A wet Strade Bianche? Forecast is for excitement on the white roads of Tuscany
Rivalries, ambition, luck and team strength will play out across one of cycling's most spectacular routes at Strade Bianche.
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The aperitivi have been served. Everyone is ready for the main course.
Strade Bianche is front and center on the peloton’s appetite. Two races, endless kilometers of white gravel roads, and the historical setting of Siena, what’s not to love about racing’s most beautiful and most dramatic day of racing?
Here’s a preview of what to look for in Saturday’s Strade Bianche:
Many favorites, one winner
Cycling’s who’s-who is converging on Tuscany this weekend for one of the season’s most highly anticipated races. Marianne Vos makes her debut in Jumbo-Visma colors, while Wout van Aert also sees his season debut keen to defend his title from 2020.
On the women’s side, who can beat back the early strong showing of SD Worx in the seventh edition of Strade Bianche Donne? Will Anna van der Breggen, the 2018 winner, ride away with the flowers like she did at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad? Can anyone from Trek-Segafredo, or Annemiek van Vleuten now racing for Movistar — the two-time defending champion — mount a challenge?
Could this be the year Kasia Niewiadoma finally breaks out for victory? Three times second and one time third, the Canyon-SRAM rider is hoping so.
“This is the year to win Strade Bianche,” she said. “I’ve been targeting this race for so many years.”
Also read: Canyon-SRAM confident ahead of Strade-Bianche
For the men’s race, everyone from van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), and Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) are toeing up to the line in one of the season’s most highly anticipated clashes. One name that is missing? Peter Sagan. The Bora-Hansgrohe star is still recovering from a bout of COVID-19 and is expected to debut at Tirreno-Adriatico.
All eyes will be on the hyped-up clash between van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), who already made a splash in his first road races in 2021.
“Three days of racing is enough for me,” van der Poel said of Strade Bianche. “I’m feeling pretty good. I really didn’t perform that well in the first month of last season, but after coming off the cyclocross season this year, I have the flow again.”
Also read: Wout van Aert doesn’t need racing in legs before Strade Bianche
A wet Strade Bianche?
Weather is always a factor in any race, especially one as technical as Strade Bianche. In 2020, Strade Bianche was rescheduled to appear in August to re-open the WorldTour calendar, when dust and heat threw a new twist into the already dynamic plot lines.
This year, it’s back on its traditional date in early March. On Thursday, teams enjoyed fine spring weather during course preview rides. Forecasters, however, are calling for a 50-percent chance of rain Saturday morning, with cool temperatures in the mid-50s.
Also read: Best images of the 2020 Strade Bianche
Light rain and moisture could create more compact conditions on the sometimes dusty gravel sectors, perhaps making for a somewhat faster race if it doesn’t rain too much. Heavy rains, however, would produce extremely challenging and muddy conditions.
“Last year, the weather took its toll, but it was an unusual edition in August,” said Jakob Fuglsang of Astana-Premier Tech. “This year, the weather forecast suggests rain, so we could be in for a really tough race. I am looking forward to racing Saturday as it’s one of the most beautiful races of the season.”
Women’s WorldTour opener
The race opens the 2021 women’s WorldTour, and the stakes couldn’t be higher across the peloton.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic took out early season races on the women’s calendar, including the Santos Tour Down Under and the WorldTour opener at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Other races were canceled across Europe and beyond before last week’s first major races in Belgium.
Some 23 teams lineup in Sienna for the 136km stage that features 31.4km of gravel sectors. The race starts early at 09:10 (CET), and largely traces the same route featured in the past two editions. A series of climbs and eight gravel sections will dictate the race dynamics. The traditional steep run into the historic Piazza del Campo makes for one of cycling’s most spectacular finishing arenas.
Also read: Late attacks deliver victory for van Vleuten
Amanda Spratt will lead a strong Team BikeExchange squad at the 7th edition of the Strade Bianche women’s race on Saturday, alongside new 2021 signing Ane Santesteban, who makes her debut in Team BikeExchange colors.
