Cyclocross Worlds medalists featured brightly at the long-awaited restart of the UCI WorldTour. As is CXM tradition, we’re looking at road racing through our mud-covered cyclocross lens.

Today’s Strade Bianche represented a long-awaited return of top-level bike racing. While the NBA also resumed its season with much success under the protection of its Orlando bubble, isolated from the viral threat of strip club chicken wings, the restart of pro cycling promises many of the same risks of the COVID-19-stricken MLB with 21 positive tests within one team just days into the season. But these professional sports are based in the U.S.

Over in Europe, where the virus’ spread has been curbed, the UCI WorldTour restarted with the white gravel Italian roads of the Strade Bianche classic.

On the women’s side, seven-time cyclocross world champion Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) rode to a top ten behind road world champ Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans).

One the men’s side, no fewer than six cyclocross Worlds medalists took the start on the men’s side.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) showed once again he’s a perpetual threat at the white gravel roads of Strade Bianche. The three-time cyclocross world champion cramped his way to a third at Strade Bianche in 2018, and repeated that result a year later in 2019.

This year, Van Aert had to wait an extra five months to improve upon his podium finishes, after the March date was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While pundits picked current cyclocross world champion Mathieu van der Poel and Strade Bianche rookie as the favorite, Van Aert’s experience and good fortune proved to be an unbeatable combination.

Van Aert featured in a leading group of 8 with 50km to go, and dropped what was left of the lead group at 13km to solo to the finish. This year, Van Aert would control the finale through town and stomp his way to victory. There would be no cramp or attack to dash his hopes of finishing on the top step after two third places.

After the finish, Van Aert said:

“If you get two third places in a row, of course you have confidence to come here. Today was one long day of suffering and nobody felt that great. The heat was exhausting but I really focussed on hydration and keeping cool and, in the end, I got something left.

“Maybe there was not really a guy that I had to be afraid of in the last uphill but I think the attack is always the best offence. I knew from the previous edition that attacking is never a disadvantage here and I started attacking in a downhill and came with a little advantage on the steep part. From there, it was a man-to-man fight and it worked.”

Former cyclocross world champ Stybar finished sixth, while current cyclocross world champ Van der Poel and former cyclocross Worlds medalist Alaphilippe both flatted at a key moment and finished out of contention.

Former cyclocross world champ Philipp Walsleben and cyclocross worlds silver medalist Peter Sagan also took the start.

Two Americans took the start and landed top ten finishes despite travel restrictions, with Leah Thomas finishing third in the women’s race and Brent Bookwalter finishing seventh in the men’s race.

2020 Strade Bianche Men’s Race Brief Results:

1. Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
2. Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates)
3. Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)
4. Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling)
5. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team)
6. Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quickstep)
7. Brent Bookwalter (Mitchelton-Scott)
8. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team)
9. Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling)
10. Diego Rosa (Team Arkea-Samsic)

2020 Strade Bianche Women’s Race Brief Results:

1. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott Women)
2. Mavi Garcia (Spa Alé BTC Ljubljana)
3. Leah Thomas (Equipe Paule Ka)
4. Anna Van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans Cycling Team)
5. Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo Women)
6. Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv)
7. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
8. Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT Pro)
9. Karol-Ann Canuel (Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam)
10. Marta Bastianelli (Ale’ BTC Ljubljana)