(Reuters) – Team Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert stormed to victory at the Strade Bianche one-day race on Saturday, as elite cycling returned after a five-month break due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The Belgian rider, who finished third in the previous two editions of the 184 kilometre race, launched his decisive solo attack with 13km remaining on the final sector of gravel road.
The 25-year-old finished 30 seconds clear of Italian Davide Formolo (UAE Emirates) on the Piazza del Campo in Siena, while German Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) took third spot.
“Today was one long day of suffering and nobody felt that great. The heat was exhausting but I really focussed on hydration and keeping cool and, in the end, I got something left,” Van Aert said.
“I really fell in love with this race two years ago and it was my goal to win. I’m 25 and I’ve already done it. I’m really happy.”
Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten won the women’s race for a second consecutive year as she continued her winning run after the resumption of the season.
In the closing stages, the 37-year-old Mitchelton–Scott rider chased down Spaniard Margarita Victoria Garcia (Ale BTC Ljubljan), who had attacked with 45km to go.
World road champion Van Vleuten went on to drop her rival on the Via Santa Caterina before cruising to the finish line.
Van Vleuten has won every race she started since winning the world championships in Yorkshire last September, with Saturday’s triumph taking her to six consecutive victories.
American Leah Thomas of Equipe Paule Ka rounded out the podium almost two minutes later.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)