Strade Bianche: SD Worx goes 1-2 ahead of heroic Kristen Faulkner

Demi Vollering beats Lotte Kopecky in a bike throw, with Faulkner third in dramatic finale.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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SD Worx went one-two in a wild finale at Strade Bianche, with Demi Vollering out-sprinting teammate Lotte Kopecky in a photo finish.

American rider Kristen Faulkner (Jayco-AlUla) crossed the line third after almost pulling off a dramatic solo victory in Saturday’s Strade Bianche, but she eventually succumbed to the inevitable tide of SD Worx.

“I am very happy of course to win,” Vollering said. “It was a crazy final. We rode well as a team, and the other girls rode super strong today. The final play was really cool. This was the plan for me to attack, and suddenly Lotte was with me, and we were two teammates together.”

Faulkner went down swinging after she attacked with 40km to go and fended off the peloton until she was caught on the final wall into Sienna by the SD Worx combo of Vollering and defending champion Kopecky.

It was a race against time as Faulkner fought desperately to hang on after a long-distance attack and she held a 45-second gap with 10km to go.

SD Worx patiently kept up the pressure, with defending champion Kopecky and Vollering working together to chip away. They didn’t catch her until the final wall at Via Santa Catarina leading into Siena’s main piazza.

There was no deal, and the SD Worx teammates sprinted against each other all the way to a bike throw to the line.

World champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) was gapped on the final gravel sector, and led a chase group for the leftovers at the end of a thrilling finale.

Kristen Faulkner lights up the race

Kristen Faulkner held on for third. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

American rider Faulkner shook off a crash to emerge as one of the day’s main protagonists to light up an attack-riddled, thrilling finale across the Tuscan hills.

Faulkner and Karlijn Swinkels (Jumbo-Visma) went off with about 40km to go, and Faulkner forged alone to nurse a lead of 1:35 when the pace started to really pick up coming into the final three decisive gravel sectors with 25km to go.

The average speed was above 35kph going into the final hour of racing, revealing the high pace across the race.

The peloton raced under spectacular conditions, with bright blue skies and light breezes following a few days of rain across Italy’s Tuscany region.

The bunch seemed hesitant to fully commit to the chase, and Faulkner’s lead grew to almost two minutes heading into sector 6, a short but steep gravel climb that often serves as a launchpad for attacks.

A small chase group peeled away but Movistar and SD Worx set the pace to carry Van Vleuten and the other favorites into the decisive gravel sector.

Faulkner used her time trial skills to make it close. Van Vleuten was forced to up the chase with 18km on the penultimate gravel sector as the American’s margin was holding steady at 1:35.

Van Vleuten didn’t have the jets to go alone, and Vollering surged to the front to keep the pressure on when a horse momentarily stampeded down the course.

A race against time

Who won? No one knew until the replay. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Faulkner hit the final gravel sector in a favorable position. Attrition in the chase group saw all the top leaders isolated without any or just one teammate, meaning that there was a measured effort from behind.

The American — who won two stages and the climber’s jersey at last year’s Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile — defended her lead over the final gravel sector.

Kopecky bridged up to Vollering after gapping Van Vleuten and the other chasers on the final gravel sector with just over 10km to go. Ludwig dug deep to try to bridge across, but ran out of gas.

The gap was down to 45 seconds with 10km to go, with SD Worx turning the screws.

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