Strade Bianche: Stybar Wins Grueling Italian Classic!
Etixx - Quick-Step rider Zdenek Stybar perfectly timed his attack in the final few hundred meters of 200km Strade Bianche Eroica Pro on Saturday, countering an attack from Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team), and then distancing the Belgian rider to win by two seconds out of a three-rider select group.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished 3rd. Stybar waited on the wheel of Valverde going into the last climb before the finish in Piazza del Campo in anticipation of the right moment to launch.
The Czech Champion's fantastic victory was the 13th for Etixx - Quick-Step on the road in 2015, and he takes over as Strade Bianche winner from Michal Kwiatkowski, who won the race solo in his Polish Champion jersey the previous season.
Stybar proved to be one of the strongest in an elite selection that had gone off the front with about 52.2km in the race. Crosswinds were strong at that point and the gaps proved to be too much for the peloton to ever regain contact.
Valverde, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Stybar were the first three riders out of an elite group of at least nine to try and stay away. But they were eventually brought back by a group of six including Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Daniel Oss and Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team), Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-NLJumbo) and Nathan Haas (Cannondale).
Oss attempted to go solo with 25km to go and some gravel sections remaining, and behind him Vanmarcke also attacked. Stybar brought riders with him as he stayed with Vanmarcke and those riders passed Oss.
Van Avermaet, like his teammate, tried to also go solo and had a small gap when he reached gravel sector 10 with 12.8km to go. But once again, a strong Stybar led the riders with him back to the action. Vanmarcke lost contact in the final efforts to make the junction with Van Avermaet with less than 12km to go in the race.
The three then maintained their advantage all the way to the crucial final climb, though Vanmarcke was closing in with riders like Cancellara and Oss also chasing. Stybar was rewarded for his fantastic efforts in the select group with the win for Etixx - Quick-Step. Rigoberto Uran was also 7th in the race.
"Of course I am absolutely thrilled about this victory," Stybar said. "But what made this win even sweeter is that in the technical meeting this morning, Davide Bramati and the team put their trust in me and I was deemed the race captain. It was a big responsibility and I'm happy I proved to be worthy of the honor. It was a great race. I love this kind of technical, up-and-down parcours. I can handle my bike well, so I was really in my element here in Italy today. At 50 kilometers to go were in the front of the peloton with Sagan and Valverde, but it was too early. So we waited and then we finally went with eight or nine riders. It was a bit of a natural selection as you could see who the strongest riders were already. When we remained with three riders, I was afraid of Valverde but also Van Avermaet because he didn't pull a lot in the last 5 kilometers before the last clime to Siena. He was on my wheel and I expected his attack, but not so early on the bottom of the climb. My 'finish line' was at the top of the climb, so I really gave everything to catch him and then when I did, I was able to pass him there. When I turned into Piazza del Campo it was a dream. When the sun is in your face in that beautiful location, with such a passionate public, and you know you are the winner with no one able to catch you, it is like an explosion of joy. It was truly incredible. This win is also uniquely important for me because it comes after a period of struggle after crashes at Eneco Tour and my one and only cyclocross race of the winter. It was a long way back to this level of condition, so I appreciate this victory even more. I want to dedicate this win to my wife, Ine, and my family. They have been such great supporters always."
Stybar said his upcoming races will be Tirreno-Adriatico and then Milano-Sanremo.
"I think we have some really nice objectives in front of us," Stybar said. "I'm still improving my condition, so even Tirreno will be an important step to get ready for MSR and the Classics. But I want to enjoy today first. When I came back from Mallorca on Thursday, everybody saw my images on Twitter. I had to fix my temporary teeth replacements, which I received due to my crash at Eneco Tour. The temporary teeth were moving, so I had to find a dentist in Italy to take them out and then put them back in, because I was afraid of losing them. I am happy I did it, because I didn't know I'd have such a big smile the next day with this victory!"