The world champion bridged from the peloton to a chasing group on the penultimate gravel sector and went on a solo chase of Margarita Victoria García (Alé BTC Ljubljana) who had attacked 45km from the finish.
Van Vleuten caught the Spaniard with seven kilometres to go and dropped her on the Via Santa Caterina, taking a solo win on the Piazza del Campo. Leah Thomas (Équipe Paule Ka) rounded out the podium almost two minutes later.
“My teammate Amanda Spratt did an awesome job to be in the break, so I had an easy day”, Van Vleuten said after the finish. “I actually thought the race was over and that she would win from that group. Then suddenly Mavi García was away, she is a really strong rider, it was beautiful for the race, and I had to go full in that attack. The Piazza del Campo is the most beautiful finish for me to win, so it was an emotional victory.”
The heat of 36°C and more did not impede the world champion: “I try to think the other way around”, Van Vleuten explained. “Everything that is hard is good for me because it is also hard for my opponents. I love the heat, and all the other girls will suffer even more.”
How it unfolded
The first UCI Women’s WorldTour race after the COVID-19 racing break saw 122 riders take to the start of the 136-kilometre race, with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv), Ella Harris (Canyon-SRAM), and Clara Koppenburg (Ceratizit-WNT) non-starters after training crashes the day before.
Eight sectors with a total 31.6 kilometres of gravel Strade Bianche and scorching August heat made for an extremely hard race. After a few short-lived breaks, the peloton split halfway through the race on the fifth and longest gravel sector, but things rolled back together again, leading to a peloton of around 40 riders.
Eleven riders attacked just before the 50-kilometre mark. Spratt, García, Rasa Leleivyte (Aromitalia Vaiano), Karol-Ann Canuel (Boels Dolmans), Omer Shapira (Canyon-SRAM), Soraya Paladin (CCC-Liv), Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT), Thomas, Stine Borgli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), and Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service) soon had a 30-second advantage as most big teams were represented in the group.
Only a few minutes later, García took her heart in both hands and went on a long solo ride, building a gap of more than three minutes on the chase group and over five minutes on the peloton. But the heat took its toll on the 36-year-old Spaniard, and she was visibly struggling on the steep slopes of the last gravel sectors, Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe, in the final 20 kilometres.
It was on Colle Pinzuto that Van Vleuten made her move, bridging to the chase group. After a final turn by her teammate Spratt, the world champion led the chase ever closer to García. Entering the Le Tolfe sector 1:35 minutes behind the leader, Van Vleuten dropped her remaining companions and continued to chase García on her own.
Though García tried to hold on, she was caught eventually. Staying on Van Vleuten’s wheel, García tried to anticipate the inevitable attack on the steep final kilometre but had no response to Van Vleuten’s winning move.
Leah Thomas had gone solo from the chase group in the last ten kilometres and just stayed ahead of the surging favourites, Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), and Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv). Liane Lippert, winner of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race back in February, was the best U23 rider in 16th place, defending her lead in the UCI Women’s WorldTour overall and U23 classifications.
Rider Name (Country) Team
Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott Women
Mavi Garcia (Spa Alé BTC Ljubljana
Leah Thomas (USA) Equipe Paule Ka
Anna Van der Breggen (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam
Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo Women
Marianne Vos (Ned) CCC-Liv
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope