Belgian Wout Van Aert triumphed in the heat and dust of an Italian summer as top-level cycling returned after a five-month absence at the Strade Bianche one-day classic race through Tuscany on Saturday.
The Jumbo-Visma rider, who had finished third in the previous two editions, attacked in the final 13km of the 184km race, crossing the line alone on Siena’s historic Piazza del Campo.
Italy’s Davide Formolo of UAE Emirates was 30 seconds behind with Germany’s Maximilian Schachmann, a further two seconds adrift in third, after nearly five hours in the saddle with temperatures hitting the high 30s Celsius.
“It’s really nice to say after the first race back that my season is already a success,” said Van Aert.
“I didn’t want to waste any chances. I really focused on this race and it paid off.
“It was a very hard edition of Strade Bianche, especially at the beginning as it was quite difficult for me to ride in a peloton after a long time away from racing.”
“Over the last two editions of Strade Bianche, I gained a lot of confidence,” he continued.
“It’s never easy to win and it was harder than usual in today’s circumstances. It makes the win even better. This is proof that I’m at the highest level now.
“To have won Strade Bianche at the age of only 25, with a cyclocross background is a huge achievement.”
Vincenzo Nibali crashed with Peter Sagan also among the many riders who failed to finish the gruelling race.
France’s Julian Alaphilippe, last year’s winner, also struggled with the Deceuninck–Quick-Step rider trailing home quarter of an hour behind the leaders.
Earlier in the day, Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten won the women’s race on the famous white dirt roads for the second year in a row.
The 37-year-old Mitchelton-Scott rider crossed 22 seconds ahead of Margarita Garcia Canellas of Ale BTC Ljubljana with the Spaniard having led for much of the 136km race through the rolling hills and white gravel roads of Tuscany.
“I thought my race was over after 90km,” said the Dutch rider.
“Then the speed of my group went up and I made my move during the second to last gravel sector, heading uphill.
“I couldn’t see anything because of the dust, it was quite different from the racing conditions in March but still beautiful and super hard.”
American Leah Thomas of Equipe Paule Ka was third at 1min 53sec in the race which had originally been scheduled for March 7 but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.