Tadej Pogačar can win anything at this point, in the manner that he pleases, adding to his already incredible palmares a Strade Bianche victory. This year’s edition had a thinned out startlist, missing some of the biggest names like Van Aert, Van Der Poel, Pidcock and Bernal, who all finished in Top 5 in Strade last year.
Strade Bianche is a unique race with its 61.9 kilometres of white gravel, divided into 11 sectors. The race is not extremely long for a one-day race, only 184 kilometres, but it demands a lot of energy and has a higher intensity per hour compared to almost any other race on the calendar, due to the hard and steep hills and gravel sectors.
When live coverage started with around 100 kilometres to go there was a huge crash in the peloton due to strong crosswinds. Riders and their bikes were literally blown off the road. The world champion Julian Alaphilippe was the first who crashed, going over the handlebars after an Alpecin rider lost control of his bike and collided with his front wheel. Many riders, which included big names such as Benoot, Campenaerts, Matthews, Mohorič, Gogl (finished 6th in 2021 Strade Bianche) abandoned the race after the horrible crash.
Only a handful of riders did not crash or were not affected by the crash. Israel Premier-Tech continued to pace for Jakob Fuglsang, who had a strong domestique, Krists Neilands.
Alaphilippe was far back at this point, losing almost two minutes to the peloton, but eventually everyone came back as the tempo slowed down with the help of Danish teammate Honoré. Despite him coming back, the question was how much energy did the crash and chase cost Alaphilippe, who needed 23 kilometres to catch back to the peloton.
The tempo slowed down in the peloton before the Sante Marie hard gravel section, where attacks typically fly. Riders, who crashed hard like Alaphilippe, could recover for a brief moment, whilst team leaders like Valverde were moved into position by their team to the front of the group. As they hit the extended gravel section, Alaphilippe tried an attack but was easily closed by Pogačar. Perhaps sensing Alaphilippe was on his limit as well as Wellens and Simmons, Pogačar attacked with 50 km to go on a descent around Simon Clarke, got a small gap and went full-gas up the Sante Marie climb (1 km, 10.3%). No one came close to bridging to Pogačar’s wheel.
The closest to him was 21-year-old Carlos Rodriguez, who was for a long time in no-man’s land between the peloton and Pogačar. The Slovenias took a one minute lead over the peloton surprisingly quickly whilst Rodriguez sat on 30 seconds. The race motorbikes probably also helped Pogačar with a draft as he had one behind and one in front fairly close to him on the descents. Even with 40 kilometres to go, the race looked practically over, despite Pogačar visibly battered and bruised by the previous big crash.
In the peloton Alaphilippe had begun to chase, knowing his legs were not good after the crash, for teammate, Kasper Asgreen. Trek-Segafredo with the Latvian champion Toms Skujiņš and other riders were seen often at the front, working for Quinn Simmons, but the gap to Pogačar was not melting at all, despite multiple teams chasing back, hovering between 80 and 100 seconds, according to the time gaps.
The biggest attempt to chase down the Slovenian came from Asgreen, Narvaez, Simmons, Valverde and Wellens, who formed a second group after a hard gravel hill. Unfortunately, it is rare that a chase group containing Valverde will cooperate well and once again we saw his refusal to help Asgreen disrupt the cohesion of the group. After the race Valverde said he feels as if his podium result is as good as winning, whilst other riders were actually trying to win.
Asgreen, who initiated the split in the peloton, later attacked, and he was joined by the legend himself, Valverde.
Pogačar’s win was inevitable. He even high-fived one of his friends before the steep Piazza del Campo finish climb, taking his 34th professional victory. It is frightening how good he is at age 23. After this performance, his ability to win in Ronde van Vlaanderen looks more and more realistic. Of course, without big names like Van Aert and Van der Poel it is easier to win, but a 50 kilometre solo in a World Tour one-day race, despite the competition, is insane. Another legendary performance by Tadej Pogačar.
Valverde in his last Strade Bianche finished 2nd, beating Asgreen in the uphill sprint. A great performance by Attila Valter, who was 4th. Hungarian fans cannot wait to see what he will do in the Giro d’Italia this year, with the Grande Partenza located in Hungary for three stages.