When the UCI wants to create new races for the pro calendar, this should be the model. Strade Bianche, which takes place on Saturday, is only six years old but it has the style, class and tradition of a race that’s been ridden for decades. The secret of its success is that the race is placed well in the cycling calendar, so it’s a natural draw for many of the big names who want to ride Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan San-Remo and the Belgian Classics later in the month, it has a challenging yet elegant parcours and the white gravel roads give the race its own distinct personality.
What kind of race is it?
This class 1.1 one-day race is 190km from Gaiole in Chianti through the Italian countryside to the Piazza il Campo in Siena. Eight sectors of white gravel roads (le strade bianche) offers similarities to Paris-Roubaix, while some short but very sharp climbs mean it’s also likened to the Tour of Flanders. Comparisons aside, it’s a firm favourite with riders and fans.
The most recent winners of the race are:
2008: Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
2009: Thomas Lovkvist (Columbia-High Road)
2010: Maxim Iglinsky (Astana)
2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
2012: Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan)
What happened last year?
Quite simply, the Swiss Express in the form of Fabian Cancellara left the station with no one else on board with 12km to go and time-trialled himself to the finish line, 40 seconds ahead of the second-placed rider. He reflected on the moment he made his winning move:
When Greg van Avermaet went, I bridged across and when I looked back there was a gap. I knew that I had to keep the momentum. It’s not really like I attacked there, because I was on my limit, but I just kept going.
He dedicated his second win to his uncle who had passed away just days before the race. Spartacus’ companions on the podium were the 2010 winner Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) and Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini).
1. Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) 4:44:59
2. Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) +0:42
3. Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini) same time
4. Alessandro Ballan (BMC) +0:46
5. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) +0:48
6. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +1:03
7. Francesco Reda (Acqua & Sapone) +1:45
8. Francesco Gianni (Acqua & Sapone) +1:47
9. Elia Favilli (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) s/t
10. Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) +1:57
You can read our review of last year’s race here.
This year’s race
The 190km route is the same as last year – they’ve refrained from tinkering with it – and it snakes through some of the most beautiful countryside Italy has to offer. But the peloton won’t be thinking about the lovely vineyards. With 57.2km of gravel roads and climbs that can hit 18% gradients, this race is not for the faint-hearted.
The boys will most likely watch the men ride off into the distance on the fifth section of gravel. Cancellara compares riding on the gravel roads to riding in sand, so the 11.5km Monte Sante Marie section would be hard enough without the nasty climbs it contains as well.
But the moves for victory will most likely occur in the final 25km. Section seven has a strength-sapping climb that maxes out at 15%, while section eight might be only 2km but has 18% gradients. Once the riders get through that, they only have 12.5km left to ride but it isn’t a smooth run into Siena. Whoever is left and looking to win has to climb the final kilometre to Via Santa Caterina, which has its own section of 16%. Finally, the riders will descent into the Piazza il Campo to the finish.
Who to watch
This year, the race organisers have announced that any rider who wins the race three times will get a section of gravel road named after him. The only man who can do that this year is Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), who pins on the number one on Saturday. He will be looking to start his season properly with a commanding win just as he did last year, but hoping that the rest of the spring turns out a bit more fortuitously for him.
BMC are bringing a strong team, with Adam Blythe and Taylor Phinney probably riding in support of Greg Van Avermaet and possibly Cadel Evans. (He won the muddy strade bianche stage in the Giro in 2010, remember!)
Peter Sagan, recovered from the illness that forced him to abandon the Tour of Oman, is on deck for Cannondale. His extraordinary bike-handling skills and excellent reading of a race will no doubt be an advantage. That and his ability to astonish everyone with his climbing ability and his undeniable power means that, if he’s in good form, he could be raising his arms in victory.
Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde will hope to continue his winning ways and Luca Paolini (Katusha) must have renewed confidence after his win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. As the race has so far not had an Italian winner, no doubt the tifosi will be cheering on their native sons with their usual passion, including Damiano Cunego and Filippo Pozzato for Lampre and last year’s third- placed rider, Oscar Gatto for Vini Fantini.
Strade Bianche takes place on Saturday 2nd March. Live coverage of the race will be shown by Eurosport in the UK. For other options check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website