Cycling is a sport that reveres its history more than most, honoring its biggest moments at every turn and keeping the legacy of its legends alive with monuments and tributes and races in their honor. Stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France, for example, will finish in Dax to toast the legacy of 93-year-old French sprinter André Darrigade. Given the long shadow cast by the heroes of cycling, it is all the more satisfying to get to watch Strade Bianche every year and revel in the relatively new race further cementing its place in the pantheon with each successive year. Because of its stunning, foreboding parcours, Strade Bianche is a race that can only be won with spectacular flair.
This year’s edition was no different. Tom Pidcock won the men’s race with a ruthless solo attack 50 kilometers out, though it was the women’s race that featured the best racing of the day. You watch cycling to witness stunning displays of speed and tactical brilliance, and the 2023 Strade had it all. By which I mean: this horse.
In the final stage of the race, a horse got loose and joined the peloton, directly in front of race leader Demi Vollering. The Dutch cyclist pointed to the horse, which was trailing a long lead line from its halter, and gave a yelp as the horse swerved between her and the camera motorbike, which captured the horse galloping at full tilt.
It’s not the first time a horse has hoofed it in a cycling race. In 2017, a small pony scampered along with the peloton during the Tour of Poland, before adorably falling behind when his little legs couldn’t keep pace. The equine that joined the Strade Bianche, however, looked like it had some horsepower. Vollering was forced to tap the brakes, which opened the door for American cyclist Kristen Faulkner to overtake her for the lead.
In the end, though, the horse beat the interference allegations as Vollering’s teammate, Lotte Kopecky, worked with Vollering to catch up to and pass Faulkner on the final ascent into Siena’s piazza. Kopecky won the 2022 edition, so perhaps one may have expected the team or the pair of SD Worx teammates to decide to let Vollering have this one, though they ultimately contested an agonizingly close sprint. The tortuous corners of Siena always make the Strade Bianche sprint a fun one, and ultimately, Kopecky threw her bike a touch too early and Vollering got the win.
Situations like this are not uncommon, and usually, the sporting director or the riders themselves will make the call to cross the line as one. Perhaps the duo’s late catch of Faulkner made the timing of such a call impossible, and as they crossed the line, Vollering, who thought she had lost, seemed visibly upset. The Dutch media reported that Vollering yelled “Kutwijf!” at her teammate (this translates to either “bitch” or “cunt”), though they quickly got over any animus and celebrated together once the result was finalized. “After the finish I was like, what did we do? At one moment I thought we should celebrate across the line together, but then she went for it and I was like, OK, I have to go,” Vollering said. “I was a bit confused after the finish line and she felt the same.”
Fortunately the horse, Zlatana, didn’t cause any of the cyclists to crash, and better yet, she’s OK. Cycling Weekly reported that Zlatana “fell on its side, and was in clear distress.” Her owner wrote on Facebook, “Zlatana is fine, a few days of antibiotics, a lot of fear, in the end everything ends well.” Indeed!