“It’s one of my favorite races on the calendar and it’s always so epic and iconic with the gravel roads,” she said. “We are going there with a strong team, and my shape is good, and I think it was good to start with such a tough race as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I’m happy to have that in the legs before Strade. If I have to point out some tricky sections, I would say the San Martino in Grania sector with 9.5km of gravel, which is often wind and dangerous. Of course, the weather time can affect the race a lot.”
Also read: Crowdfunding effort begins to increase prize money for women’s race
The 2021 women’s WorldTour continues with a series of one-day races before the first stage race at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas in Spain in May.
Who will disrupt the ‘Wout and Mathieu Show’?
Much is being made of the first showdown between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in the 2021 road season. The pair last clashed at the Tour of Flanders and the 2021 world cyclocross world championships with spectacular outcomes, with van der Poel coming out on top of both of those races.
The men’s field is packed with would-be usurpers to the narrative that “VanderWout” will dominate the narrative across the 2021 spring classics. Top among them is world champion Julian Alaphilippe, a 2019 Strade Bianche winner who has emerged as the singular rider who appears to have the legs to go head-to-head with van der Poel and van Aert.
“If we can keep the strength of the team and this spirit of the team — the ‘Wolfpack’ as we call it — then you know what wolves do with their victims?” Deceuninck-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere asked. “They [isolate] them, and that’s what we’re going to do in the next few months.”
Also read: Deceuninck-Quick-Step sticking to its tactics in spring classics
Several top teams bring candidates to ride first into Sienna’s piazza. Two-time winner Michal Kwiatkowski leads a revived Ineos-Grenadiers, along with Thomas Pidcock and Egan Bernal. The team has been on a tear so far in 2021, with Bernal kicking to second in Wednesday’s Trofeo Laigueglia.
“We’re racing differently, and we want the fans to have fun,” Bernal said. “We want to keep going like this, and if we have the legs, we’ll do it. I’m having fun.”
Also read: Tom Pidcock leading Ineos Grenadiers rebirth in classics
Other riders coming into Strade Bianche with momentum include Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), who’s already won twice in 2021. Greg Van Avermaet leads an ambitious Ag2r-Citroën squad keen to show off its new classics attitude. Tadej Pogačar makes his European debut with a deep UAE-Emirates squad that does not include new signee Marc Hirschi, who is slated to debut at the Volta a Catalunya in Spain.
“Last year I had an amazing day on the bike here and managed to finish second and climb on the podium,” said UAE-Team Emirates rider Davide Formolo. “It’s a race that suits me well and one I can do well in. I’ll start with less pressure this year as my condition is still building. Tadej is in good form at the moment and the idea is that we both make it deep into the final with as many teammates as possible. It can be an unpredictable race but that can play to our advantage on Saturday.”
The 184km men’s race will cover 11 sectors totaling 63km of gravel.
Where to watch and which North Americans are racing
Get your popcorn and put off the spring cleaning, you don’t want to miss this one. Races start early in North America, with the women’s race scheduled to start at 6:30 a.m. EST and the men’s race heading off at 7:50 a.m. EST.
Also read: How to watch Strade Bianche live
Strade Bianche is one of the most highly anticipated races of the season, and ranks right up there with Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in terms of attacks, setbacks, crashes, and luck that add up to determine the winners.
Does it deserve monument status? We dive into both sides of the argument: Should Strade Bianche be considered one of cycling’s five monuments?
There are several North American riders lining up for both races. Here’s who’s racing:
Women’s race: Leah Thomas (Movistar), Arlenis Sierra and Lizbeth Salazar (AR Monex), Olivia Baril (Massi-Tactic), Leah Kirchmann (Team DSM), Kristen Faulkner and Laura Stephens (TIBCO-SBV), Taylor Wiles (Trek-Segafredo)
Men’s race: Hugo Houle (Astana-Premier Tech), Lawson Craddock, Alex Howes (EF Education-Nippo), Guillaume Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Kevin Vermaerke (Team DSM), Brent Bookwalter (Team BikeExchange), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and Abner González (Movistar)