Dual world time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten put on a stunning display to win a punishing Strade Bianche in just her second race back from injury.
The 36-year-old powered away from a select group of favourites on the final gravel sector and managed to open up an advantage to stay away solo to the finish in Siena. The win is the Dutchwoman’s first victory since a serious knee injury suffered during the 2018 UCI Road Race World Championships.
It was a fast start to proceedings as the peloton rolled out of Siena and it wasn’t until the first gravel sector of the day that a group of four managed to edge clear. However, by the time the bunch had passed over the following off-road section, it was all back together.
The fourth sector of ‘white roads’ saw a number of gaps occur as the pace increased, but again the splits were short-lived and the race was back together as they passed through the feedzone. As the peloton moved onto the longest off-road section of the race, Australian Amanda Spratt was caught in a crash and was forced to abandon after taking a knock to the head in the fall.
It was then a case of attack after attack as number riders, including Lucy Kennedy, dangled ahead of the reduced bunch but were quickly reeled back in. By the time the race hit the final sector of gravel, a select group of 11 had managed to break clear with Van Vleuten amongst them.
Van Vleuten then made her move over the steep climb, as the off-road sectors ended and the run to the finish began. She quickly opened up a gap of 30 seconds and with no organised chase behind, the gap grew to 40 seconds as the climb to Piazza del Campo came into sight.
As the climb began, it was obvious that there was no catching Van Vleuten and the winner of the 2018 Women’s WorldTour had time to sit up and celebrate as she crossed the line.
Annemiek van Vleuten: “I thought it was maybe a bit too early because I’ve just had 10 weeks of training after I broke my knee at the world championships. But I worked very, very hard because the race was on my wish list to win one time, it’s one of my favourite races.”
“I just waited for a good moment (to attack), there was only one teammate with me, only Lucy Kennedy, and it was really good for us to be there together but we were a bit outnumbered. We were only two in a big group so we had to poker a bit, then I thought I had to put the hammer down on the uphill!”
“It’s one of my best victories, to win here, I said yesterday when we had a picture here in the Piazza del Campo, I think it’s the best way to finish a race here.”