Wout van Aert can also race on gravel and tarmac. In the Strade Bianche (1.UWT) in Tuscany the Cyclocross World Champion of team Veranda’s Willems-Crelan came in third, just 56 seconds behind winner Tiesj Benoot and Romain Bardet.
With the wet and cold weather including snow and rain the event resembled a cyclocross rather than a road race. As if the very hilly 184km (114mls) course with its many climbs over 15% and more than 50km (32mls) over the namesake grey-white gravel roads weren’t difficult enough, the weather made it all but easier. Proof of that was the final ranking – of 147 starting riders only 53 finished. Van Aerts’ team mate Stijn Devolder comes in good 28th.
Van Aert had followed Romain Bardet (AG2R) when he tried to break away from the peloton in the eighth gravel section. The two joined forces for about 50km (32mls) until Tiesj Benoot caught up from the chase group. Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) eventually broke-away in the final steep gravel section and was able to keep the lead on the final kilometres in the streets of Siena. Alejandro Valverde comes in fourth, other top-ten finishers were Zdenek Stybar in 7th and World Champion Peter Sagan in 8th place.
Pro Continental Team Veranda’s Willems-Crelan was allowed to take part thanks to a last-minute wild card issued by the organizer – who definitely won’t regret this decision.
Two weeks prior at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad van Aert had shown to be in good shape. Until shortly before the finish he was part of the head group when in a strategically disadvantageous spot he was slowed-down by a flat tire and he eventually came in 32nd.
Strade Bianche is only one of three races this weekend. On Sunday one part of the Pro Continental team will take part in the Grand Prix Larcanio. The other half will be at the start of ”Dwars door West-Vlaanderen”.