Tadej Pogačar put in a breath-taking performance to win Strade Bianche with an incredible 50km solo attack.
The UAE Team Emirates rider took the gravel roads of Tuscany in his stride as he added another race to his ever-growing palmarès.
Crossing the finish line in Siena, with a winning margin of nearly forty seconds, Pogačar becomes the first-ever Tour De France winner to win the Italian classic.
On his final appearance at the race before he retires, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) crossed the line second, with Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) finishing third.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The 16th Strade Bianche began and finished in the walled city of Siena with the riders taking on 11 gravel sections over the 184km route around Tuscany.
A relentlessly undulating parcour gave the riders no chance to catch their breath as they cut through the stunning Italian countryside.
Then a gruelling 500m climb awaited them on their return to the city, with the Via Santa Caterina reaching gradients of 16% at times before a downhill sprint to the line.
A breakaway of nine riders managed to form early on with Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) the biggest threat to the peloton to make the group.
They accumulated a four-minute advantage as they took on the first few gravel sections.
However, back in the pack the race was turned upside down with 100km to go as strong crosswinds caused a huge crash in the peloton.
Powerful gusts of wind forced several riders off the road with very few in the peloton managing to escape the carnage.
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) was one of the first to go down, being thrown from his bike into the ditch alongside the road.
Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma), one of the pre-race favourites, was forced to abandon, with Michael Gogl (Alpecin-Fenix) also leaving the race early.
The World Champion’s team put in a huge effort to bring him back into the action after he was distanced, yet the crash would take its toll on the Frenchman as he featured very little in the latter stages of the race.
As the riders arrived at the Monte Sante Marie gravel sector with 50km of the race left, the break was caught and then Pogačar decided to test his rivals’ legs.
The outcome was resounding as the Slovenian created a gap of more than 30 seconds in the space of just a few kilometres.
Ineos Grenadiers’ Carlos Rodriguez was the only rider that even attempted to chase down the two-time Tour De France champion, but he failed to properly bridge the gap.
With under 25km to go, the UAE Team Emirates talisman had built up a gap of more than a minute and the peloton soon swallowed up Rodriguez.
Five riders then pushed on with Jhonathan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Kasper Asgreen and Alejandro Valverde attempting to chase down the sole leader.
Asgreen and Valverde left the rest of the chasers behind in the final 15km, but they struggled to eat into the gap to Pogačar.
It meant the Slovenian was able to take on the punishing climb up to the Piazza del Campo with the knowledge that victory was assured.
Valverde, in his final time racing Strade Bianche before he retires at the end of this year, distanced Asgreen in the final kilometre to secure second spot on the podium with the Danish rider coming home 11 seconds later.
Pogačar’s victory sees him become the first Tour de France winner to win the gravel classic.
STRADE BIANCHE MEN'S ELITE 2022: SIENA - SIENA (184KM)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo), UAE Team Emirates, in 4-47-49
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa), Movistar Team at 37 seconds
3. Kasper Asgreen (Den), Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl at 46s
4. Attila Valter (Hun) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-07
5. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-09
6. Jhonathan Narváez (Ecu) Inoes Grenadiers, at same time
7. Quinn Simmons (USA) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-21
8. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at 1-25
9. Simone Petilli (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 1-35
10. Sergio Higuita (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-53
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