SIENA, Italy — Two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar displayed his dominance with an unprecedented long-distance solo attack to win the Strade Bianche.
It was a different story in the women’s race, with Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky holding off two-time champion Annemiek van Vleuten in a two-woman sprint.
Pogačar attacked with 50 kilometers (31 miles) to go in the 184-kilometer (114-mile) race through Tuscany on the eighth of 11 sections of white, gravel roads. The Slovenian with UAE Team Emirates quickly opened up an advantage of more than a minute and finished 37 seconds ahead of 41-year-old Alejandro Valverde and 46 seconds ahead of Kasper Asgreen of Denmark.
“I didn’t really plan my attack but Monte Sante Maria is always the most important point of the race,” Pogačar said. “I expected riders to come along but nobody did so I had no choice other than to commit 100% to reaching the finishing line solo.”
In the 16-year history of the race, nobody had come close to pulling off an attack so far from the finish. The next longest successful attack was made by 2007 champion Alexandr Kolobnev, who made his move 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the finish in 2007 – the first year the race was held.
Making matters more impressive was that Pogačar was involved in a mass crash early in the race. He came away with some scrapes and a mangled handlebar, forcing him to change bikes.
“I suffered a lot in the last 40 to 50 kilometers,” Pogačar said. “There were moments in which I was thinking that my legs would explode and I’d walk to the finish. I had no time for sightseeing for sure. I won because I had no pressure from my team for this race and I don’t really care about the pressure from the outside world.”
Valverde also came back from a crash.
“Second behind Pogacar, it’s like a victory,” said the Spanish veteran, the world champion in 2018.
Two-time reigning world champion Julian Alaphilippe was dropped toward the end after also getting banged up in a fall — which opened the way for Quick-Step teammate Asgreen to aim for the podium.
Earlier, Kopecky held off the more experienced Van Vleuten on the super steep final climb to Siena’s Piazza del Campo then darted to the line. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, a teammate of Kopecky on the Sd Worx squad, finished third, 10 seconds behind.
“I was quite confident before the race that I could do this on the final climb. It’s explosive and it suits me,” Kopecky said. “When Annemiek couldn’t drop me, it was very good for my confidence. … It was just one sprint to the corner. I wasn’t going to brake.”
Next up for Pogačar is defending his title in the weeklong Tirreno-Adriatico.