The Strade Bianche. The name of the race already gives a good idea where the race is about: white gravel roads.
The race takes place in Tuscany, Italy and has its start and finish in the beautiful city of Siena, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. On Saturday, the race celebrates its 13th birthday.
Although the race is very young, it already has the status of a classic. Since 2017, the race is even part of the UCI WorldTour. Since 2015, the Strade Bianche is also organized for women. Its name is the Strade Bianche Donne, which is part of the UCI Women’s WorldTour.
In 2015, the first-ever Elite Women’s race had an American winner in now-retired Megan Guarnier. There have been no repeat winners, although 2018 winner Anna van der Breggen (Boels – Dolmans) returns to start on Saturday.
Multiple winners of the Elite Men’s race are Fabian Cancellara with three victories and Michael Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) with two victories.
The 2018 edition of the Strade Bianche was a muddy edition because of lots of rain. For cyclocross fans, the 2018 Men’s edition was memorable thanks to Wout van Aert’s (Jumbo – Visma) all-in, third-place finish in those ugly conditions.
In this year’s edition we normally won’t be seeing any mud devils, since the forecast predicts there won’t be rain. The many altitude meters and the gravel roads, however, will still make it a very tough race.
— Strade Bianche (@StradeBianche) February 25, 2019
The Elite Women’s Race (The Strade Bianche Donne)
The course of this year’s women’s race has a length of 136 km, with roughly 30 km of gravel roads spread over eight sectors. The total climbing checks in around 2,000 meters, but it is thanks more to the rolling Tuscan hills than big climbs.
The finish is on Siena’s Piazza del Campo after a steep climb through the old city. As mentioned above, the Strade Bianche Donne started in 2015, making this year’s race the fifth edition of the Italian spring classic.
The 2018 edition was won by World and Olympic Champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels – Dolmans) after she attacked from about 15km out on a gravel sector and soloed to the win. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon // SRAM) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek – Segafredo) finished second and 3rd. American rider and first winner of the Strade Bianche Donne, Guarnier finished 12th.
— Strade Bianche (@StradeBianche) March 3, 2018
Borghini won the race on her home soil in 2017 in a thrilling finish through the streets of Siena and finished third in the inaugural race, but the Italian star is out of Saturday’s race with the flu.
Last year’s runner-up Niewiadoma is a rider to keep an eye on at this year’s edition. She has finished on the podium at the Strade Bianche Donne the last three years but has yet to win. With Blaak getting the Omloop monkey off her back last weekend, will Niewiadoma get to do the same in Italy this weekend?
“To be honest it doesn’t bother me. I really love this race,” Niewiadoma told Cycling News. “It gives me good feelings even though I suffer so much on every ‘little’ hill. I have learned a lot each year but yes, I’ve never won this epic battle. I have another chance in just a few days and I’m so excited to give it another try.”
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Chantal Blaak (Boels – Dolmans) will be joining Van der Breggen on the powerful Boels – Dolmans team for the Strade Bianche Donne. Also, interestingly joining the team for the race is mountain bike star Annika Langvad.
The Strade Bianche may be a bit of a training ride for the Langvad and Van der Breggen, as they will be teaming up at the Absa Cape Epic that starts on March 17.
Langvad is just one of several off-road riders starting the race. The Boss, Marianne Vos (CCC – Liv) returns in her first race since finishing third at Bogense Worlds. Bogense runner-up Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) will also be continuing her classics season after racing last weekend in Belgium.
This is Vos’ second start at the race after finishing 17th in 2017. Brand has started every edition and had her best finish in 2017 where she took fourth.
Provisional start lists as of Friday morning can be seen here.
The Elite Men’s Race
The course of this year’s Elite Men’s race has a length of 184 km, with roughly 63 km of gravel roads spread over 11 sectors. The course has more than 3,000 altitude meters, however, has no long climbs but punchy hills who are often part of the gravel roads. Just as in the past years, the finish is on Siena’s Piazza del Campo after a steep climb through the old city.
For Van Aert, the Strade Bianche is the second race of his 2019 road program.
Last year he surprised the international cycling world by finishing 3rd in his first try. Together with French rider Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Van Aert was on his way to the finish in Siena, but Belgian rider Tiesj Benoot (Lotto – Soudal) managed to close the gap and left Van Aert and Bardet behind a little later. For Benoot it was his first, and still only win, as a professional rider.
— Strade Bianche (@StradeBianche) July 6, 2018
Although Van Aert had delivered an excellent performance, some people loved to make fun of Van Aert’s post-race fatigue. With a recent Instagram post Van Aert reacted on last year’s laughs and proves to have a good sense of humor himself:
Also three-time cyclocross world champion and winner of last week’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) will be participating.
The friendly Czech already won the 2015 edition of the Strade Bianche. In a group with World Champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Olympic Champion Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Stybar held Van Avermaet’s wheel and powered past at the top of the climb to pass him and take the win.
Just as in 2015, Valverde would have been one of the main contenders for the victory in this year’s edition. Due to illness, however, the World Champion canceled for the Strade Bianche this week.
Previous world champion Peter Sagan (Bora – Hansgrohe) will not be participating either, since he also wants to participate in Liège-Bastogne-Liège this year, and therefore will train a little longer.
Olympic champion Van Avermaet, on the other hand, looks forward to this year’s edition a lot. In an interview with Het Nieuwsblad, he made clear that it is one of the most beautiful races.
Van Aert, Stybar and Van Avermaet are already three nice names for this year’s edition of the Strade Bianche, but they are for sure not the only main contenders.
Last year’s winner Benoot and his teammate Tim Wellens (Lotto – Soudal), who finished third in last week’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, will for sure be some tough opponents. Other interesting participants are, among others, last year’s Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and former Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain – Merida), who won Milano-Sanremo last year.
The provisional start list can be seen here.
How to Watch
The Elite Women’s race starts at 3 a.m. EST and is expected to finish around 7:15 a.m. EST. The Elite Men’s race starts at 4:30 a.m. and is expected to finish around 9:30 a.m. EST.
For updates on how to watch, we are deferring to cyclingfans.com.
Featured image: Claude Zipfel, used under a Creative Commons license