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Cannondale director: Strade Bianche chasing monument status

In little more than a decade, Strade Bianche has emerged as one of the most prestigious and fascinating one-day races on the calendar.

What’s not to like? Held on gravel roads over the green hills of Tuscany, the race’s setting, difficulty, and challenge have quickly established it as one of the spring highlights for dozens of riders and teams across the peloton.

Cannondale-Drapac sport director Fabrizio Guidi said the race already carries a lot of importance in the peloton, and with its addition to the WorldTour calendar for 2017, it will only keep growing.

“It will be one of the biggest races in the spring classics,” Guidi said. “Already after its first years, it is very important to the riders. You see the big, strong guys like to come here. It can one day be like one of the monuments.”

Dubbed a “northern classic in southern Europe,” Strade Bianche debuted in 2007 after a gran fondo event held over the “sterrati” quickly grew in popularity. Flash forward 10 years, and three victories by the now-retired Fabian Cancellara helped put it on the map, making it an instant classic.

Big names are lining up for Saturday’s romp — preceded by a women’s race that opened in 2015 — including Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), and 2015 champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors).

“Strade Bianche is one of the most beautiful races on the whole season,” said BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri. “And with it now on the WorldTour this year, it’s an important race on the calendar.”

The race offers everything a marquee event should. This year’s course starts and ends in Siena, and features 62 kilometers of racing over the white, gravel farm roads on 11 sectors that lace the small villages and farms in the hills of southern Tuscany in the Chianti wine-growing region. The finish line at Piazza del Campo in the UNESCO World Heritage Site historic center of Siena is among the sport’s most spectacular.

Guidi, who grew up riding on similar roads near his nearby hometown of Pisa, said the undulating hills attract all kinds of riders. Cannondale’s starting lineup reflects that diversity, bringing classics cobble-basher Sep Vanmarcke along with Colombian climber Rigoberto Urán.

“We have Sep and Rigo on the same team, and it’s not usual that they race together, but both can be a leader in this race,” Guidi said. “It’s an open race, unpredictable. You need to be a complete rider to win here. Already at 60km into the race, there are things happening. It’s not closed until the very end of the race. The riders really like coming here.”

Now that the race is part of the WorldTour, teams and riders are placing even more importance on the event. Scheduled after the opening Belgian weekend and ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, the race is ideally situated to grow into a modern-day classic.

“I think this year will be one of the best,” Guidi said. “The field is very good, and the weather forecast is not super. It will be an epic race.”

And who knows? If it sticks around another 100 years — and adds another 50km to its 175km distance — it might be someday included as one of cycling’s five monuments. It’s already proving it’s worthy.