal-QuickStep) on the Monte Sante Marie, and went clear from them on a downhill stretch,
Having got a gap, he never looked back.
“It’s going to take some sinking in,” he said at the finish. “When I went, that was completely not the plan. Obviously that sector is usually the decisive place, so I was just riding hard. I got a gap on the descent and I just carried on.”
The win ranks along with his previous triumphs at the Cyclocross world championships title, Olympic mountain biking gold and stage victory atop Alpe d’Huez at the Tour de France as the biggest of his career.
“Honestly, this week, I had a good feeling, I knew something good was going to happen today. I kind of knew that today was going to be my day. That it actually paid off is pretty incredible. I don’t know what to think right now.
Behind Pidcock a chase group featuring Madouas, Benoot, Attila Valter (Jumbo-Visma), Rui Costa (Intermarché - Circus - Wanty), Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) failed to get organised, with apparent tension between the two Jumbo-Visma riders. At one point Valter bridged a gap that Benoot opened up with a few riders, and brought a couple of other riders with him, something Benoot showed visible annoyance with via a gesture with his arm.
“A few times they came close,” said Pidcock about the chase, which at one moment came within ten seconds of him. “I thought: I’ve messed it up, I’ve gone too early, I’ve wasted my shot. But the thing is in races like this, the day was so fast all day, I thought that if I could get a gap and keep going, then it’s hard to bring back. In a lot of races recently there’s been a lot of motorbikes in front of the guys in front, but today I didn’t have many motorbikes! I was hoping for a few more.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sven Erik Bystrøm (Intermarché - Circus - Wanty), Alessandro De Marchi (Jayco AlUla) and Iván Romeo (Movistar) broke clear at the start of a sunny day in Tuscany to form the day’s break.
Erik Fetter (EOLO-Kometa) attempted to join then, but found himself in no-man’s land between them and the bunch before eventually being reabsorbed
There were no early attacks from favourites, but, as ever at Strade Bianche, there were plenty of riders caught out in crashes and punctures, including Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) in an incident 70km from the finish.
Two became three at the front of the race when Romeo was dropped by Bystrøm and De Marchi on the Monte Sante Marie gravel sector, 53km from the finish.
The first real attacks from the peloton came on the same sector, when Alberto Bettiol, Andrea Bagioli and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) went clear.
Pidcock then broke away from the other two later on the Monte Sante Marie, and built a lead of about one minute over a peloton now reduced to only about 20 riders, also featuring Bettiol and Bagioloi, who were reabsorbed back into it.
Pidcock joined up to Bystrøm and De Marchi before the sector was done, 42km from the finish.
Just as this catch was being made up ahead, pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) produced an explosive attack from the reduced peloton, but was unable to go clear.
Adreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny) was more successful with his attack shortly after (40km from the finish), and went clear with Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious).
A crash saw Bettiol and Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) taken out of contention, and the chasing peloton split into two groups, with an out-of-sorts Van der Poel was caught in the trailing group.
The front part of this split peloton, featuring Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ), Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Tiesj Benoot, Attila Valter (both Jumbo-Visma), Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) joined up to Kron, Madouas and Bilbao 30km from the finish, forming a strong chasing group.
Bystrøm was also imminently caught by this group, but De Marchi managed to rejoin Pidcock, and the pair held a 30 second lead over the chasers. But Pidcock went clear again over the next gravel sector, Monteaperti, 23km from the finish.
Benoot attacked out of the chasing group just after the Monteaperti, bringing Rui Costa and Madouas with him.
Benoot’s teammate Valter then attacked on the next gravel sector, Colle Pinzuto, and bridged up to the trio, brining Mohoric and Simmons with him — much to Benoot’s frustration, as made clear by an annoyed gesture from his arm when the catch was about to be made 18km from the finish.
On the last gravel sector of the race, Le Tolfe, first Mohoric and then Valter attacked off the front, but the others (bar Simmonds, who was dropped) managed to dig deep and rejoin.
With 10km to go, Pidcock’s lead over this chasing quintet was now just a fragile handful of seconds. But while they continued to attack each other, and failed to work cohesively, he was able to grow his advantage back out again prior to the final climb to Piazza del Campo.
By the time he reached the final climb his lead was still comfortable, and he finished with a winning margin of 20 seconds ahead of Madouas.
1. Tom Pidcock (GBR) Ineos Grenadiers, in 4-31-41
2. Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 20s
3. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Jumbo-Visma at 22s
4. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates at 23s
5. Attila Valter (Hun) Jumbo-Visma at same time
6. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain-Victorious at 34s
7. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Bahrain-Victorious at 1-04
8. Romain Grégoire (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 1-18
9. Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates at 1-23
10. Andreas Kron (Den) Lotto Dstny at 1-35
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