Epic is an over used word in cycling, but Anna van der Breggen’s Strade Bianche victory was just that.
The Olympic champion battled through torrential, freezing rain, attacking alone with about 18 kilometres to ride, to win ahead of Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5).
If the deluge did not make the event notable enough, Van der Breggen’s dominant performance, winning by 49 seconds, despite the pair working behind her, made the race even more remarkable.
It was the seventh sector that made the difference, the 27-year-old biding her time until the incredibly steep, slick slopes to make her move, riding briefly with last year’s winner Longo Borghini, before dropping her and riding on alone.
After winning a mountain bike stage race in Cyprus last week, today was Van der Breggen’s first road race of the season, and the form she showed sends an ominous shot across the bows of her rivals.
The 136km race set out just as the rain set in causing a number of mechanicals in the bunch. In no time three riders attacked and went clear, building an advantage of a maximum of 1.15. After Myuko Haguwara (Alé-Cippolini) was dropped on the first of eight gravel sectors, Katia Ragusa (Bepink) and Swedish champion Sara Penton (Team Virtu) forged on alone.
The fourth gavel sector did for that pair, however and the peloton carried on as one until the fifth and longest sterrato sector of the day. The 9.5km section is largely up hill and it was there a very strong trio escaped.
World champion Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) former time trial world champion Ellen Van Dijk (Sunweb) and Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM) were only allowed a maximum of 50 seconds though as they toiled into a headwind.
A group of 30 were remaining in the peloton that caught them with just 20 kilometres left to the finish. It was then, after a brief hiatus, that Van der Breggen launched her race winning attack.
Her winning advantage of 49 seconds is testament to her strength, though she did not find the day easy.
“It was a crazy start to the season, but it was so special,” she said at the finish line. “I think it was one of the hardest races I ever did, but the team did great bringing hot tea and jackets.
“I don’t know if in a race like this you can have a plan. We tired to keep up there with as many riders as possible and keep as warm as possible. I had my rain jacket on until 25km to go and I never did that before.
“If you win a race like this it makes it memorable and I will remember this race for the rest of my life, so I am happy.”
Van der Breggen won the Women’s WorldTour last year and today’s result sees her don the series’ leader’s jersey once again. Whether she even races at next week’s event, the flat Ronde van Drenthe remains to be seen, however.
Strade Bianche 2018 (136km)
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, in 4-10-48
2. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon/Sram, at 49s
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High5, a 59s
4. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, at 1-32
5. Lucy Kennedy (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, st
6. Janneke Ensing (Ned) Ale Cipollini, at 1-37
7. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-41
8. Ashleigh Moolman (RSA) Cervélo-Bigla, at 2-25
9. Ellen Van Dijk (Ned) Sunweb, at 2-36
10. Cecile Uttrup Ludwig (Den) Cervélo-Bigla, at 2-50