According to the 2018 winner, Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) who finished third in the race, “It is really a gruelling race that is underestimated by many riders. Percentage-wise, there is even more gravel in the Strade Bianche than cobbles in Paris-Roubaix. Moreover, there are around 3,000 altitude metres to overcome.” So it is no surprise that the race has been won by top riders who have the ability to climb, descend, absorb punishment and race wisely. The great Swiss puncheur Fabio Cancellara holds the record with three wins, while the preceding three runnings have been won by Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar.
Pogačar chose to ride in Paris-Nice this year instead, van Aert didn’t make it to the start because of illness and van der Poel struggled from the beginning and finished 15th, 1 min 45 sec behind the winner. But all that should not detract from the performance of the 23-year-old Ineos Grenadiers rider Tom Pidcock who grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck with about 60 km to go, when he broke away from the peloton on his own and then passed, one by one, the groups chasing the early breakaway trio of riders, Alessandro De Marchi (Team Jayco-Alula), Sven Erik Bystrøm (Intermarché–Circus–Wanty) and 19-year-old Iván Romeo (Movistar).
Like van Aert and van der Poel, Pidcock is a superior off-road rider, having won the Cyclo-Cross world championship in 2022 and the Olympics mountain bike gold medal in 2021. Always riding from the front, he was able to distance riders and make up time on the leaders on the white clay of Tuscany and on the descents. He finally ditched De Marchi on the ninth stretch of the “white road” with 23 km to go in the race. He was then chased the rest of the way by six riders, including Benoot and his Jumbo-Visma teammate Attila Valter, the Hungarian national champion.
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The group came within 7 seconds of Pidcock but again lost ground on the clay and then were unable to collaborate on the chase, with Valter unwilling to help his team leader. In the end, Pidcock crossed the finish line 20 seconds ahead of Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ), with Benoot another three seconds adrift.
The winner was overwhelmed after the finish but not completely surprised by his victory. “It’s pretty incredible. I don’t know what to think right now, he told Eurosport. “When I went, that was completely not the plan. I got a gap on the descent and I just carried on. Honestly, this week I knew something good was going to happen today. I kind of knew that today was my day.” Pidcock said he was aware of how close the final chasers had come to his rear wheel. “I knew they were close and I thought, ‘Oh, no, I messed it up, I’d gone too early.’”
But the one who “messed up” was the 24-year-old Valter who admitted his error. “That was my mistake,” he said. “I should have communicated better with Tiesj. Give us a few more races together and it will go much better. It’s only my first race with him.” Benoot accepted part of the blame for their failure to catch Pidcock but had only good things to say about the winner. “Congrats to Pidcock. After such a solo you can only say: Wow! And congratulations. He never stopped and the best rider won today.”