A poetic description of a beautiful win in the Montepaschi Strade Bianche: “Italy is my paradise,” said the victorious Philippe Gilbert.
The Belgian’s final race last season was his solo victory in the Tour of Lombardy and his first this year is an impressive triumph on the “white roads” that lead to Sienna.
Gilbert, Allessandro Ballan (BMC) and Diamano Cunego broke free from a group of twenty riders with one kilometer to go. All three seemed to have the legs to win but once they entered the cobbled streets of Sienna it was Gilbert who showed his intelligence, tactical wisdom and dominant power.
“It was a nervous finale on dangerous little streets,” Gilbert explained. “I let Ballan launch the sprint before starting my own. 250 meters from the line he came up alongside me and we battled for the last corner, but I was on the inside and I knew that could be a decisive advantage.”
That’s en extremely confident rider explaining the facts of life. He “let” Ballan launch first, he “knew” that strategically the inside line on the corner was the smarter move and then he simply hammered it.
“Gilbert’s burst was deadly,” said Cunego. “I tried, I pushed and I even almost got back on coming up to the line, but Gilbert had more than everyone.”
Ballan wasn’t about to disagree with the Little Prince’s race assessment. “I was behind Philippe Gilbert and Damiano Cunego was on my wheel,” Ballan said. “Gilbert took the inside and I didn’t want to pass him on the outside because I was afraid that I would crash.” You hold back just a bit and you don’t make the top step of the podium.
Previous winner Fabian Cancellara took fifth place and mucho kudos to Jure Kocjan (Team Type 1 – Sanofi Aventis) who rode out of his mind (and legs) to finish in fourth. That will certainly be noted by Giro boss Angelo Zomegnan who has Team Type 1 on a short list of wildcard teams if on Monday he rescinds the invitation of Vacansoleil over doping issues.
This edition of the Montepaschi Strade Bianche was run in beautiful weather and the twelve riders in the breakaway got the best of the scenery. For those who just need the names for the historical record, it was Alessandro De Marchi (Androni Giocattoli), Joost Posthuma (Leopard Trek), Giairo Ermeti (Androni), Martin Kohler (BMC), Federico Rocchetti (De Rosa), Davide Ricci Bitti, Patrick Sinkewitz (Farnese-Neri), Matthias Brandle (Geox-TMC), Peter Velits (HTC), Paolo Longo Borghini (Liquigas), Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Cervélo), Adam Hansen, Greg Van Avermaet (OmegaPharma-Lotto) and Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek).
O’Grady and VanAvermaet had the most gas in the tank and eventually pulled away but were caught with 12 kilometers to go, just after the final section of dusty road. Then it was Lampre-ISD taking over and driving the group into Sienna for their leader Cunego.
However, the final approach into Siena’s Piazza del Campo was technical and required both strong legs and steady nerves. That award went to Philippe Gilbert who is now in a performance zone where he simply decides which races to win and what scrapes to leave the others.
North Americano side note: Building form slowly but surely for his final run at Paris-Roubaix, George Hincapie (BMC Racing) finished in 15th place. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo), who fell in love with this race last year and hoped to do well, rolled in 12th. Young Craig Lewis of HTC-Highroad notched a 22nd place and we look forward to reading his thoughts on Versus.