Attila Valter will long remember his journey through the Tuscan dirt roads in this afternoon of March 2022. The 23-year-old Hungarian particularly shone on Saturday in the sixteenth edition of the Strade Bianche and finished just outside of the podium in the Italian WorldTour Classic. After a lively race opened out from far, the former wearer of the pink jersey fought until the very end and caught some competitors one by one in the final to finally bring Groupama-FDJ its best result ever in Siena. That makes it a new highlight for him.

As usual, the charming city of Siena hosted the start of Strade Bianche, a recent Classic but already considered by some to be a Monument in the making. Before the next real Monument, namely Milan-Sanremo, the riders lining-up in Tuscany had to face a traditional route through some “white paths” mixing ground and gravel. Out of the 184 kilometres to be covered, almost a third was on these particular trails, through eleven distinct sectors. The race did not have to waitto the first one, located after fifteen kilometers, for the day’s breakaway to establish itself with Simone Bevilacqua, Sergio Garcia (Eolo-Kometa), Marc Brenner, Leon Heinschke (DSM), Lilian Calmejane (AG2R-Citroën), Davide Martinelli (Astana), Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Edoardo Zardini (Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli) and Samuele Zoccarato (Bardiani-CSF-Faizenè). The group however never got more than a five-minute lead, and the latter further decreased over the kilometres and the gravel’s sections. When approaching the sequence of the fifth and sixth sectors, the gap was reduced to two minutes to a more-and-more nervous bunch. It is because of the tension, but alsobecause of quite powerful wind, that a massive crash occurred one hundred kilometres from the finish. Lewis Askey was at the forefront to attend it, and to be caught with it. “At thatmoment, even if we don’t have too much time to think, I thought that this was going to be a cool photo, joked the Briton later. “I was there with the biggest riders in the world. After I hit the ground, I think I was the fastest to get back on my bike (laughs).

“If I wanted to get a result, I had to open the gas”,Attila Valter

Relatively unscathed, the young Englishman then came back in the peloton, which actually took a few tens of kilometres to get together again following this major race event. With fifty kilometres to go, we still had six riders in the pelotonaddedYvon Madiot. Antoine was the only one missing after falling in the big crash”. The peloton later started to lose some riders in the sector of San Martino in Grania (7th), but it eventually was the Monte Sante Marie’s one that proved decisive, like often. The race indeed completely exploded following the accelerations of the double world champion Julian Alaphilippe and of the double Tour winner Tadej Pogacar. The latter flew away and quickly built a minute-gap between him and the rest of his competitors. After this gravel’s section, about forty kilometres from the finish, the “bunch” was made of just thirty men including Lewis Askey, Sébastien Reichenbach and Attila Valter. “It was a bit of a hectic race with the wind and this big crash”, said the Hungarian. I did my best and tried to stay calm. Antoine gave me very good advice yesterday. He told me that even if I felt good, I had to try to hit the brakes because many others could feel just as good, and I would have to fight them in the end. While Pogacar continued his solo, the real fight for the remaining places started in the back with about twenty kilometres to go when five riders went away in the penultimate sector. Attila Valter did not follow at this point, but he took advantage of the final gravel’s section in Le Tolfe to go for it.

The Hungarian later recounted in detail: “From the recon we did two days ago, I knew that the last section was a hard one, but I knew that it could suit me if I still had the legs. On the bottom, I followed a guy who was setting a good pace, and I told myself that if I wanted to get a result, I had to open the gas now. I did my best, and arrived at the top alone. Then Bilbao came back to me, and we worked very well together to come back to the three riders ahead. We were therefore five for the places from 4th to 8th. It was a little more tactical, but we still worked pretty well because we didn’t want to see another group come back. I needed to breathe for a moment, but then I felt that I would still have the legs to go again on the steep final climb. A minute behind Pogacar, and thirty seconds behind Valverde and Asgreen, Attila Valter launched a sharp attack in the streets of Siena to take fourth place on the day. “It was so spectacular, with a lot of the fans, and I felt I had to go full”he added. It was really nice because I could see the shadows in that final ramp. I saw the ridersbehind me when I attacked, but I saw their shadows gradually dropping down, and that gave me even more strength.” The 23-year-old young man crossed the line with a smile on his face as he conquered a sublime fourth place on Piazza del Campo.

“It was everything I expected, and more,” Lewis Askey

“It’s a very good result for me, my best one in a one-day race so far,” he said. It’s a pity that Asgreen and Valverde got away, I think I could have fought with them for a podium. That being said, I have to be very happy with this result. It was a really nice day. I think it’s really good for the team and I hope they’re happy too.” A minute after him, Sébastien Reichenbach got a very solid fourteenth place to confirm a fine team effort for Groupama-FDJ. “I am happy because we did what we said we would do”, said Yvon Madiot. We knew that we did not necessarily have the big favourite to win the race. We said that we had to be opportunistic, go into the moves, follow the attacks. There was not really a protected rider. Everyone had a chance, everyone had carte blanche to get a result. In the final, we had two guys to go for the top 10 and we even made it into the top 5. It’s even better! I am very satisfied. The guys got involved, because it is certainly a pretty race, but it is also a very particular and demandingone. Apart from Attila, Seb did a great race and I didn’t expecthim at this level in a race like this! Lewis is fiery, he still has to learn, but he’s got great potentialI want to congratulate everyone tonight! “It was crazy,” added Lewis, thirty-fifth on the line. It was everything I expected and more. I had very good legs. The only thing is that this race is a bit too hilly for me, but I’m really happy with how long I managed to hang in there”. Attila Valter had the final word: “It was unique. I can’t wait to come back next year.”