When the organisers of the Strade Bianche extended a late invitation to the three-time world cyclos-cross champion and his Vérandas Willems-Crelan team to take part in the race, it’s unlikely they expected the conditions to be more akin to those that the Belgian 22-year-old faces in the depths of a northern European winter.
But with the snow that had covered Tuscany during the week thawing ahead of yesterday’s race, the white gravel roads from which it takes its name had turned into a quagmire, and van Aert took full advantage to grab a podium spot, despite grinding to a halt on the final climb of the via Santa Caterina in Siena after suffering cramp in both legs.
The narrow street, where the gradient hits 16 per cent, comes inside the final few hundred metres ahead of the finish in Piazza del Campo and Lotto-Soudal’s Tiesj Benoot, caked in mud, had already taken a storming solo win.
His nearest pursuers – van Aert and AG2r-La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet, who had been out on their own at the head of the race before being joined then dropped by the eventual victor – were still negotiating it, meanwhile.
Bardet, third at last summer’s Tour de France, took second place (and has uploaded his ride to Strava) while van Aert suffered cramp in both legs on the toughest section of the ascent, making him fall of his bike by the barriers, the incident missed by TV cameras but captured by spectators on either side of the road, with the rider remounting and managing to secure his third place.
— Kingston Wheelers CC (@kingstonwheeler) March 3, 2018
— François Lamiraud (@LamiraudF) March 3, 2018
Earlier in the day, the women's race had been won by Anna ven der Breggen of Boels-Dolmens.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.