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Tadej Pogačar wins Strade Bianche with epic 50km solo escape

The Slovenian superstar’s stunning ride followed a thrilling finale to the women’s race, taken by Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky

Tadej Pogačar further underlined his status as the best male cyclist in the world by pulling off a stunning 50-kilometre solo escape over the dirt roads of Tuscany to take a windy edition of Strade Bianche.

In a move reminiscent of his Tour de France-winning move to Le Grand-Bornand last year, the 23-year-old Slovenian superstar accelerated away over the top of the Monte Sante Marie climb on one of the race’s longest gravel sections with 50 kilometres to go, with no rider able to respond on the tricky descent.

Within ten kilometres, he had over a minute on all of the big favourites, with the exception of a game but ultimately futile chase by 21-year-old Ineos rider Carlos Rodríguez.

Today’s storming ride is Pogačar’s latest triumph in a major one-day classic, following his wins at Liège–Bastogne–Liège and Il Lombardia in 2021, and surely marks him out as a challenger in the kind of races traditionally viewed as beyond the reach of grand tour contenders, such as the Tour of Flanders, which just so happens to be on the UAE Team Emirates rider’s schedule for this year.

Before the two-time Tour de France winner launched his long-range attack, the race was defined by a mass pile up which occurred at the front of the peloton with around 100 kilometres to go.

Strade Bianche crash (screenshot, via GCN)

The devastating crash, caused by the strong winds that buffeted the course all day, led to a number of abandons, including Jumbo-Visma’s in-form classics man and former Strade Bianche winner Tiesj Benoot, Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), and Lotto-Soudal’s Victor Campenaerts.

Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s world champion Julian Alaphilippe was brought down spectacularly in the crash, and spent the next 25km chasing back on. That wasn’t enough to curb the Frenchman’s attacking instincts, however, and along with Tim Wellens he made some probing moves at the front of the bunch on the Sante Marie.  

In the end, those attacks only served to act as a springboard for Pogačar’s blistering – and definitive – attack. 41-year-old Alejandro Valverde, riding his last ever Strade Bianche before he retires at the end of the year, broke away on the final climb to take second ahead of Quick Step's impressive Kasper Asgreen, who had spent most of the race working for Alaphilippe. But the day - and men's professional cycling it seems - belonged to Tadej Pogačar.

Earlier in the day, a very different but equally thrilling women’s race was won by Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky, who outsprinted race favourite Annemiek van Vleuten in Siena’s iconic Piazza del Campo to take the biggest win of her career.

The race was a compelling tactical affair, with groups splintering and reforming throughout the final kilometres. Kopecky and van Vleuten were clearly the strongest, however – evidenced in the pair’s brief escape on the final gravel section – so it was no surprise that when the Movistar rider launched her final attack from a large group into Siena, only Kopecky could follow.

The SD Worx rider clung to van Vleuten’s wheel the whole way up the Via Santa Caterina before using her experience and sprinting skills to overtake the Dutchwoman on the tight, twisty descent into the famous square. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio capped off a great day for SD Worx with a podium spot, ahead of Kasia Niewiadoma and Cecilie Ludwig.

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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