Stybar places fourth in vintage Strade Bianche
On a rainy day marred by numerous crashes, including one of which took Brambilla, Jungels and Richeze to the ground, the Czech rider finished just outside the podium after a fantastic effort.
Newly promoted to the World Tour, Strade Bianche welcomed 21 teams and 168 riders at the start, six of which made it into the breakaway and established a five-minute advantage, just as the sun got obscured by clouds and rain began to fall: Simone Andreetta (Bardiani-CSF), Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli), Jose Goncalves (Katusha-Alpecin), Truls Korsaeth (Astana), Quentin Jauregui (AG2R) and Thibaut Pinot.
The race exploded inside the last 100 kilometers, when a crash split up the peloton. Several riders hit the ground, including Gianluca Brambilla (third last year in the race), Bob Jungels and Vuelta a San Juan double stage winner Maximiliano Richeze. The multiple Luxembourg champion continued, but couldn't rejoin the main group, while his teammates were forced to stop due to injuries and pain; the bad luck wasn't over for Quick-Step Floors, as further medical examinations revealed that Richeze's left knee injury – which required stitches – puts his participation in the upcoming Tirreno-Adriatico in doubt.
Twelve riders were left in the elite group, now two minutes adrift, including Zdenek Stybar, who was one of the few men to make the cut on Monte Sante Marie, at 11.5 kilometers the longest dirt road sector of the day, where the Lotto-Soudal riders forced a selection. Soon after, the breakaway was nullified, and on the next sterrate stretch, the punchy Monteaperti, the 2015 winner tried to move clear, but he was countered by the other riders and pegged back.
For a quick moment, the second group, which had there also Matteo Trentin– who punctured earlier on the day on sector 5 – made the catch, but as soon as new attacks came in, only a handful of men were still left in contention. The status quo continued on the 2.4km-long Colle Pintuzo, where the leaders went for a more defensive approach, but everything changed before the final chalky white road sector of Le Tolfe, where Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) attacked and opened a substantial gap of 30 seconds.
Strade Bianche concluded with the Pole's win, despite the fact he lost more than half of his advantage on the 18% ramps of Via Santa Caterina, while Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) beat Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) in the fight for second. Zdenek Stybar, one of the strongest riders of the day, concluded the Italian World Tour race in fourth place, for his third consecutive top 5 finish here, after covering several moves, gritting his teeth and attacking until the very end of what will go down as one of the season's most spectacular and thrilling races.
"Today was amazing, really enjoyable cycling. Due to the crash, only a few guys were left in the main group after the crash with around 100 kilometers to go. To have a selection that early was just crazy, especially as the race was made really tough by the rain and wind, which was stronger than in the past", said Zdenek Stybar at the team bus in Siena, after 175 kilometers of suffering. "When Michal attacked, we hesitated a bit, and once he got a gap, it was really difficult to bring him back. I love Strade Bianche, I feel comfortable on these gravel roads, you could see that also today I had good legs, but as I said, the result makes me sad. At the same time, it motivates me and I hope I to carry my form into the next races and get my first victory of the season."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele