Stories out of Strade Bianche: Quick-Step’s woes, Faulkner’s rise, Van der Poel’s restart, and more

Here's your scrapbook of storylines, narratives, and things to know after a spectacular day of racing in Siena.

Photo: Getty Images

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Strade Bianche and Strade Bianche Donne always serve enough storylines to fill a season, and Saturday’s races didn’t disappoint.

Here’s a scrapbook of just some of the headlines that emerged from Siena’s dirt road classic:

Soudal Quick-Step’s woes continue

Another bad day Saturday for Quick-Step. (Photo: Getty Images)

If Patrick Lefevere was looking for a spectacular comeback from a woeful “Opening Weekend,” he didn’t find it at Strade Bianche.

Soudal Quick-Step’s “Wolfpack” went home with its tail between its legs Saturday after its best-placed rider Andrea Bagioli managed only 30th.

Former Strade champion Julian Alaphilippe finished a lowly 43rd after promising signs of the “Ju Ju” of old emerged with his victory in the Ardeche last weekend.

Sure, Tuscany’s vineyards and white roads are a long way from the cobblestones and bergs of Flanders that Quick-Step once made its own. And the team’s new focus on Remco Evenepoel further shifts the script.

But with the marquee northern classics approaching fast on the horizon, Quick-Step’s classics crew needs to shift up a sprocket and restore some pride, and soon.

The full ferocity of Lefevere’s ire can only be held back so long.

Kristen Faulkner’s star continues to rise

Faukner continues her meteoric trajectory. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kristen Faulkner shone very bright in the dust and dirt Saturday.

The Alaska powerhouse lasted solo at the front through to the final 600m of the race Saturday and stayed strong for third when overhauled by SD Worx.

Having only turned pro in 2020 after her life as a rower and venture capitalist, Jayco-AlUla’s new-signed rouleur looks intent on making up for lost time.

She kicked the doors down with marquee wins at the Giro Donne and Tour de Suisse last year, and her incredible TT at the front of the Strade only continues the trend.

Faulkner came to within a few hundred meters of a marquee win Saturday, but she’s only a few inches from the very big time.

Tom Pidcock produces another descending masterclass

Pidcock scored headline victory for his multi-discipline palmares. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

There are a lot of things to remember Tom Picock for.

From summit victory on Alpe d’Huez to a “superman” celebration to cap victory at cyclocross worlds, the brash Brit knows how to serve a spectacle.

But it might be his descending skills that steal the show.

Pidcock again flashed his all-terrain bike-handling prowess Saturday. A wild downhill acceleration through the gravel and race convoy forged his winning gap before he narrowly avoided a vehicle as he barreled down the hill toward Siena a few dozen kilometers later.

Pidcock had the cycling world on the edge of its seat with his descent from the Galibier at the 2022 Tour de France, and only last month nearly broke the internet with footage of his Los Angeles antics.

His ride to victory Sunday adds a few more clips to the Pidcock showreel.

Changing of the guard on the final podium of Strade Donne

A new generation stole the show in Siena.

No Marianne Vos, Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, or Chantal van den Broek Blaak on the final podium of Strade Bianche Donne? What is this, a new era?

In Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky, arguably the best young classics racer and stage racer of the current era finished one-two Saturday. New cyclist and rising rouleur Kristen Faulkner crossed the line for third to complete a sweep of new talent.

With Van Vleuten on the brink of retirement and Van der Breggen already gone, the women’s peloton is seeking some new patronne.

The absence of Elisa Longo Borghini might have made a difference, but Siena crowned three of the newest queens of women’s cycling on its final podium this weekend.

Mathieu van der Poel needs more time

No second Strade victory Saturday for ‘MvdP’.

Mathieu van der Poel barnstormed and then blew in 10 spectacular kilometers Sunday. A trademark haymaker attack around 40km from the line made for a false flare before the Dutchman faded to 15th in the Siena square.

The former Strade Bianche champion made his 2023 road debut Saturday, one month after his spectacular cyclocross worlds win.

He warned before the race his legs were good but that he would need racing hardness to hone his top level for the monuments to come.

He was proven right with what wound up to be an uncharacteristically anonymous ride in one of Strade’s chase groups.

Tirreno-Adriatico next week will see MvdP amass the miles he needs ahead of A-race goals at Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix.

Roll out from Milan for “La Primavera” in two weekend’s time is where the fireworks should – hopefully – truly begin.

Annemiek van Vleuten still waiting on her rainbow win

Van Vleuten has been made to wait an unusually long time for her first victory of the season.

Six race days without a win would be no story for any other rider. But when it’s Annemiek van Vleuten, it’s different.

Van Vleuten won on her third and fifth day of racing in 2022, third and fourth in 2021, and on debut the year before that. You have to look back to 2018 for it to have taken “AVV” six or more days to take the top step.

Fifth to the Piazza del Campo continues what is a “slow” start to the year for the painfully prolific Dutchwoman as she waits on a debut victory for her swansong season.

The world champion was derailed by mechanicals at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend and said poor positioning usurped good legs Saturday.

It seems only a matter of time before Van Vleuten opens her account on her final season in the pro peloton.

Rui Costa’s wild renaissance

Costa scored a career-best finish in Strade at the age of 36.

Who was betting at the start of the season that Rui Costa would have amassed 11 top-10 finishes and a GC victory in his first 18 days of racing in 2023?

Not me.

Costa continued his wild return to form with his fourth-place finish Saturday, marking his best result at Strade Bianche and a continuation of an early season tear few might have expected.

Now aged 36, Costa is reaping a rich run of success in his first season with Intermarché-Wanty-Circus. The former world champion is one of a handful of riders the Belgian team resuscitated for a late-career romp, with riders like Alexander Kristoff, Domenico Pozzovivo and Louis Meintjes all profiting from a spin around the Intermarché before him.

Costa returns to the scenes of former triumphs in the Ardennes and Switzerland in the coming months.

Nobody will be betting against him then.

Puck Pieterse: The most exciting new rider in the women’s peloton?

Pieterse is another of the multi-discipline phenoms ripping up the road.

Cyclocross star Puck Pieterse is on the road and lovin’ life so far in 2023.

Pieterse lit up the ‘cross winter with her wheelies and bike handling mastery and looks intent on doing similar this spring.

After a boisterous road debut at Het Hageland last weekend, the 20-year-old roared into fifth in Siena in what was only her second pro road race.

Is Pieterse the most exciting new talent in the womens road peloton? Could be. But her cyclocross archrival Fem van Empel might have something to say when she makes her road debut next month.

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