Strade Bianche is one of the most beautiful races of the year, both for its picture postcard Tuscan surroundings and it’s action-packed racing. The 2021 edition was no different.
Mathieu van der Poel, Wout Van Aert, Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten highlighted the competitors in a mega startlist.
We have been treated to numerous other races over the past week too, including the Grote prijs Jean-Pierre Monseré and Trofeo Laigueglia, which dissect further down the article.
Strade Bianche - Men's
Tadej Pogačar finished in the top 10 at Strade Bianche (Image credit: Anton Vos/Cor Vos/SWpix)
Wout Van Aert returned to action at Strade Bianche with his first road race of the 2021 season. However, his cyclo-cross rival Mathieu van der Poel comprehensively stole the show.
An elite group of riders went off the front on the Monte Santa Maria, one of the most challenging gravelled sectors of the race, with 50km remaining. The group featured Julian Alaphilippe, Tom Pidcock, Egan Bernal, as well as VDP and WVA.
The group worked well together to hold-off a chasing-group that featured Jakob Fuglsang and Tim Wellens.
It was on the final gravelled section, Le Tolfe (0.6km @ 8.6%) where Mathieu van der Poel put in a searing acceleration, which dropped the jaws of everyone watching as well as his competitors, who were immediately left in his wake.
Julian Alaphilippe struggled back to his wheel with the 2019 Tour champion Egan Bernal joining soon after. The trio would pass under the flamme rouge together as they headed back to Siena.
The Dutch champion led the group onto the final climb, with Alaphilippe glued to his back wheel. Again, Van der Poel made a blistering attack giving his two comrades no chance of following. Alaphilippe battled-on but was dropped while Bernal settled for a place on the podium.
Van der Poel didn’t need to look around to know he'd won, and crossed the line in Siena to win Strade Bianche for the first time in his career. A breathtaking performance.
Mathieu van der Poel Can’t be Tamed
Mathieu van der Poel's electric attack in the final kilometre of Strade Bianche (Image credit: Anton Vos//Cor Vos/SWPix)
Witnessing the multiple attacks from Matheiu van der Poel was as outrageous as it was astounding. To drop Julian Alaphilippe, the World Champion and one of the best punchers of his generation, in the manner that Van der Poel did was incredible to see.
This makes us question exactly what Van der Poel can achieve this season. In the next few weeks the Dutch Champ will ride Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo in Italy. He then heads to the cobble classics where he'll take on the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. On current form, Van der Poel is the man to beat.
After claiming his inaugural monument at last year’s Tour of Flanders, do not be surprised to see Van der Poel’s monument tally increase over the next month of racing.
Is Egan Bernal the favourite for the Giro d’Italia?
Egan Bernal impressed with third-place at Strade Bianche 2021 (Image credit: Anton Vos/Cor Vos/SWPix)
Egan Bernal had a disappointing 2020 season after winning the Tour de France in 2019. He suffered with back-pain, forcing him to withdraw from the Tour last year, but he now looks back to his best.
The Colombian is not a classics specialist. His talents lie in the high mountains towards the back-end of a three-week Grand Tour. This makes Bernal’s recent performances even more impressive. Bernal finished second at the Trofeo Laigueglia earlier last week, before finishing third at Strade Bianche, his first appearance at the race.
We have only seen Bernal ride a mountain stage once so far this year, that was at the Tour de la Provence where he finished second, only behind his teammate Ivan Sosa. We will learn more shortly as Bernal heads to Tirreno-Adriatico next, where he will go up against the likes of Simon Yates, Tadej Pogačar and Thibaut Pinot on the Prati di Tivo summit finish.
As it stands, Bernal leads the list of Giro d'Italia contenders.
Strade Bianche - Women's
Elisa Longo Borghini in the final kilometre of Strade Bianche (Image credit: IPP / Offside)
The women’s race was equally as thrilling, with numerous riders entering the final climb in Siena together.
After many attacks in the final 20km, Elisa Longo Borghini and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak formed a duo at the head of the race. The presence of an SD Worx rider meant Demi Vollering and Anna van der Breggen, who were in the chasing group, could sit in the wheels and conserve energy. However, there were moments when SD Worx seemed unsure if the move up the road suited them — Longo Borghini can be very strong on short climbs.
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak didn’t work with Longho Borghini, meaning the Italian champion had to expend surplus energy to stay ahead of the chasing pack.
Into the final kilometre it was Blaak who jumped away from the Italian to win Strade Bianche in stunning fashion. Longo Borghini held on for second, with Anna van der Breggen chasing hard to finish 3rd.
An SD Worx tactical masterclass yet again. Just like Omloop, the team finished with two riders on the podium, including the all-important top step.
Are SD Worx Unbeatable?
SD Worx celebrate winning Strade Bianche 2021 (Image credit: IPP / Offside)
SD Worx have started the season in ominous form. Their rivals will already be scratching their heads as to how they can beat this team.
Twelve riders finished in the front two groups at Strade, four of which were wearing an SD Worx jersey. No other team had more than two riders present.
The numerical advantage that SD Worx gained made it almost impossible for them to lose. Attack, and one of the SD Worx riders follow, and with the likes of Van der Breggen waiting behind they have an excuse not to work. Sit in, and it’s going to be very difficult to beat Anna van der Breggen or Demi Vollering — particularly after they have been excused from contributing to the chase.
As the heart of the WWT classics season approaches, SD Worx are already giving their opposition nightmares.
Emma Norsgaard is just 21-years-old, yet already has two podiums this season. (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
In Le Samyn, we saw two of the most exciting Belgian sprinters take victory, with Tim Merlier and Lotte Kopecky winning the Men’s and Women’s editions respectively. Emma Norsgaard finished second, as she did at Omloop last week. At Le Samyn she launched her final effort slightly early, meaning Kopecky could sit in her slipstream and come past at the final moment. Nonetheless, Norsgaard has proven she is one of the most promising sprinters in the world.
We saw many of the riders heading to Strade prepare at the Trofeo Laigueglia. Bauke Mollema continued his promising start to 2021 with his second victory of the year, winning solo. Two youngsters to note here are Mauri Vansevenant and Clément Champoussin — both finished in the top 5, are under 23 years old and developing rapidly.
This case was proven when Vansevenant took victory at the GP Industria & Artigianato. On a hilly route, he sprinted ahead of Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Bauke Mollema, displaying great climbing and sprinting legs.
Finally, we also had the Grote prijs Jean-Pierre Monseré. The race commemorates Jean-Pierre Monseré who was tragically killed as the Road World Champion in 1971. Tim Merlier sprinted to his second victory of the week in emphatic style — after launching his sprint early his lead expanded rapidly, providing him the chance to celebrate before he had crossed the line.
Here, we also witnessed Mark Cavendish’s best result since his return to Deceuninck-Quick-Step. The Manx Missile was second and on the podium for the first time since April 2019.
We'll be reviewing Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in next week's debrief, take a look at our previews for both races here.
Cover photo: CorVos / SWpix