SIENA, Italy (VN) – With a haul of hipster-pleasing components and an easy effortless cool, Strade Bianche is the ultimate modern classic.
Steep hills and gravel? Check.
Compressed race course? Yep.
Stunning scenery? Plenty of it.
You get the picture. Strade ticks all the boxes.
But where does this 15-year-old Tuscan pretender sit on the stoke-scale alongside the most celebrated and historical one-day races of the year?
This is where (according to me):
- Strade Bianche
- Tour of Flanders
- E3 Classic
- Milan-San Remo
- Amstel Gold Race
- Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
- Clásica San Sebástian
- Il Lombardia
- La Flèche Wallonne
For me, Strade Bianche tops the Tour of Flanders and its filthy cobbled climbs, Milan-San Remo and its edge-of-the couch conclusion, and almost all the rest of the calendar’s great classics in terms of anticipation and action.
The only one-dayer that hits harder? Paris-Roubaix and its brutal pavé, of course.
For comparison, here’s the infinitely older and marginally wiser Andrew Hood’s top-3.
- Tour of Flanders
- Strade Bianche
See? Similar story.
In many minds – and not just mine and Hoody’s – Strade Bianche sits atop of all the mythical monuments except for Flanders and Roubaix.
So does that mean Strade should be added to the five historic “monument” races to make a spectacular set of six? We’ve been there, debated that, and decided “who cares?”
Shorter, sharper, perfect for the short attention span
While the monument-debate is one that some will never agree on, what we do know is that Strade Bianche has all the ingredients for awesomeness.
At 184km for the men and 134km for the women – yes, there’s a women’s race, unlike three of the five monuments – it’s the perfect length for our dual-screening attention spans.
While some women’s classics have brought beef for being too short, the three hours of Strade Bianche Donne is no mere antipasti. And for the men, a four-and-a-bit-hour race time is some 90 minutes shorter than Roubaix or Flanders.
OK, the magical sixth hour that makes the 250km+ men’s monuments so special is missing, but that means racing is more aggressive, more ambitious, and more exciting, for a hella lot longer.
What can I say, I’m a millennial. I want quick hits, now.
Strade’s Netflix-style series of quick hits beats a Godfather-esque grind any day. That’s why I almost put the “mini-Flanders” E3 Classic above De Ronde.
A parcours that pulls no punches
With a parcours that packs hills of a profile matching the most severe Belgian berg, there’s guaranteed red-hot racing on the white roads.
Mathieu van der Poel’s monster attack on the climb into Sienna last year destroyed power meters and etched into memories just as much as any of the biggest of Tom Boonen’s “tornados” or Johan Museeuw’s moves.
But the hills are only the half of it. Strade’s sterrati is the ultimate star.
The 63km of dirt roads in the men’s race and 31km of the women’s brings all the unpredictability and mayhem of Paris-Roubaix.
Just when you think someone might pull a stunner…. pffffftttt a tire deflates and so does their race. Just ask Quinn Simmons, who saw a stellar ride go south in a series of punctures last sping.
Bike-handling and tech play just a part of Strade as horsepower and team heft. It adds another element to the game of bank balances that can dictate more “straightforward” races like Liège or Amstel.
It’s a cocktail of ingredients that adds up to a race that almost any rider could win, and every rider wants to win.
And the spectacle? Have you seen it? Strade serves all the eye-candy than you can handle.
The race all the racers want to race
That sure is a lot of hype.
But it’s not just me. Pulses get racing throughout the pro peloton at the thought of Tuscany’s dirt road classic.
The slow slog through the Belgian calendar toward the Tour of Flanders sees riders zigzag the same Flandrien almost every weekend of the spring. Racing over the bergs becomes as routine as the espressos and oats that come before.
Not so with Strade. Those sterrati are saved for special occasions, a once-in-a-year celebration of Italy’s chalky stones.
Michael Matthews makes his Strade debut Saturday. “Bling” sums up the stoke:
“It’s always been a dream of mine to do Strade Bianche, for a lot of years I have been pushing to be able to start this race,” he said.
“It is such an iconic race, here in Tuscany with all the white roads up and down through the Tuscan hills and I am really looking forward to starting the race.”
Even the bunch of Belgian cobbles-bashers at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl feels the buzz.
“Strade Bianche is a race we love, one of the most beautiful and toughest on the calendar,” said Quick-Step’s Italian sports director Davide Bramati.
The only race Strade will never surpass is the brutal battle through Roubaix’s “Hell of the North,” and rightly so. Roubaix is the royal rumble race where just making the finishline is a victory in itself.
Set your alarms, Strade is on the horizon Saturday.
Stay tuned to VeloNews for all the stories. And if you don’t agree with my ranking, you know where to find me.