The Moment The Strade Bianche Was Won

Tom Pidcock finally looks back. He’s been away for the best part of 50km and much of it solo. With 10km to go it seemed his time was up as his lead was reduced to around ten seconds. Only he didn’t give up and he didn’t even seem to look back, all while the chasers behind couldn’t commit between them.

A bright sunny day, no gloopy gravel nor gusting winds. The early breakaway of the day saw Alessandro De Marchi (Jayco-Al Ula), Sven Erik Bystrøm (Intermarché) and Ivan Romeo (Movistar) got clear, all solid riders and if we know De Marchi as a breakaway specialist, it was a chance to see 19 year-old neo-pros to watch Romeo on the attack.

Early there wasn’t much else to write home about, except for the achingly beautiful course. The race styles itself as “the most southerly of the northern classics” but this strapline could be blunter, think “the most beautiful of the classics” because of the rolling hills, the Montalcino vineyards and all those old farmhouses and villas. Although if you think it looks pretty in March, come back on a warm day in summer and it’s twice as good.

The sporting action picked up on the approach to the Monte Sante Marie sterrato sector, an 11.5km slog with several lengthy climbs. The Strade Bianche is a relatively new race and the peloton is still feeling how to race it, establishing the reference points and learning to spot patterns. Monte Sante Marie is becoming the place where the action goes down; it was where Tadej Pogačar went solo last year. This time you could see teams in train formation trying to pace their leaders into the best position for the start of the sector.

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The first damage on the sector was the sight of Romeo losing contact with his two companions, presumably a parting moment of sweet sorry for the Movistar rider. Moments later Alberto Bettiol sprang out of the bunch and Andrea Bagioli and Tom Pidcock soon bridged across. Bettiol as a diesel workhorse made sense launching this far out, he can’t wait for the final sprint; Bagioli covering as a team mate for the likes of Alaphilippe seemed wise too. But Pidcock attacking from here? It looked like he’d ordered a bistecca fiorentina without knowing just how big the portion was. In his own words later on “that wasn’t the plan” but in the moment any questions were soon settled when Pidcock doubled down dropped the two Italians on a descent.

One of the attractions of this race – and they are legion – is that the final hour just isn’t too tactical, the course quickly reduces the number of contenders. The chase group behind Pidcock only saw a few teams with more than one rider; including Ben Tulett – and briefly Magnus Sheffield – for Ineos; Groupama-FDJ had Valentin Madouas and neo-pro Romain Grégoire making an amazing debut, Bahrain had Pello Bilbao and Matej Mohorič. Even Jumbo-Visma were down to just Attila Valter and Tiesj Benoot.

Pidcock going solo was a surprise. One thing he lamented during his cyclo-cross campaign last winter was that he just doesn’t have the brute force of Wout van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel. So seeing him in time trial mode here was a surprise; you’d think he could surf wheels and use his lightweight build, handling skills and punch to perfect use on the final climb into Siena. Only there’s more to him and he was carving the gravel descents like a Super-G skier; behind rivals were visibly more cautious and some ill-at-ease, like skiers effecting snowplough turns.

Mathieu van der Poel briefly led the chase but his powerful attacks seemed nervy, he could accelerate but couldn’t press on. Soon he was on the wrong side of a split as the group fragmented and from then on his day was done. Instead the chase had Madouas and Grégoire, Valter and Benoot, Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny), Davide Formolo (UAE), Pello Bilbao and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain).

Pidcock caught the two leaders and Bystrom didn’t last long. De Marchi was a passenger for longer but on the unnamed Sector 9 sterrato you could see him trying to shake his quads as if they were cramping and sure enough on the next rise he couldn’t follow. Finally Pidcock was in the lead solo.

With 20km go Pidcock had 20 seconds, the gap was falling, but only just. Pidcock wasn’t wilting, his upper body was beginning to rock more but his feet were spinning like he was riding the rollers. He just kept going and danced up the final Le Tolfe sterrato. Behind big moves by Tiesj Benoot and Attila Valter chomped into Pidcock’s lead, and with 10km go he only had 10 seconds – something confirmed with a stop watch, it wasn’t the TV graphics going haywire – but these chase moves also thinned the group which was down to Benoot, Valter, Madouas, Rui Costa and Mohorič.

Like the last openingsweekend Jumbo-Visma had numerical superiority but only just this time. They’d didn’t seem to be using it as well. If the victors get to write history, the losers risk having bloggers writing about them. This time Jumbo’s tactics didn’t work, but rather than blasting them for it, with hindsight we can probably say they were doomed because had Valter taken some monster pull to reel in Pidcock, we saw for real in Siena that Madouas proved stronger than Benoot. This time Jumbo-Visma were going to get beaten. The chase was a typical stand-off, each rider wanting the gap to be closed but needing to keep something reserve. Pidcock began to extend his lead in the streets of Siena, 10s, 15s and 25s by the time he started the final climb at the Fontebranda gate. He was clear while behind the chasers risked being swamped by the closing peloton but they held on to contest the podium places.

The Verdict
A thrilling edition held in spring sunlight. Tadej Pogačar’s romp a year was impressive but the suspense vanished once he got an infallible lead. Tom Pidcock launched in about the same place but it was all so different this time. There was tension all the way to Siena as he never had a big gap and it looked like he was going to be caught. But he never gave up, he protected his 10 second lead while the chasers supplied tension, trading attacks and cracking rivals but never quite able to get the breakaway back. Pidcock joins the likes of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel as a Strade Bianche winner, that feels logical. And yet he still seems impossible to catalogue as a rider, today’s ride also hints at more range too. We’ll see in the coming weeks.

47 thoughts on “The Moment The Strade Bianche Was Won”

  1. Great day for UK cycling and Mr Pidcock. Fascinating that Jumbo are arguably the best cycling team on the planet yet even superb management (and sponsors, equipment, funding, etc) cannot remove the role that ego and personalities play when the crunch comes. Valter and Benoot having a little tiff(osi) was most entertaining, let’s remember they are not robots.
    As for Pidcock, the world’s been his oyster for a while and 4 pro wins seems too few. My take is that this win takes the pressure off big time and Ineos and him will flourish……….

    • I didn’t quite understand benoots issue. Valter joined the other 3 without bringing accross anyone and made a 1 from 3 into a 2 from 4 jumbo riders group. A perfect scenario.

      • Having a numeric majority isn’t always an advantage, e.g. suddenly everyone will be looking at you to do all or most of the work, while otherwise they might be willing to cooperate…

        • They should just have borrowed somebody from fellow “orange” SD Worx team car (van der Breggen was there, I think).
          Although that finale, uff, might prove a troublesome source of tension in other races…

  2. A great race and an enjoyable analysis. Astonishing that Pidcock could win with such a narrow advantage at 10km to go. A little good fortune an a lot of courage.

    A rare disagreement with IR, Tuscany looks splendid with the bare late winter trees.

    • I think it looks nice now, but sublime in summer once the fields of wheat turn yellow. Try a ride that starts at dawn or finishes at dusk so that the strade bianche turn into strade rose and you don’t get much better.

        • Is the soil or the road dust really all that different? I mean, I ride lots on gravel roads and although I sometimes have to hold my breath and curse the drivers in their cars, there is no need to do more than what I would do after a ride of similar distance on paved roads.
          I wipe clean the chain, the cassette, the derailleur pulleys and the front rings and that’s it.

          I didn’t see Pitcock’s win coming, I fully expected that he would get caught by a small group. The seeds of doubt were sown when I saw Benoot gesticulating when Valter was about to join the group.

          But indeed the roads and the landscape made – once again – almost as great an impression as the winner’s ride did! If I had a bucket list, a week in Tuscany would now definitely be on it!

          • Cleaning the bike is an issue, even on a dry day it can start to form a paste that gets into the chain etc. As you can see from the race, a lot of traffic kicks up dust, the road is mostly hardpack but has some loose gravel on top which itself is turned into dust and it’s this that means a wash helps.

            Tuscany is nice and these roads are just part of the local road network, people live beside them, kids go to school via them etc… but other regions in Italy have them too, Umbria has some, and the Alps have them. The rise of the Eroica ride, which itself created the Strade Bianche, has made these ones near Siena famous and also helped prevent them from being tarmacked.

          • To be fair, I would most likely on a rental bike should I visit these roads. So I guess someone else would do the washing.

            On the other hand, absolutely astonishing landscape. Though I wouldn’t try to compare summer with winter time. The same way you wouldn’t try to compare a Vivaldi with a U2 tune. They are not better or worse, they are different.

      • Agreed. I spent two weeks riding there last summer and it was absolutely stunning. Plus the food and wine never mind the art and culture and you’re hard pressed to find a better destination. Also the roads really are white!

  3. Great race, scenery, parcour and an equally great write up describing exactly what I saw. Is this at last the true Pidcock? A rider of so many talents that he surely needs to decide where his priorities lie.
    In my view the road should become his future. At 23 he has the time and talent to win all the classics.

