Strade Bianche is back and this time it’s on the World Tour. Here are five reasons why it deserves to be acknowledged as one of the best races on the calendar.
1. The white gravel roads, obviously.
When the Colle Delle Finestre popped up in the 2005 Giro d’Italia we were given a taste of what Italy could deliver in terms of ‘off-road’ racing. Inaugurated two years later, Strade Bianche provides fans with a race defined by dusty, white, gravel roads. Somebody realised how great a spectacle a white roads race would be and Strade Bianche was born off the back of the ‘Eroica Strade Bianche’ – an Italian granfondo at the time. Not only does the white gravel look magnificent but it provides a completely unique and almost hybrid brand of racing. Zdenek Stybar – a former cyclocross World Champion – has podiumed in the last two editions.
2. Italy needed some good news!
A withering Classics threat (at least compared to yesteryear) has reduced Italy’s presence in the Belgian one-day races to the odd attack and a handful of top ten finishes. They haven’t had a sprinter on the podium of the Milan – San Remo since Alessandro Petacchi and haven’t won La Primavera since 2006. To make matters worse, Liquigas and Lampre have gone from the World Tour leaving no Italian teams at the top level and a calendar often lacking in Italian sparkle. Strade Bianche goes part of the way to resolving that problem. Siena is a wonderful host and the route suits riders such as Fabio Felline, Gianluca Brambilla and Diego Rosa.
3. The race is nicely balanced.
Combining white roads with rolling hills, Strade Bianche is successful in creating a race that a huge amount of riders are interested in winning. Whilst Sagan will start favourite, riders such as Vincenzo Nibali, Rigoberto Uran and Tim Wellens can’t be completely ruled out. The race provides a different test to Harelbeke, Ronde and Roubaix, and there’s always a surprise figure in the front group as the race enters its final moments.
4. The best finish in pro cycling?
I’m not at all apprehensive in saying the finish is my favourite stretch of road to be featured in any pro cycling event. Siena’s Piazza del Campo is a beautiful destination and the fierce 16% gradient on the approach makes for a leg-numbing hill sprint. A sprawling right turn arrives mid-way up the final climb and it’s there we see riders force the last effort out of their legs before the flatter entrance to the square. There’s no doubt in my mind that one day I’ll visit the Piazza del Campo on Strade Bianche weekend.
5. The women’s race is a star-studded showdown.
The women’s World Tour was one year ahead of the men’s in introducing Strade Bianche to their top tier calendar and we were rewarded with a stacked race. Lizzie Armistead (now Deignan) won from Katarzyna Niewiadoma, with a super trio of Anna Van Der Breggen, Megan Guarnier and Emma Johansson all finishing in the top six. Strade Bianche kicks off the women’s World Tour this weekend and the 127km course concludes in the same famous square.