The Strade Bianche was cancelled after a meeting between Italian authorities and race organizer RCS Sport. The previous evening, the Italian government had issued a statement banning sporting events which could not be held behind closed doors. Cycling on the beautiful, unpaved roads of Strade Bianche is, obviously, not in this category. Covid-19 coronavirus has continued to spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world, and the risk to public health is too great at this time to hold public events In Italy.
Several teams – namely Jumbo-Visma, Ineos, and Astana – had already pulled out of Strade Bianche and more, prioritizing rider and public health over racing. Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, two of the biggest Italian races of the season, have also been cancelled.
Despite concerns about the spread of coronavirus, the first stage of Paris-Nice kicked off in torrid conditions in northern France. Unsurprising to long-time followers of Paris-Nice, wind and rain battered the peloton which split into multiple pieces on the long run-in to the finish. A late-race breakaway formed in the final 35 kilometers, first containing Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and Tiesj Benoot (Team Sunweb) who kept rolling after challenging each other for an intermediate sprint, and then Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-McLaren) and Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) who bridged across in the final kilometers. The group of four would stay together until the final 500 meters, where a sprint of attrition unfolded in the most painful of circumstances. Alaphilippe led out until his legs crumbled, Benoot came around but almost immediately ran out of gas, and it was only Schachmann who could muster a powerful sprint, with the German Champion taking a clear win ahead of Teuns and Benoot.
Hugo Hofstetter (Israel Start-Up Nation) took the biggest win of his career on Tuesday by winning Le Samyn. The mid-week event featured many cobbled sectors and climbs which progressively thinned out the bunch over the course of the race. The racing truly kicked off during the four laps of the 27-kilometer finishing circuit around Dour, where Alex Kirsch (Trek-Segafredo), Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) and Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-QuickStep) were among those forcing splits at the front. But when the reduced group came back together inside the final kilometer, Hofstetter flew around the others to take just the second professional win of his career. Aimé De Gendt (Circus-Wanty Gobert) finished second after opening up the final sprint, while David Dekkerr (SEG Racing Academy) rounded out the podium in third.
“Winning is so difficult. I am not a winner, which is why I am so pleased with this, because I did a lot for it,” Hofstetter said after the race. “In Kuurne I was already good”, he says. I have good legs at the moment, and I had some energy for the sprint. It went perfectly for me.”
Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) dominated Le Samyn des Dames with a 50-kilometer solo breakaway that left her nearly two minutes clear of second place by the time they reached the finish. After crosswinds caused an early 14-rider split, Van den Broek-Blaak attacked out of the split on the Cote de la Roquette with some 57 km to go. The Dutchwoman continued to build her advantage over the chase, which was soon down to five, two of which being Van den Broek-Blaak’s teammates. In the end, it was a 1-2 for Boels-Dolmans as Christine Majerus won the sprint for second, and Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal Ladies) came across the line in third.
Upcoming Race Schedule
Paris-Nice continues with seven more stages through the weekend, a mix of sprint opportunities, summit finishes, and an individual time trial on Stage 4 around Saint-Amand-Montrond.
The UCI Women’s WorldTour heads to the Netherlands this weekend for the Bevrijdingsronde van Drenthe, last year won by 2007 World Champion Marta Bastianelli. The men’s Bevrijdingsronde van Drenthe will take place the day before, on Saturday, March 14th.