Strade Bianche ’12: Cancellara’s Masterclass

Race Report: After watching this year’s edition of the Strade Bianche, I think it bears noting – this race is amazing. The course, the racing, the racers, the scenery, the finish; it’s a race like no other, and today, it got a winner like no other. In short – he’s BACK!

There was a break early on, there was some formal chasing, there was some hard riding, and when we tune into the live coverage with around forty kilometers to go, there’s a powerful, albeit large, move up the road highlighted by the big favorites, but also defined by a serious lack of cooperation.

The chasing group is 42 seconds behind and gaining time rapidly.

Daniele Bennati and Daniel Oss are less than excited about the sedate pace of the leaders, so they bid the safety of the group of seventeen behind in favor of a two-up dash for glory.

Bennati has made his name as a sprinter, but he looks like a rider capable of much more than that in the hills of Tuscany today. Bennati and Oss are grimacing on a rise, but it’s Oss that looks to be suffering the most on Bennati’s wheel…and then the Ossman is gone. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

A sign of things to come this spring? Is success in Sanremo a real possibility? The Italian cameras love Bennati, never passing up on an opportunity to use some slow motion images on Benna…who looks like he could be related to Cancellara.

Behind, the baby blue boys of CSF-Colnago are on the front, then it’s Enrico Gasparotto going a bloc. The afterthought move seems to be gaining momentum, as the favorites collect themselves behind, readying for the imminent throwdown.

At long last, Gaspa gobbles up Oss. Nibali looks over in disgust at his teammate, Oss, who was dropped by a field sprinter. He didn’t actually look at him like that, but it would be cool if he did.

With 26k to go, Farnese Vini attack in tandem. Seriously.

Bennati starts the section of strade bianche with 1:05, let’s see where it stands at the end of it. Garmin-Barracuda go straight to the front. 23 seconds are shaved off almost immediately.

Bennati, in his drops, churns along, as Greg Van Avermaet takes over at the front of the chasing group. He’s not just taking over either, he’s flying. The group is shredding behind him. The gap is down to 47 seconds with Vansummeren back at the head of affairs. Vansummeren even got himself a little gap through a technical turn. Bike driving is paramount on the hilly, twisting strade bianche.

The section is over, and Bennati has held on. Ballan isn’t done from behind though. The former World Champion is letting those gangly limbs do their worst. Vansummeren looks worse for wear, but apart from the vicious acceleration, the group holds together.

Nibali goes on the pavement! Kreuziger follows, so do Cancellara and Ballan. Nibali isn’t done and keeps the pressure on with Ballan right on his wheel…plus about a dozen others.

20k to go!

Bennati holding strong, the favorites jabbing here and there, but the decisive part of the route still to come. Back to the white roads, and it’s immediately uphill for Bennati. Can’t imagine what’s about to come from the favorites.

Segmento 7 – the favorites enter the dirt.

Van Avermaet hits out first. Grimacing, grinding, lurching, battling the gradient. Three riders are already gone – Visconti and Ventoso and a Colombia-Coldeportes rider. It’s steep, it’s evil, and the selection is being ground out in the dirt by the forcing of Van Avermaet.

Ahead, Bennati is a spent force. You can see the favorites approaching, and he’s finally let go of the drops in favor of the hoods – his once proud gap is down to less than a quarter minute. The camera flashes to the scene behind in the lead group, and riders are frantically jabbing at pedals in search of that little bit of draft. Visconti and Gatto are chasing hard and catch back on.

17k to go. Back to the pavement. Bennati takes a gel, looks back, and enjoys a soft pedal, while waiting for Van Avermaet to put his move to a respectable end. Visconti goes from dropped, to just catching on, to off the front. Hardman +1. The ‘move’ is short lived, however. He’s back in the fold. I take back my +1 Hardman point.

15k to go. The camera flashes back to the Gruppo Gilbert, but they’re out of contention. This race will be decided from the leading group, where Bennati rides on like he’s still solo, but now he has a whole bunch of firepower on his wheel.