  4. The moment where the final chase group was taking chase, and Valter jumped across to the visible displeasure of Benoot, definitely contributed to this- from that point on it was pretty clear that whilst technically there were two Jumbo Visma riders there, neither was willing to be a team player for the other.

  5. Good for Peacock & Ineos – he might struggle against WvA & Pogacar but with Bernal’s problems the team should be pleased.
    Valter a surprise too and Madouas showed again he might be France’s best one day racer.

    • Valter was strong today and a decent 5th… but he was 4th last year too. He’s very good on these short but grinding climbs and you can see how he might finish 3rd but how to win? Madouas impressed, so did his team mate Grégoire too.

  6. As someone who has joined the northern European ( and American) pilgrimage for two summer weeks in Toscana for many years I think the greens of spring are more attractive than the yellows of August.

    As ever a very perceptive analysis, Tom Pidcock was perhaps fortunate in that the chase group was missing any of the current A list talents. Even so it was a great display, not sure if better than Alpe d’Huez but perhaps it foreshadows more wins though does he follow Geraint Thomas in forsaking one day racing for a shot at the Tour?

  7. Amazing ride from Pidcock. I hope he can keep this form until Liège! Also can’t wait until the moment comes when he is at that point in his career where he will battle with Pogacar, Evenepoel and friends for a grand tour GC. Bad luck Sheffield had a fall. If he or Tullett could have been gotten into the second group the gap would have been minutes.

    One hand gesture from Benoot has made a perhaps sketchy tactic into a full-blown soap. Valter made a call by bridging the gap with some guys not quite on his wheel. Not ideal. Mohoric and Costa expected them to close the gap on Pidcock by themselves. Jumbo were not going to give them a free ride. So then you can either let the third group get back or try to get away. They chose option 2. Neither of them was likely to win in a group sprint so they chose a tactic and stuck with it. And because of one hand gesture it all looked silly.

    But their form is amazing. I fear to think what Vingegaard and Van Aert can do if they are similarly in form as the rest of the team.

    Alaphillipe and Van der Poel and their teams really need to step up their games..

    • Well reasoned comment. I think everybody is making too much of the Valter bridge. And there were times when Benoot could have jumped across to Pidcock but didn’t/ couldn’t. The problem was partly Costa, who acted like an anchor. Great win by Pidcock but not sure if it shows much more than he’s a great descender. Would have liked to see it come back together with a fight up to the finish.

        • And the downhills? I don’t think they lost time on all the climbs. Even if that was true what was that proving. How poorly organized the chase was not how much stronger he was.

  8. A preview of the race that I read mentioned that the decents were tricky and this brought Pidcock to mind. Seems as though they were a factor from your review.

  9. again a very enjoyable race. i wrote in another forum that costa has anchor like properties! I too think the TJV kerfluffle is overblown. all 6 (including Pidcock) were at their limit – no one had enough to make any surge stick – so they kept coming back together. If Benoot could have gotten away he would have – the finish showed Madous could track him and had more pop. I don’t know if there is an analysis of this – but I have to think Pidcock’s descending is a major factor here. As close as that chase got – they always lost time after the crest of the hills. It must be brutal on the psyche to have to spend all those watts up the hill trying to split from the chase and then pidcock blows out the almost touchable gap on the next descent. i agree that an extra super TJV (i wonder if VanBaarle or LaPorte is bummed they missed this) would have made their position likely unassailable (again).

  10. Amazing ride by Pidcock, even without the usual moto pacing benefit. Whilst the G2 dynamics were poor, they were going fast enough to shed good riders who never came back. In truth, this was as much about Pidcocks resilience as anything else. Ironically, if he’d not attacked and been in that sort of small group it would have been hard to imagine anyone beating him in the kick, but then again, a very different race would have unfolded. Awkward silences on the Jumbo coach in TA?

  11. Ah, a nicely made bruschetta al pomodoro as an antipasto for season 2023! CHAPEAU to Pidcock who pretty much did what Pogacar did last year but maybe against lesser opposition? But you can only beat the guys who show-up, right? Arguing the charms of cycling in this area early spring vs summer are like arguing over which is better, Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo. Though I’ve enjoyed riding a lot of this route over the years in both seasons, watching yesterday just reminded me that I gotta get serious about my dream of riding the entire signposted EROICA route over the course of a few days…with someone else hauling the luggage now that we’re retired from that sort of thing!

  12. Beautifully written – thank you. I wondered after the race when ‘the moment the race was won’ might have been: reading this at breakfast was an unexpected treat. The moment Tom looked back on the final claim seemed like the moment the race had been won. The moment much earlier, when he looked back as he dropped the two Italians on a descent, seemed to the moment the race could be won. But the moment the race was won…?

