Strade Bianche roundtable: Monument or not, the white roads of Tuscany always deliver
Our editors dive into the tactics and try to put an end to the debate that the Italian 'sterrati' deserve monument status.
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Whether or not Strade Bianche deserves “monument” status might be debatable.
What’s not is what the race delivers spring after spring.
Perhaps no one-day race, with the exceptions of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, can match the drama, action, and tactical fireworks.
Add cycling’s perhaps most iconic finish line inside the Siena piazza and the emerald-green hills of Tuscany laced with the white farm roads, and it’s hard to top Strade Bianche.
Dubbed as the “Europe’s most southern northern classic” by race organizers, Strade Bianche has quickly emerged as one of the most popular and highly contested races on the calendar.
The winner’s list are packed with top names, and even if the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Wout van Aert are skipping Saturday’s race, Saturday’s winners will emerge from the dust and grime with one of cycling’s most important trophies — monument or not.
Our editors explore the major narratives going into this weekend’s big races. VeloNews‘ Andrew Hood and Sadhbh O’Shea are joined by Outside Magazine’s Fred Dreier and Peloton’s Will Tracy. Let’s dive in:
Who will win the women’s race and how?
Sadhbh O’Shea: Annemiek van Vleuten seems like the obvious pick, though maybe not after her results so far this season, but I’m going to plump for her. This is her last season, she was beaten in a thrilling final in 2022, and she’s had some misfortune so far this year. All of those ingredients will make for a very determined Van Vleuten. I think that she will go solo, attacking on the final gravel sector and riding into Siena alone. She doesn’t want to have a repeat of Lotte Kopecky doing her over on the final drive to the line.
Will Tracy: Kasia Niewiadoma. A consistent threat in just about any race she enters, especially Strade Bianche where she has finished second three times, she’s overdue for a big win after numerous top 10 results in the last several seasons. Instead of waiting to attack the final climb into Siena from a select group, she’ll attack the punchy climb after the final gravel sector and go it solo for the last 12km.
🇮🇹 Strade Bianche, il @teamsdworx sta arrivando 🤩
💬 @LotteKopecky before @StradeBianche:
“Winning the same race twice in a row is difficult, but I’m going to try.”
🔗More https://t.co/dakQrWpUkS#wesparksuccess pic.twitter.com/7nyBKgJZs0
— Team SD Worx (@teamsdworx) March 2, 2023
Fred Dreier: Lotte Kopecky. I just don’t think Annemiek van Vleuten has reached her top fitness yet—and why should she, it’s barely March—so I think Kopecky will be able to cover van Vleuten and Ashleigh Moolman on the climbs, and then beat both of them in the technical kick to the line.
Andrew Hood: Well, my original pick in Elisa Longo Borghini is out with fever. SD Worx and Van Vleuten remain the favorites, but those two parties might be scoping each other out. A solid outsider with the punch to win is Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step). Third last year and with a few more top-10s, she’s no longer on superdomestique duty at SD Worx.
Should Strade Bianche be included in the so-called ‘monument club’?
Dreier: I don’t need the “monument” title in order to love Strade Bianche, and thus I don’t think it needs to be included with the other five. As a fan of the sport, I already view it as a far more exciting race than Milano-Sanremo and Il Lombardia. And there are editions of the event that look far more physically demanding than races that are 50km longer. That said, if cycling is determined to fit Strade Bianche into the monuments, here’s my solution: add 40km to the course and exchange it for Milano-Sanremo.
Should Strade Bianche become the sixth Monument?
— CafeRoubaix (@CafeRoubaix) March 1, 2023
O’Shea: Strade Bianche is often put forward as the sixth monument, despite it being one of the youngest races on the calendar. There is no doubt that Strade Bianche is one of the most iconic races of the year and to win it is a huge honor, but I don’t think that it is yet able to be called a monument. The monuments are among the oldest races in cycling as well as being some of the longest and toughest. Maybe in a few decades, and with a longer route, Strade can join the club. But not yet.
Tracy: No. At the risk of elevating the complexity of this debate to a level akin to beatifying a saint, I still think the race needs another decade or so before discussing it in the same breath as the established monuments, races that are teeming with history. However, would I rather watch Strade Bianche than a couple of the other monuments that shall remain unnamed? Yes, yes I would. So talk to me in a decade—or next year. Maybe I’ll come around by then.
Hood: A monument it’s not. And it never will be. Cycling’s monuments are like the grand slam in tennis or golf. They are the longest, oldest, and most prestigious one-day races on the calendar. Now that doesn’t mean Strade Bianche isn’t a great race. It is absolutely. In fact, it’s usually a lot more interesting than the monuments. Add 50km to the race course, and Strade Bianche might hit monument distance, but it also might be a much more boring race. Let’s check back in about 75 years, and then we can pick up this conversation again.
How will the absence of such riders as Pogačar/Van Aert shape the men’s outcome?
Hood: The funny thing is, Strade Bianche is so damn good that even the absence of two of cycling’s Three Tenors will not dampen the fireworks. Strade Bianche is one of those rare races that the course dictates the outcome much more than the other way around. We assume the racer’s will race hard, but similar to Paris-Roubaix, the gnarly white roads also play a deciding factor. So no matter who’s at the line, the race will be beyond interesting. Turn it up to 11.
Dreier: I think it’s a three-horse race right now between Alaphilippe, Van der Poel, and Tom Pidcock, and the absence of those other guys simply means that these three guys will be staring at each other in the front group. This could open the door for a tier-2 favorite (Pello Bilbao, Magnus Sheffield, someone else) to win. But I’m thinking it will be one of these three.
Which version of Mathieu van der Poel will show up at Strade Bianche?
Pressure mounting as Alpecin-Deceuninck remains winless going into the critical spring classics racing period.https://t.co/0tCpMZLDiw
— VeloNews (@velonews) March 2, 2023
O’Shea: While it’s great to see top riders at their best, I think that the absence of Tadej Pogacar and Wout van Aert will actually benefit the men’s race. Having dominant riders like that can often stifle the tactics of other teams as they become overly concerned with those favorites. Without this pair, the race may be more open and unpredictable. Saying that, I will miss seeing them there and we can only hope that they’ll return next year.
Tracy: Even without those two, the field is still ripe with strong riders and past winners who will now be less laser focused on simply covering those absentee favorites. It will hopefully make for a more exciting race, with a greater number of riders going on the offensive.