Quick-Step Floors places two riders in top 10 of vintage Strade Bianche
Our squad continues to lead the World Tour team classification after the season's most brutal race so far.
Rain, cold, mud, punctures, crashes and chaos! No, it's not the name of a '70s action movie, but a fit description of this year's Strade Bianche, a race which easily goes down as one of the best of 2018 despite the season being still in its infancy. The 184 kilometers of the Italian event, which contained 11 sectors of gravel, combined with the severe weather, turned Strade Bianche into a race of attrition, which saw only 53 of the 147 riders who came at the start arrive in Piazza del Campo, cycling's most scenic finish.
Minutes after the flag dropped in the shadow of Siena's Fortezza Medicea, the race was on and the peloton got split, leaving only 60 men in the front, with a 30-second gap over the chasers, which bridged across only after the second dirt road sector. Despite that, the status quo continued only for a short while, as at the top of Radi sector ten riders managed to extricate themselves from the bunch and put five minutes between them and the pack.
As the rain continued to pour on the riders who fought against their limits and the savage roads of Tuscany, the peloton fragmented and more and more riders got dropped or abandoned the race. Quick-Step Floors was well-represented on sector number seven – San Martino in Grania – but a surge in pace and two ferocious attacks reshuffled the race once again, blowing apart the peloton and leaving only a handful of riders in the front.
Pieter Serry and 2015 victor Zdenek Stybar chased and come back, both putting in an impressive effort, which saw the two return to the main group – from which Romain Bardet (AG2R) and Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan) had attacked in the meantime – with 35 kilometers to go. It was on another muddy road that the incredible Serry, who showcased his form also last week at the Drôme Classic, where he got ninth, jumped from the field together with Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and opened a gap on the favourites.
The duo soldiered on until after the steep Monteaperti, the shortest sector of the race, when Benoot attacked from Serry's wheel and put some distance, before going on to catch the two riders in the lead and drop them on the outskirts of Siena. The Belgian took a solo win, with Bardet and Van Aert rounding out the podium, while Serry – who got caught by the first chasers – ignored the pain and the fatigue and put himself in the service of his teammate, driving the pace in the group and working hard for Stybar, Quick-Step Floors' best-placed rider at the end of the day, in seventh place.
For Zdenek, who rode alone the final kilometers of the race after dispatching some of his opponents ahead of the infamous and grueling Via Santa Caterina (16% maximum gradient) this was his fourth consecutive top 10 in as many editions of Strade Bianche, a result which found the 32-year-old Czech satisfied, especially as his form was something of an unknown with two days before the start, when his participation in the Italian race was put in doubt due to some health problems he faced mid-week.
"It was wet and muddy, but I really enjoyed it. I won't hide the fact that I wanted more, but it was really tough. When Bardet and Van Aert attacked, I was a bit behind; I tried to come back, but it was difficult, due to the lack of cooperation in the group. Then I accelerated a couple of times and tried to close the gap, but by the time I arrived on the last climb I was really empty. Seventh place is not what I had expected, but considering that after Samyn I had stomach problems which didn't allow me to train properly and at one point I was thinking of not starting the race, it's a good result from which I draw a lot of confidence for my future races."
Pieter Serry's outstanding display in the cold and mud didn't go unnoticed, being rewarded with a ninth place and words of praise from Stybar, who benefited from the selfless ride of his teammate. Serrytje arrived exhausted in Piazza del Campo, from where he quickly rode to the team bus in Piazza della Liberta, where he shared his thoughts on the race.
"It wasn't my first time here, so I can say this was a special edition, one in which I fought hard in tough conditions, which left the peloton smaller and smaller with every kilometer we rode. Toward the end I felt better, so I attacked together with Tiesj, but he was too strong and I couldn't follow when he accelerated. I decided to wait for Styby's group, who was coming from behind. Once there, I decided to take the responsibility despite not getting any help from the other guys, and pulled to help Zdenek. With seven kilometers to go, they attacked on the climb and I was distanced, so I rode my own pace and concluded ninth, a result that makes me happy and shows that I'm the right direction for the next appointments of the month."
Strade Bianche was the calendar's fourth World Tour race, and placing two riders in the top 10 helped Quick-Step Floors cement its position in the team classification, which our squad leads following a successful outing at last month's Abu Dhabi Tour.
Photo: ©Kei Tsuji/ Getty Images