Fabian Cancellara wins his third Strade Bianche

Fabian Cancellara won his third Strade Bianche on Saturday, edging out last year’s winner Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) in a thrilling finale on the tight streets of Siena.

After his disastrous 2015 season, Fabian Cancellara has made it clear that he wants to end his professional career with a bang. He showed his intentions in January when he won the hardest race at the Challenge Mallorca and his motivation has been evident in the first races of the years.

His first big goal was today’s Strade Bianche, a race that has always been dear to his heart and which he was the only rider to have won twice before the 10th edition of the race. Reports from the Trek camp were that he was flying in the build-up to the race which offered him an opportunity to get a gravel sector named after him if he could become the first rider to take a third win.

Impressively, Cancellara managed to kick his classics campaign off in the best possible way as he did everything right in a very tricky finale where the odds were clearly against him. Despite being up against the Etixx-QuickStep pair of Gianluca Brambilla and Zdenek Stybar he managed to come away with the win and write his name even deeper into the short history of the new classic.

After a relatively slow start, the race had been less selective than usual when the riders hit the third last gravel sector with 23km to go. At that point, Brambilla was already in front as part of a front quartet that also included Andriy Grivko (Astana), Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal). They were chased by a relatively big group of 30-40 riders that was led by Michal Golas (Sky) and Andrey Amador (Movistar).

As they hit the steep gravel roads, the peloton exploded under the pressure applied by Giovanni Visconti (Movistar). The gap that had mostly been around 40 seconds, was quickly reduced to less than 20 seconds and this forced Brambilla to up the pace. Initially, Bookwalter could match him but as the American surrendered, the Italian emerged as the lone leader.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) made a short-lived attack but as they were back on the tarmac, he was back in the fold. Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) tried on a descent but it was a 20-rider group that emerged in pursuit of the lone Brambilla.

Daniel Oss and Bookwalter took over the pace-setting 15 seconds behind the leader until they hit the next gravel sector which was extremely steep. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) made an immediate attack and only Stybar could follow the world champion. Cancellara was in lone pursuit while Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Kwiatkowski led the first bigger group.

Sagan and Stybar caught Brambilla at the end of the gravel sector and Cancellara rejoined the group on the descent. Van Avermaet, Fuglsang and Kwiatkowski were their nearest chasers but as they sped down the descent, Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Oss and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) regained contact.

Brambilla sacrificed himself for Stybar and so the quartet managed to maintain a 15-second advantage. Meanwhile, Nibali, Bob Jungels, Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), McCarthy, Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) and Bookwalter rejoined the chasers.

With 14km to go, Cancellara made a small attack but Stybar easily shut it down. The quartet started to cooperate while Nibali was sacrificing himself in the chase group for Fuglsang.

On the final gravel sector with 12km to go, Sagan tried to up the pace but the quartet was still together as they were back on the tarmac, leading the chasers by 13 seconds. Van Avermaet tried to bridge the gap on his own but was caught by Valverde, Benoot, Ulissi, Nordhaug, Fuglsang and Vakoc on the descent from the small climb. Kwiatkowski, Nibali, Bookwalter and Oss formed a group further back.

The chasers and front quartet all cooperated well and so the gap stayed around 15 seconds as they approached the finish in Siena. That changed when Brambilla made a first attack with 7km to go. Cancellara quickly joined him before Stybar and Sagan also regained contact.

Just one kilometre later, Brambilla went again and this time no one responded. He got an advantage of 5-10 seconds and this put Stybar in the perfect position as it was now up to Cancellara and Sagan to chase.

The gap stayed around 8 seconds as they approached the final 1km climb to the finish in Siena. As they started to climb, it was up to Cancellara to close the gap as Sagan was clearly on his limit.

Things were looking good for Brambilla who was still ahead as he reached the top of the steep section but his chances disappeared when Cancellara accelerated. Sagan was distanced but Stybar stayed with the Swiss.

Stybar was in a difficult position as he could not move ahead to close the gap to his teammate and when the pair sprinted past Brambilla less than 200m from the line, it was too late. At that point, they had crested the summit and had reached the very technical downhill section which made it impossible for the Czech to come around. He tried in the final turn but had no luck, meaning that Cancellara could easily cruise across the line to claim the win. Brambilla had to settle for third while Sagan was fourth. Vakoc made the chase group explode on the final climb and made it five Etixx-QuickStep riders in the top 5 by relegating Van Avermaet to sixth.

Many of the riders will be back in action tomorrow in the Italian one-day race GP Industria & Artigianato which is held on a hilly course around Larciano.

Strade Bianche 2016 results:

1 Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo)


2 Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step)


3 Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx – Quick-Step)


4 Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)


5 Petr Vakoc (Etixx – Quick-Step)


6 Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)


7 Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida)


8 Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal)


9 Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky)


10 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)