    • A philosophical question, right?
      In this race there was no such moment which contributed to making it so exciting.
      Or if there was it has to be the moment when he rode away in that long gravel descent.

      A beautiful summary and analysis, INRNG, chapeau !

  13. Great to see Pidcock getting road wins. I hope we can have him, WvA and VdP all at the pointy end of the big races.
    I’m always interested in the possible physocilogical advantage great decenders have. Invalid had it, Motoric has that also and all the talk of dropper posts, and Pidcock decent videos seamed made to spook others. Looking forward to both of them at Sanremo.
    Final point of Pidcock and his decent – I always feel he could have won the 2019 Tour de Lavinir but he crashed, and from memory it was pushing an escape down hill in the wet. A risk and reward balance to consider going forward.

    • A race like this has an added twist — sketchy surfaces downhill. CXers have a definite edge, whether that’s Pidcock this year keeping the gap or Pog last year opening one. Pure roadies generally look tense and nervy on gravel downhills.

      • “Pure roadies generally look tense and nervy on gravel downhills.” Is there such-a-thing these daze? I’d say “less-than-great bike handlers” rather than “pure roadies” since so many courses now feature unpaved sections. You know the riders I mean – those whose watts/kg numbers are more important than their bike handling skills or lack thereof.
        IMHO that’s what make races like these entertaining – when tactics and skill count as much (or more?) as watts/kg. Even though a British guy won we celebrated Tuscan-style with a fiorentina-style steak, ribollita and a bottle of Chianti Classico on Sunday afternoon.
        Chapeau Pidcock!

      • Pretty much agreed with Larry T above, just check 2018 or 2019 (or 2016) if you have any doubt. Of course CX is great to perfect that sort of skills, or just as a case of natural selection as in “if you’re a poor bike handler, you won’t go on that much racing CX (ask Wiggo). That stands true, even if the World Cup is opting for less and less technical courses, alas. However, you can also have a more than decent number of pure roadies with that kind of impressive skills. Surely less so once the focus is on power to weight only and you’re rounded by your own pretorian guard on the flat fast stages – for tension and nerves, just have a look at the bunch launched full speed towards the earlier walls at Flanders or all the time at Amstel. MvdP showed well how his CX are more than useful, there, too, but many “roadies” have their say, too. Anyway, CX is a great way to start practising or towards a multi discipline career, no doubt.

        • I can’t recall too many CX courses with long tricky descents…..However, don’t forget he’s the Olympic & European XCO Champion….The MTB World Cup has courses with tricky descents, and he’s managed to hold his own v Nino et al on these descents.

          It might not be a popular view here, but XCO MTB is a level above technically compared to CX.

          • I couldn’t say, frankly. We’re also speaking of different bikes.
            However, the likes of Rosa, Evans, Fuglsang, and even Bernal or Sagan in a sense, show that also that “X”, as in cross-country, implies, well, useful cross-skilling 😉 , too.

            I’d add that Ferrand-Prevot surely deserves a mention.

            Brambilla was a roadie surprisingly good on dirty roads, without having also the advantage of superior athletic skills as many named above and below.
            Valverde was also an interesting case because he was terrible “limando” in the bunch (Amstel, Sanremo…) although he had great bike-handling skills both descending and on offroad surfaces.

    • I think I would’ve paid a lot of money to see Invalid and Motoric race down a super technical descent!

      But while I have no trouble recognizing the latter, I must admit I’m still quite clueless about the true identity of Invalid.

      • Nibali? ^___^ .
        (..”had it”, should be anyway a retired rider).

        Among the several pure roadies with an inclination for offroad and descending on sketchy roads in recent years, like, among those who still race, say, Lutsenko, Simmons, Bilbao, Kwiatkowski, Bardet, Wellens…

        • If you review a list of the winners over the years the “3 Tenors” of CX are now all there + one other crosser (Stybar) while the rest would fit into the “pure roadie” category – Cancellara, Kwiatkowski, Alaphillipe, Gilbert, etc.

          • Alaphilippe used to compete in CX too, until he was ~20yo.

            And Pogačar rides off-road for fun, but rarely enters in races these days (I think only Ciklokros Ljubljana in 2021 & 2022 recently, although he used to do CX in his youth too).

  14. So with Piddocks style of winning Strade Bianchi echoing the L-B-L and World Champs wins of Evenepoel……Is Tom Pidcock the New Remco Evenepoel.

    • the dangers of blogging fast–to misquote Shakespeare! I’m sure, though, that were Romeo a 21st century blogger he’d have said “CU tmrw 😩”… but then you’d know better, eh, ‘Juliet’?

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