Mathieu Van der Poel masters the gravel roads to win Strade Bianche

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SIENA, Italy — Mathieu van der Poel’s many talents across multiple disciplines came in handy when he won the Strade Bianche ahead of a stellar field.

Having already accelerated on the last of 11 sections of white, gravel roads to winnow the lead group down to three, the Dutch champion left behind world champion Julian Alaphilippe and 2019 Tour de France champion Egan Bernal on the short but steep finishing climb to Siena’s Piazza del Campo on a stretch of cobblestones where the gradient reached a leg-breaking 16%.

Van der Poel had time to unleash a series of fist pumps as he crossed the line in the piazza, which was empty of fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alaphilippe crossed second, five seconds behind, and Bernal came third, 20 seconds back.

Van der Poel, who rides for the Alpecin-Fenix team, required 4 hours, 40 minutes to complete the 184-kilometer (114-mile) route, which also began in Siena.

Having won last year’s Tour of Flanders, this was another big road race victory for Van der Poel, who also has multiple titles in cyclo-cross and mountain bike racing.

“This is one of the races I was really focusing on this year,” Val der Poel said. “I had really good legs and I made the difference where I wanted to.”

Last year’s winner Wout van Aert finished fourth and last year’s Tour de France champion, Tadej Pogacar, came seventh.

The 136-kilometer (85-mile) women’s race had a similar finish and a Dutch winner, too.

Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, the 2017 world champion, attacked to leave behind Olympic bronze medalist Elise Longo Borghini on the finishing climb up Via Santa Caterina.

Longo Borghini finished seven seconds behind and Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen came third, nine seconds back.

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”