Stefan Küng takes 14th after a « hell of a race »

Contested under a blazing heat, the 2020 edition of the Strade Bianche offered quite a furious race on the dirt roads of Tuscany this Sunday. Just back from a crash when the big moves occurred with more than fifty kilometers to go, Stefan Küng still hung on to get the fourteenth place on the line, which proved to be far from anecdotal in this first WorldTour even since the resumption.

Considered for some as the sixth – and unofficial – cycling Monument, the Italian Classic of Strade Bianche was held for the very first time in the middle of summer on Saturday. The frequent rain and mild temperatures of spring gave were then replaced by the sweltering heat of August. This reason, among others, actually drove the organizers to shake up the traditional schedule. It was then almost 2p.m. when the peloton left Siena and tackled the 184 kilometers-course, including fifty-nine of white roads. While a group of six struggled to break away in the first half hour, only one man remained in the front after 30 kilometers: the Swiss rider Simon Pellaud (Androni-Sidermec). He then built up a maximum advantage of four minutes as the peloton was already starting to lose riders from the back.

“This top 15 actually means something”, Sébastien Joly

“It is rare that on a 180-kilometer race, skimming takes place so early, but from the first kilometers and from the first sector, that’s how it is on the Strade Bianche”, said Sébastien Joly, who was directing the team together with Jussi Veikkanen in Tuscany. “On Paris-Roubaix, for example, the first sectors come after a hundred kilometers. Here, it’s hard all the time. The sectors are flat, uphill but also downhill, which is almost worse at times. We had decided to race for Stefan and Kevin, also with Olivier as a joker, and we were well united to get through the first sectors”. Everything was more or less in order until halfway through the race, when Julian Alaphilippe and Mathieu van der Poel chose to shake up the peloton for the first time. As the leader was caught, the battle between the favourites was just starting.

“With 60 kilometers to go, when it really settles down, the skimming had already started to take place,” Sébastien recalls. “Unfortunately, Stefan hits a rider in front of him and crashes a little before the Monte Sante Marie sector, where things happen for good. He has to make an effort to come back and that’s what costs him his place in the good move”. Only eight riders arise in the lead with fifty kilometers from the finish, and no one will come back on them afterwards. After a nice battle up front, Wout Van Aert manages to reach the Piazza del Campo as a solo winner. The gaps are significant behind him, but Stefan Küng still pushes until the end to grab the top 15 in Siena. “Stefan was ready for today and his 14th place shows it,” said Sébastien. “He said himself that he had rarely done such a hard race. He was exhausted at the finish. For me, this top 15 on such a difficult WorldTour event is not a small placing. It actually means something”.

“A race that will be remembered”, Sébastien Joly

As proof of the race’s difficulty, only 42 riders finished in the time limit for this 2020 edition of the Strade Bianche. It is even less than when Tiesj Benoot won in terrible conditions in 2018. “It was a hell of a race, and I mean it,” Sébastien added. “A first race with this heat, just nationally and on a slightly hilly course, would have been extremely tiring. But today, there was a WorldTour level, this course, the dust and all the rest… I think we shouldn’t be afraid to say that it was one of the toughest races in the world. It really was given the conditions and also the fact that it was the restart of the season. I think it’s a race that will be remembered and it’s also a race that we will have to prepare even better in the future because there is great potential with this team”.

In terms of preparation, on the other hand, Sébastien Joly concluded with an extremely positive point: “The very good thing about today is that we only suffered one puncture, that could have been avoided moreover,” he said. “We are using a new system of tubeless tires supplied by Continental. We had done tests during the recon and we had already realized how robust the product was. This is a big advantage because a lot of teams who used traditional tubular suffered many punctures and were slowed down quite a lot. This great technical satisfaction is to be underlined”.