Annemiek van Vleuten continued her incredible winning streak, taking a remarkable victory at a breathless Strade Bianche 2020 on Saturday.
The world champion caught solo leader Mavi Garcia (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) inside the closing six kilometres, before putting seconds into the Spanish rider.
With 25km to go the race had been all but lost for the Dutch Mitchelton-Scott rider, but she bridged a gap approaching five minutes from the peloton on the steep, penultimate gravel sector, passing a chase group and closing in on the leader.
Garcia was able to sit on the world champion’s wheel until the steepest section of the final climb of Via Santa Caterina, into the centre of the Tuscan city of Siena, but was finally dropped, the Dutch woman becoming the first woman to win the race twice since its inception in 2015.
Van Vleuten has won every race she started since winning the world championships in Yorkshire last September, Saturday’s success taking her to six consecutive victories.
How it happened
With coronavirus causing its suspension after only one race, the 2020 Women's WorldTour resumed with Strade Bianche on Saturday, 123 women rolling out for the 136km event which included eight gravel sectors.
Taking place in summer and not the regular early March spot of the preceding five editions, the race was run in blistering sun, temperatures in the high 30s celsius.
Despite the conditions, two hardy souls made an early bid for glory, Melissa van Neck (BePink) and Giorgia Vettorello (TopGirls Fassa Bortolo) attacking just 10km after the start in Siena.
The pair soon built a lead of 50 seconds, but by the time they reached the first gravel sector they were caught as the bunch prepared for the tough sector two, which climbs steeply to Ville di Corsano.
As the sector began Canyon-SRAM's Israeli road champion Omer Shapira escaped solo, building a lead of 30 seconds, as behind her the road surface, gradient and heat combined to stretch the peloton with a number of riders being dropped.
However, the race was entering a period of wax and wane, and Shapira fell victim of one of many increases in speed and was caught on the third sector, just six kilometres later. On this sector the bunch split briefly before reforming the race entering a period of relative calm.
The steep and exposed gradients of sector five saw the bunch explode leaving many favourites including Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) leading over the top. However, once again the pace eased and around 40 riders re-forming at the front, before the race defining move came with the bunch entering the closing 50km.
Eleven riders representing 11 different teams emerged from this period of action, with Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), Soraya Paladin (CCC-Liv), Mavi Garcia (Alé-BTC Ljubljana), Karol-Ann Canuel (Boels-Dolmans), Leah Thomas (Paule Ka) and Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) present, and all possible winners.
Shortly afterwards Garcia, who finished second to Van Vleuten at one of last week's Spanish races, launched an optimistic solo move with 46km remaining. The Spanish rider soon had a lead of 20 seconds, while behind the peloton, including all the pre-race favourites, were quickly two minutes down.
With the gap growing and 30km to go, cohesion in the chasing group broke down as first Van Dijk then Thomas attacked in van attempts to close the gap on the former Spanish road and time trial champion.
With Garcia’s lead on the chasers out to 3.10 as they passed 30km, the peloton were even further back, 5.40 behind the leader, who was riding strongly on the sixth gravel sector, her gap remaining at 3.25 as she passed the 15km to go banner. However no one had reckoned on Van Vleuten’s (Mitchelton-Scott) form as she closed the deficit to the chasers, using her climbing abilities on the steep gradients of sector seven.
The world champion took a brief rest in the chasing group before attacking again and reaching Garcia and her extraordinary victory.
Strade Bianche Women Elite: Siena - Siena (136km) - Result
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott, in 4-03-54
2. Mavi Garcia (Esp) Alé BTC Ljubljana, at 22 sec
3. Leah Thomas (USA) Equipe Paule Ka ,at 1-53
4. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, at 2-05
5. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 2-11
6. Marianne Vos (Ned) CCC-Liv, at 2-26
7. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, at 2-40
8. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling, at 3-26
9. Karol-Ann Canuel (Can) Boels-Dolmans, at 4-20
10. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Alé-BTC Ljubljana, at 5-20
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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.
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