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At the 2022 men’s and women’s Strade Bianche, we saw two completely different races unfold on the dusty gravel roads to Siena. The wind played a major factor in the men’s race, while pack dynamics, complicated chase groups, and team strength defined the outcome of the women’s race.
Tadej Pogačar soloed away from everyone with 49km to go in the men’s Strade Bianche, stamping his authority on the world of professional cycling for the umpteenth time. The Slovenian is still only 23 years old but has now won two monuments, two Tours de France, and so many other races that it’s hard to keep count.
In many ways, the women’s Strade Bianche was a very different story, with an underdog topping the former world champion at the end of the day. Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) beat Annemiek van Vleuten in the finale of a hard-fought race, the Belgian champion taking the biggest win of her career.
The two different Strade Bianche races gave us a rare glimpse at men’s and women’s cycling, and how two different fields can race almost the same exact course, just a few hours apart from each other. Both the men and the women raced over the same key gravel sectors and sprinted up the narrow walls of the Via Santa Caterina at the end of this epic Italian classic. Here, we take a closer look at the women’s and men’s Strade Bianche.
While the women’s and men’s race routes covered different distances – the women’s race was 136km versus the men’s 184km – they featured many of the same gravel sectors that so famously define this race through the Tuscan hills.
Action in the men’s race kicked off with nearly 100km to go when devastating crosswinds whipped across the peloton, causing a massive crash that affected pre-race favorite Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl). The world champion would eventually make it back to the peloton after a 25km chase, but he was clearly battle-scarred. But that didn’t stop Alaphilippe from attacking with some 60km to go, marked closely by Pogačar and others.
Pogačar – following Alaphilippe’s attack on sector 8
Average Power: 400w (6.1w/kg)
The Slovenian didn’t wait long to launch his own counterattack, leaving his rivals literally in the dust on a technical gravel descent. This was at 49km to go, and Carlos Rodriquez (Ineos Grenadiers) was the only rider who attempted to close the gap. But the Spaniard struggled almost immediately and lost time to Pogačar as quickly as the peloton.
In less than 8km, Pogačar’s gap to Rodriguez was up to 30 seconds, with the peloton an additional 20 or so seconds behind. Reviewing the Spaniard’s power data, it is clear that Pogačar was flying at this point of the race, pushing at least 6w/kg and gaining more than four seconds per kilometer on the chasers.
Rodriguez – chasing Pogačar
Average Power: 370w (5.5w/kg)
Many viewers – myself included – thought that was a wrap at 40km to with Pogačar’s lead up to over a minute. And when he hit Sector 9 with 24km to go, the Slovenian’s gap was up to 1:25.
This same point in the women’s race was where the major action began. Movistar drove the pace at the bottom of the Monteaperti gravel sector, an 800m stretch with an average gradient near 7 percent. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (SD Worx) was well-placed near the front of the peloton but had to fight hard to stay there.
Moolman Pasio – Monteaperti
Average Power: 322w (6.6w/kg)
Peak 90 seconds: 343w (7w/kg)
Asgreen – Monteaperti
Estimated Average Power: 530w (7.1w/kg)
In an ominous case of foreshadowing, Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) countered over the top of the climb, gaining a solo advantage that she would keep through the next gravel sector.
In the men’s race this is where Toms Skujiņš and Trek-Segafredo slowly began eating into the gap before a strong Quinn Simmons attack. The remaining favorites followed, and Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) tried to go solo just inside of 20km to go. The Dane was undoubtedly flying, but could hardly make a dent in Pogačar’s lead before the chasers returned and the group was flagging.
Asgreen – chasing Pogačar
Average Power: 380w (5.1w/kg)
On the final gravel sector of the women’s race, Le Tolfe, van Vleuten attacked with all of her might, and it was only Kopecky who could hold her wheel. In the men’s race, Asgreen led solo over the sector, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) attacked the chase group, while and Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) attacked out of the peloton. Van Vleuten was, in fact, faster than Asgreen over this sector.
Valter – Le Tolfe
Average Power: 485w (7.5w/kg)
Peak 1min Power: 573w (8.8w/kg)
Van Vleuten – Le Tolfe
Asgreen – Le Tolfe
Pogačar hardly lost any time before the final climb to the Piazza of Siena, and he was even high-fiving a fan with 600m to go. Valverde was the strongest rider in the chase group and earned his second place, while Asgreen completed the podium ahead of an impressive ride from Valter who had attacked out of the main bunch and caught nearly every rider in the lead chase group.
Pogačar’s solo raid mustn’t have been expected, otherwise, the favorites would have quickly marked him. Surely. Perhaps it was the daring nature of his decisive move that scared his rivals away, going clear on a gravel descent rather than the expectant climb. Because once Pogačar was out of sight, the race was over.
Pogačar – full solo attack
Average Power: 350w (5.3w/kg)
In the finale of the women’s race, we can see just how strong these riders are at the end of such an explosive race. Van Vleuten – as she does on most climbs – led from the bottom and pushed the pace as hard as she could. But she still couldn’t drop Kopecky, who came around the Dutchwoman with a few hundred meters to go, beat her through the final corner, and took the biggest win of her career.
Looking at the times from this final climb, we can see that van Vleuten and Kopecky were faster than most of the men’s field, apart from Valter who lit it up and nearly caught Asgreen for the podium. And, if you’re wondering: Valter was still a couple of seconds slower than Mathieu van der Poel’s time from 2021 when he dropped a 1,300-watt-bomb on the final climb that made Alaphilippe look like he was standing still.
Valter – Wall of Siena Climb
Average Power: 486w (7.5w/kg)
Van Vleuten and Kopecky – Wall of Siena Climb
Estimated Average Power: ~7w/kg
Pogačar – Wall of Siena Climb
Mathieu Van Der Poel – Wall of Siena Climb (2021)
Average Power: 577w (7.7w/kg)