Wout van Aert has finally taken his deserved Strade Bianche title in the 2020 edition, having finished third in his first two attempts.
The Jumbo-Visma rider was ruthless in his delivery of the victory on the white roads of Tuscany, comfortably holding his place in the front group of favourites in the final 50km before launching the hammer blow 12km from the line.
Despite an honourable chase from climbers Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates)) and Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Van Aert climbed the ramp to Siena alone to win a thrilling day.
The 25-year-old debuted in Strade Bianche in 2018 and finished third in both his previous efforts, but this time the glory was all his.
How it happened
Strade Bianche unexpectedly found itself as one of the most important races of 2020.
After being the first Classic cancelled when the coronavirus pandemic hit Italy earlier this year, it was given the prestigious spot as the first WorldTour race of the new season.
This year’s edition followed the same 184km course of the previous two years, starting in Siena and finishing in the iconic Piazza del Camp in the centre of the city.
The race also featured 11 of the white roads that give it both its name and unique character, the last segment of which came 6km from the finish, before the leaders would fight for victory on the 1km, 4.8 per cent climb back up into Siena.
The heat was expected to have as much of an impact on the race as the gravel paths themselves, as temperatures hit 37 degrees in Tuscany.
As pace-setters for the day, a breakaway of six riders managed to get clear of the bunch, pulling out a two-minute lead in the opening 20km.
The break consisted of Corné Van Kessel (Circus-Wanty Gobert), Benjamin Declerq (Arkéa-Samsic), Iuri Filosi (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Simon Pellaud, Nicola Bagiolo (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) and Quentin Pacher (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept).
But the peloton was determined to keep the escapees on a tight leash, bringing them back under a minute which prompted Pellaud into an attack.
After a respectable solo ride away from the peloton, Pellaud’s advantage rapidly fell away when some of the race favourites put in an attack just under 100km from the line.
Reigning champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck- Quick-Step) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) both sparked the move, which was met by a flurry of accelerations within the peloton and helped establish a group of around 20 favourites.
That group included Alaphilippe, Van der Poel, Van Aert, Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Ineos), as they hit the toughest of the gravel stretches, sector eight, with 50km to the line.
Alaphilippe and Van der Poel were both dropped like a stone on the brutal sector however as Fuglsang, spurred on by his near miss last year, attacked just inside the 50km mark and pulled out a 30-second advantage over the rapidly thinning group of favourites.
Fuglsang was finally picked up with just over 40km to race bringing the front group to just six riders, with Max Schachmann, Van Avermaet, Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling(, Van Aert and Davide Formolo completing the elite group, 90 seconds ahead of a chasing trio.
At the 20km mark it was Formolo who launched a huge attack as he grew concerned about Zdenek Štybar (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) who was single-handedly pulling the chasing trio back within range.
Van Aert was quickest to follow and the rest of the favourites upped the pace too, but Van Avermaet fell casualty to the acceleration and lost touch.
Inside 15km, Van Avermaet and Štybar partnered up to try and catch the leaders but with 12km to race Van Aert launched the decisive move of the final and vanished up the road.
Bettiol, Formolo and Schachmann were also willing to set off in pursuit but Fuglsang had burnt all his matches and was left behind.
Van Aert committed on the gravel ascents and threw himself into the descents in the final 10km, with his advantage over the chasers fluttering between 10 and 15 seconds.
But Formolo and Schachmann lost their motivation inside the final 5km and by the foot of the final climb to Siena victory was Aert’s for the taking.
He raised his hand across the line, taking his first win since a nasty crash suffered on the time trial stage of the 2019 Tour de France.
Formolo outsprinted Schachammn in the final 100m to take second, 30 seconds behind the winner.
Strade Bianche 2020: Siena to Siena (184km)
1. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, in 4-56-58
2. Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 30 seconds
3. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 32s
4. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Pro Cycling, at 1-31
5. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 2-55
6. Zdenek Štybar (Cze) Deceuninck – Quick-step, at 3-59
7. Brent Bookwalter (USA) Mitchelton-Scott, at 4-25
8. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team, at 4-27
9. Michael Gogl (Pol) NTT Pro Cycling, at 6-47
10. Diego Rosa (Ita) Arkéa-Samsic, at 7-45