Iglinskiy and Kreuziger chat amongst their Astana selves, Vansummeren looks like he has appendicitis, and Cancellara lies in wait. The group consists of: Reda, Ballan, Kreuziger, GVA, Iglinskiy, Vansummeren, Pantano, Gatto, Nibali, Favilli, Visconti, Bennati, Ventoso, Cancellara, and Amador, plus one other name I missed on the TV as they scrolled by.

Here goes Van Avermaet again! The man is on fire. His jersey is too. Van Avermaet attacked through the turn, up the hill, and on to the white road. Behind, Cancellara is chasing, trying to get on terms with the storming Belgian.

Remember when Gilbert said that he was the unquestioned leader of BMC, and Van Avermaet better look elsewhere for opportunities? Well, Gilbert isn’t in contention today, and Van Avermaet is making the race. Could this be Van Avermaet’s day?

Cancellara catches Van Avermaet and keeps right on going. Van Avermaet, just moments before dominant and strong, is going backwards. Ballan is coming on strong, but Cancellara is not to be stopped! There he goes!

Warning, warning, warning – Fabian has daylight.

It has been far too long since we last saw Spartacus unleash massive nuclear fury on his pedals. It’s baptismal in its beauty and awesomeness. Cancellara is time trailing. Tony Martin isn’t here, so he should be ok.

Cancellara is gone. This is classic Cancellara. Forearms on the tops, driving hard.

In the chasing group behind with 10k to go, there are two Astani (Iglinskiy and Kreuziger), two BMCs (Van Avermaet and Ballan), and Farnese Vini’s Oscar Gatto. Behind that group is a group of four – two Acqua e Sapones, another Farnese, and Vansummeren, still suffering.

Fabь has 17 seconds with 9k to go.

Van Avermaet looks like he’s crying, as he pulls through heading into Siena. At the front, Fabian is too fast for the lead car traffic. He definitely lost a little something through the turn, but that draft he grabbed coming out of the circle probably made up for it.

Oh no! Alessandro Ballan went the wrong way! Instead of taking the second exit through the traffic circle, he took the first one and rode himself right out of the break. Now he’s chasing, chasing, chasing. That must hurt a whole lot, mentally…and physically, of course.

Ballan catches back on, but he had to have left a full box of matches behind with that boo boo.

Cancellara was once again fabulous in his solo victory – his second in Siena.

Cancellara churns by the 5k to go banner, navigates another turn, nearly hits a wall, and he’s back on his way, out of the saddle. No one can say that the run in to Siena is boring.

The gap is 38 seconds, and just to illustrate what that means, the helicopter pans from Fabian to the chasers, and 38 seconds looks like a never ending distance between chasers and escapist.

Cancellara is back in time trial mode, and he’s smashing. He even takes a moment to enjoy his amazing downhill speed by easing off the pedals and coasting.

Last kilometer, it’s almost all uphill, into the Piazza del Campo. Barring an attack from a mountain lion, Cancellara wins, and wins big for the second time at the Strade Bianche.

And it just gets more and more beautiful. This final kilometer is an advertisement for amazing Siena!

The group, loosely titled the chasers, hits the final kilometer, while Cancellara suffers up the sixteen percent section through the narrow streets of town, heralded like the cycling hero he is by tifosi, every meter of the way.

Cancellara crests the steep section, and takes on the ultra narrow lead-in that typically sees some entertaining fighting for the lead wheel heading into the last turn. Today though, it’s a formality. He emerges into the light, points to the sky, crosses himself emphatically, and savors the lush moment.


Here come the chasers, and Iglinskiy takes the best line ever and shoots the tiny hole by the barriers to eke by Gatto to take second. Gatto third, Ballan fourth.

Back to Cancellara – one attack, one solo effort, victory. There are few more impressive than Cancellara when he’s on. He doesn’t just win, he destroys.

Race Results
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 4:44:59
2. Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Pro Team Astana 0:00:42
3. Oscar Gatto (Ita) Varnese Vini-Selle Italia
4. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:00:46
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:48
6. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana 0:01:03