Despite being a three-time cyclocross world champion, no-one expected Wout van Aert (Veranda’s Willems-Crelan) to be in with a chance of winning the prestigious Italian Classic Strade Bianche.
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But the 23-year-old put in a storming performance in the rain and mud to breakaway with Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and finish third behind the Frenchman and winner Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), who attacked the pair on the final gravel climb with 12.3km remaining in the race.
But clearly the 184km route and gruelling climbing took it’s toll on van Aert at the very end of the race, where the riders take on a steep ascent in Siena towards the finish in Piazza del Campo.
In a video captured by a Kingston Wheelers member and posted on Twitter, the efforts in the race seemed to hit the Belgian on the final climb where he was unable to keep momentum before dropping his bike and was sent sprawling to the ground.
Luckily, as Bardet rode off ahead of him, he was able to pick up his bike, push it further up the climb before remounting and riding on to claim third place, putting his cyclocross skills to good use.
Van Aert is pushing into proper Classics campaign on the road this year, having already ridden Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and appearances in Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix all on the cards.
He said he approached the race on Saturday in Italy with a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality – one which clearly helped him claim the unexpected third place.
“I have nothing to lose, I came out of the cyclocross season and I came in wanting to learn,” van Aert said. “Sometimes you learn more by trying then not trying at all. That was my mindset.”