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On August 1, Strade Bianche gave us the first taste of professional racing after the pro season was delayed for over four months by the Covid-19 pandemic. After months away from racing, it was anyone’s guess who adapted best to training indoors and would be on form for the restart.
With temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius, the race turned into a story of conditioning. On a day as hot as that, only the fittest riders had a chance to stay competitive until the end. And indeed, only 50 of the 168 riders who lined up to start finished the day, with eight of those riders finishing outside the time cut.
For the select riders who made it all the way to Siena, proper tactics were more important than ever. Even with high fitness, riding too hard for even a small portion of a race this warm can spell disaster. “You don’t really cool down when it’s 40 degrees [Celsius],” said Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang about racing in the heat. Attack at the wrong point, and there is little chance of recovering.
Taking in plenty of fluids was crucial, as was getting as much help from equipment as possible. Fuglsang’s Giordana FR-C Pro kit helped him make the most of the hot day, helping him shed heat thanks to ventilated hip panels and wick away moisture thanks to a close second-skin fit.
And of course, having raced the gravel roads of Tuscany before helped as well, providing Fuglsang the knowledge of how the race unfolds and the best times to attack. His good results in previous editions of the race also provided extra confidence.
But having done well in the past is also a liability, bringing extra attention from rivals. After placing second in last year’s edition, more eyes were on Fuglsang than ever before. “I think many, many guys saw me as one of the favorites and that just makes it even harder” he said after the race, visibly exhausted and taking swigs from a bottle between questions.
Even in a field containing the world’s best, there can only be one winner. On this day it was Wout van Aert, who had been on the podium twice in the last two editions before finally ascending to the top spot. With the sweltering conditions and added attention, Fuglsang managed to finish fifth. But after a second place and a fifth place finish in consecutive editions, Fuglsang has plenty to be confident about. “I will be back next year and give it a new shot,” he said. “It’s a good race; I love the race and I would love to win it.”