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Magestic Alaphilippe punches to Strade Bianche win

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Siena (Italy) (AFP)

France's Julian Alaphilippe won a tight uphill struggle before punching the air wildly in celebration at the 13th edition of the Strade Bianche (White Roads) one-day cycling race run over 184km through the rolling hills and white gravel roads of Tuscany on Saturday.

The 26-year-old, riding for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, pipped Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang of Astana by just two seconds on Siena's historic Piazza del Campo after 4hr 17min 14sec in the saddle.

Belgian Wout Van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) crossed in third at 27sec, for the second successive year, in the race which begins and ends in Siena.

The eye-catching Tuscan countryside which the peloton cross features 11 sections of white gravel roads for a total of 63km demanding terrain, more than a third of the route

Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas of Wales suffered a puncture, with the Welsh rider finishing 2min 41sec behind the winner, as home hope Vincenzo Nibali trailed in at 8min 57sec.

"It's unbelievable," said one day classics specialist Alaphilippe, who was riding Strade Bianche for the very first time.

"I was focused all day on the finale. I was lucky to never crash nor have a flat tyre. My team did a great job in protecting me. Jakob Fuglsang was very strong, but I made no mistake.

"I knew it was a race that suited me but I wasn't confident in winning until the last corner. This is a wonderful victory."

In sunny conditions the French rider, who won La Fleche Wallonne, the San Sebastian Classic and two stages of the Tour de France last year, held off Fuglsang on the steep Santa Caterina climb in the heart of the old city of Siena, and down into the Piazza del Campo.

The early breakaway riders had been caught with 35km to go with Alaphilippe among a group of 15, along with teammate Zdenek Stybar, Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet and last year's winner Tiesj Benoot.

Alaphilippe and Fuglsang shook off the group on the short but steep final three sectors which split the elite lead group that had formed on the longer earlier sectors.

Fuglsang attacked, but Alaphilippe responded on the narrow twisting streets in the final few hundred metres.

The Frenchman accelerated to overtake the Dane before the final bend and subsequent drop to the line in the Piazza.

Alaphilippe raised his arms in delight as he crossed for his fourth win of the season after two stages of the Vuelta San Juan in Argentina and one at the Tour of Colombia.

Former winner Stybar finished fourth ahead of Benoot (Lotto Soudal), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) who followed one minute behind the winner.

Earlier Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten won the women's race, the first in the 23-event women's World Tour series.

Van Vleuten, last year's Giro d'Italia winner and a two-time world time-trial champion, crossed the line alone after the 136km race which started and finished in Siena.

Denmark's Annika Langvad was 37 seconds behind with Poland's Katarzyna Niewiadoma at 40sec.

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