Cycling: Kwiatkowski Beats Sagan in the Latest Captivating Strade Bianche

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Cycling: Kwiatkowski Beats Sagan in the Latest Captivating Strade Bianche
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Michal Kwiatkowski—a significant presence at last year's Tour de France—was the main man when all was said and done at the 2014 Strade Bianche.

With his hands raised, Michal Kwiatkowski's expression as he crossed the finish line in Siena appeared considered rather than delighted.

Not only was he realising he had just won Strade Bianche, he had also outfoxed one of the pre-race favourites, Cannondale's Peter Sagan.

Strade Bianche does not have the years behind it to be legitimately considered a Classic of the cycling season. But by any other standard, this beautiful race deserves its place among the landmarks of the spring.

For multiple sections, its steep climbs are marked by jarring, dusty, white gravel roads. The cold reality of top-level racing contrasting sublimely with the warmth of the Tuscan countryside bathed in late afternoon sunshine.

For Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Kwiatkowski, it was on the narrow final ascent into the imposing streets of old Siena where he made his winning move.

Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press/Associated Press
Peter Sagan was all smiles in Dubai earlier this year, but he had less to be cheerful about in Tuscany.

With under one kilometre to go, Sagan drove just ahead of his riding partner for the previous 20, but soon slowed, his tiring legs betraying him. The alert Kwiatkowski pounced, racing away from Sagan's half-hearted attempt to keep up, into medieval Piazza del Campo and to his moment of victory.

Kwiatkowski was quick post-race to praise how his team "were so good today, we had five riders in the front with 50km to go and controlled the race," as reported by Cycling News' Daniel Benson.

The Polish champion's win followed up last month's overall success at Volta ao Algarve in which he also took two stages, in addition to first at the Mallorcan race Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana. After Niki Terpstra topped the Tour of Qatar and the successful marker laid down by Tom Boonen last weekend at Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne, Kwiatkowski has more than continued OPQS' excellent start to 2014.

The last couple of seasons have seen the 23-year-old increasingly contending for some of cycling's most prestigious titles. His team-mate Mark Cavendish was not shy in his praise of what had been achieved in Italy:

Sagan's Cannondale have not yet settled into a winning routine this year. His stage-four win in the Tour of Oman being the only addition to their collective palmares thus far.

The Slovakian will be at least slightly disappointed at missing out again at Strade Bianche, though. Team-mate Moreno Moser winning it made last year's second tolerable. The 2014 edition will be less fondly recalled. Still, more is undoubtedly to come for the talented men in green and their superstar.

Kwiatkowski and Sagan's break just prior to the ninth of the 10 sections of sterrati concluded a fascinating couple of hours' racing.

Laurent Rebours/Associated Press/Associated Press
Matteo Trentin's breakway played a big part in his team-mate Kwiatkowski's eventual win at Strade Bianche.

The day's main breakaway was gradually reeled in, with Angelo Pagani of Bardiani-CSF chancing his luck with a solo escape on one of the toughest inclines at just over 50 km to go. Diego Rosa of Androni Giocattoli caught up but soon tasted gravel after taking a corner too quickly.

A big group quickly amassed around Pagani within the last 30, but OPQS' Matteo Trentin broke free from its right side to test them further. Andrey Amador (Movistar), Cadel Evans (BMC), Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano), Ian Stannard (Sky) and Angel Vicioso (Katusha) made their way across, but the pull of the chasing men proved too much to resist.

With the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) and two-time former winner Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) among those at the front, Strade Bianche was still alive with possibility at this point.

Instead, the eventual top two made the move that killed off the hopes of their rivals.

For most of them, attentions will now turn to Tirreno-Adriatico, starting this Wednesday. For others, it is Sunday's Roma Maxima, or perhaps Paris-Nice, beginning the same day.

Whatever each rider's next destination, the cycling season is well and truly underway. Through the travails to come, Kwiatkowski alone can warm himself with memories of a winning day under the Tuscan sun.

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