After an enthralling and gripping finish, Italian rider Elisa Longo-Borghini (Wiggle-High5) pulled off the first win of this year’s Women’s WorldTour at Strade Bianche on Saturday.
Part of a five woman group who went clear on the sixth gravel sector of the day, in the final metres she rode away from Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Energie) who bagged her second successive runner’s up place in the Italian classic.
Britain’s Lizzie Deignan (Boel-Dolmans), who won in Siena wearing the rainbow jersey 12 months ago, was third after appearing to suffer gear issues in the final metres.
The 127km race began in fast but controlled manner, with some riders being dropped on the first of eight gravel sectors for which the race is famed.
After, the fourth sector attacks began in earnest, stringing out the peloton.
However the fifth, and longest stretch of white road made the race. Over the 9.5km sector the top ranked teams applied the pressure and by the time they returned to tarmac a group of only 40 riders remained, leaving the rest of the field spread over the rain sodden Tuscan landscape.
Though they were present in the front, last year’s all-conquering Boels-Dolmans team were not one of those teams putting the pressure on, however.
Having begun with five riders after Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen withdrew with illness, and half way through the race, 2016 WorldTour winner Megan Guarnier abandoned, suffering the effects of a crash last week.
With 85km gone, a Floortje Mackaij (Team Sunweb), Lauren Stephens (Team Tibco-SVB) and Lara Vieceli (Astana Women’s Team) escaped and built a gap of around 1.25.
However their lead was controlled, and as the peloton entered the final 25km and approached the finish in Siena, the trio’s advantage began to tumble. The short but steep sector six, which was decisive last year, saw the gap close to 30 seconds with Vieceli dropped.
When the remaining two riders were caught on the seventh sector Deignan, Longo-Borghini and Niewiadoma (WM3 Energie) joined Katrin Garfoot and Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) building a lead nearing 30 seconds.
However as they returned to the streets of Siena they were passed by Australian Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb), who themselves opened a gap.
Despite their brave attempt, both were caught and dropped by the top three on the final climb into the city centre where Longo Borghini took victory.
Strade Bianche 2017 (127km)
1. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High5, in 3-44-45
2. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) WM3 Energie, at 2s
3. Lizzie Deignan (GBr) Boels-Dolmans, at 5s
4. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Sunweb, at 8s
5. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned) Orica-Scott, at 9s
6. Shara Gillow (Aus) FDJ, at 12s
7. Katrin Garfoot (Aus) Orica-Scott, at 18s
8. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Orica-Scott, at 36s
9. Cecilie Uttup Ludwig (Den) Cervélo-Bigla, at 1-06
10. Elena Cecchini (Ita) Canyon-SRAM, st