The charming Piazza del Campo in Siena was lit up in rainbow colours with the current UCI Women's Road World Champion, Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), and triple UCI Men's Cyclo-cross World Champion (2015, 2016 and 2017), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) celebrating victory in the 2020 Strade Bianche.
The duel between Van Vleuten and Garcia
An exciting duel between World Champions shone in the women's race: the 2020 "cannibal", Annemiek van Vleuten on form with five straight victories – who started in Siena wearing the rainbow jersey she won in Yorkshire – versus the Spaniard Mavi Garcia, 2016 duathlon mixed relay World Champion.
Under the 40-degree sun in the Tuscan countryside, only Annemiek was able to catch Mavi today. The Alé BTC Ljubljana rider, who only took to road racing five years ago, ran away with ten other riders on the fifth gravel sector and then went solo with more than 90km remaining. At about 25km to Siena, Garcia still held a gap of more than three minutes on the first group, but even that situation was not an impossible task for the rainbow jersey. All alone, she gained more than one and a half minutes on the counter-attackers, reaching them at 16km to go, and taking advantage of assistance from team-mate Amanda Spratt, before going solo, full gas, chasing Garcia.
The race became one-vs-one between the two World Champions and once again it was the tough Le Tolfe sector that was crucial. Van Vleuten recovered more than two minutes on the leader, repeating another huge performance in the same gravel sector where last year she made the decisive attack. The chase ended with 6.5km remaining: Annemiek and Mavi reached Siena together, but on the last steep climb of Santa Caterina the power of the rainbow jersey was too much for her Spanish rival. "I realise it can be the last race ... As we say in the Netherlands: Pakke wat jer pakken kan - You've got to take all that you can”, she commented just after the finish line.
Unbeatable: there’s no better adjective to describe Annemiek van Vleuten right now. The UCI World Champion is dominating the restart of cycling after the hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. After ruling the Spanish triptych of Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa, Clasica Femenina Navarra and Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, the Dutch woman earned her second consecutive Strade Bianche.
Wout van Aert’s first road Classic
After two third consecutive places, Wout van Aert fulfilled his promise to win ‘the Most Southern Northern Classic’. In 2018, wearing the Véranda Willems-Crelan jersey, the Flemish rider attacked with the Frenchman Romain Bardet at 50km to go in terrible weather conditions. The Belgian Tiesj Benoot attacked from the chasing group between the 8th and 9th sectors, and made his way over to the leading duo, eventually going solo on the last gravel sector. Wout, completely exhausted and caked in mud, fell down uphill in the last turn before Piazza del Campo and struggled to restart, finishing up in third place. After the finish line, Van Aert promised he’d put all his effort into trying to win the race in the future.
The triple UCI Cyclo-cross World Champion was in the leading trio in 2019 along with the Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe and Dane Jakob Fuglsang, losing their wheels at 20km to go and then managing to come back before the last climb. But the effort spent was too much and he was unable to react to Fuglsang’s attack with 500 meters to go. Alaphilippe won, Wout was again third, but he redoubled his aim for victory. “Having repeated the placement again this year, after having dedicated myself less to cyclocross, confirms that this race is perfect for my characteristics”, he told the press just after the finish line last year.
After his terrible crash during the time trial stage in the 2019 Tour de France and the long racing layoff due to COVID-19, Van Aert was among the favourites at today’s Strade Bianche, and has shown that he has learned from the past, turning his double bronze to gold at the third attempt. He waited until 12km to go before launching his powerful attack and nobody could answer. The chasing duo of Italian Davide Formolo and German Max Schachmann were barely able to glimpse him in the dust, far away. On the last turn of the final climb of Santa Caterina, where he fell in 2018, Wout passed safely and at full gas. Piazza del Campo opened in front and at that moment he realized that nobody could catch him – and deservedly won Strade Bianche after two consecutive near misses, “I really fell in love with this race two years ago and it was my goal to win. I’m 25 and I’ve already done it. I’m really happy”, said Van Aert.