Dominant Pogacar charges to stunning Strade Bianche win

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, Team UAE, celebrates by lifting his bike after winning, the 18th one-day classic ‘Strade Bianche’ (White Roads) cycling race between Siena and Siena, Tuscany, on March 2, 2024. AFP

Tadej Pogacar fired a warning shot to his cycling rivals on Saturday by storming to a stunning win in the Strade Bianche, blowing away the competition with a solo attack a full 81 kilometres from the finish line in Siena.

UAE rider Pogacar claimed a statement victory in his first race of the 2024 season in which he will attempt a Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double for the first time.

Pogacar finished two minutes and 44 seconds ahead of Toms Skujins, smashing the previous record winning margin of 42 seconds set by Fabian Cancellara in 2012 to win the race for the second time.

The 25-year-old started his campaign as he ended the previous season, triumphant in Italy where he claimed a hat-trick of consecutive victories in Il Lombardia in October.

Two-time Tour winner Pogacar had said before the start that he would attack on the Monte Santa Maria and he did just that, bursting from the pack and racing on his own for over two hours before winning the 215km race set in picturesque Tuscan countryside.

“It was really tough conditions and there were no more resources left in the group so it was only 25 riders… There was a moment when you couldn’t see anything and I decided to go on the attack,” said Pogacar to Eurosport.

“I knew that it was going to be long but I knew that when I had a gap that I just go to the end.”

Pogacar basked in the applause of fans as he crossed the line in Siena’s Piazza del Campo, getting off his bike and raising it into the air in celebration at a huge win against a strong field which also included Ineos’ defending champion Tom Pidcock, who finished fourth.

His charge was even more impressive than the way he won in Siena for the first time two years ago, when he attacked from 50km and got no reply from his rivals, as this year’s edition was the longest in the race’s 17-year history.

– Pogacar dominates –

An extra loop was added to the course to make the young race, which is gaining in status to the point that some are calling it the sixth “Monument” due to the 71 kilometres of dusty white gravel which make it unique.

Those famous white roads surrounding Siena turned brown and soggy after a brief flurry of rain swept in to cause the riders trouble while off the tarmac.

But by the time Pogacar had pulled away the sun was back out and his burst caused confusion in the peloton, as no-one attempted to follow him up the road and uncoordinated stop-start attempts to close the gap only allowed the Slovene to increase his lead.

With 40km remaining Pogacar was over three-and-a-half minutes ahead and that gap was only slightly cut at the end of another crushing display to add to his already groaning collection.

The next big target for Pogacar is Milan-San Remo in a fortnight, the season’s first official Monument and a race that he hasn’t yet won.

Julian Alaphilippe crashed out of the race in a frustrating start to the season for the two-time world champion, who was also forced to abandon the Circuit Het Nieuwsblad last weekend following a heavy fall in the final stages.

French Soudal-Quick Step rider Alaphilippe and his teammate Paul Magnier both quit the race, with no details revealed as to their respective conditions.

Patrick Lefevere, general manager of his team, recently criticised Alaphilippe’s for what he believes is a partying lifestyle and being “under the influence” of his partner Marion Rousse, herself a former racing cyclist.

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