Road

Riders shower Strade Bianche with praise

Saturday's race is expected to be wet and muddy on the gravel roads, which only adds to the event's character.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Even with snow falling and predicted rain on race day, cyclists love Tuscany’s Strade Bianche race over the gravel roads.

The snow falling Thursday was due to turn to rain as temperatures rise. The forecast for Saturday’s race calls for a range of 36 to 46 degrees.

“I think this is a real classic,” Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) explained after finishing second in 2017.

“It’s a fight to the strade [gravel sectors], then when you are on the strade, it’s risky and technical. Then with the wind and the rain, you can make the race hard wherever you want. In every sector, you have to be there. I love it.” [related title=”More on Strade Bianche” align=”left” tag=”strade-bianche”]

This week, Van Avermaet called Strade Bianche “one of my favorite races of the year.”

The race covers 184 kilometers with 63km of those on the famous white gravel roads that criss-cross central Italy. For years now, the Eroica sportive used them to draw in amateurs on retro bikes. Starting in 2007, Italy’s top race organizer RCS Sport created its event that now holds WorldTour status.

Snow fell last weekend and again on Thursday in Italy, but that has not stopped the WorldTour peloton arriving in Siena where the race starts and finishes.

“It seems that we are in the middle of winter, and not three weeks from the start of spring,” Gianni Moscon (Sky) told La Gazzetta dello Sport after previewing the course Wednesday. “Snow on the sides of the roads, sectors of gravel snowed over and ice. But Saturday we shouldn’t have problem, even if the forecast shows rain.”

Fabian Cancellara won the race three times and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) triumphed twice, in 2014 and 2017. The organizer is helping build the race’s unique status by naming sectors after three-time winners with Cancellara, now retired, receiving the first one.

“Let’s stop putting Strade Bianche with the classics of the north, we are in central Italy and this is a unique race, it has its personality. It shines on its own. To love it is the easiest thing in the world,” added Moscon.

“Here we are racing once a year in the middle of an enchanting countryside. And the finish in Piazza del Campo is the most scenic for the classics. On that last climb to the line there are always crowds lining both sides, it gives you an extra kick of adrenaline to fight for the win.”

The roads climb and descend Tuscany’s famous hillsides south of Siena. Most years, dust kicks up but sometimes like in 2017, rain turns the white gravel brown. The combination draws in fans and cyclists.

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) explained, “There’s a taste of both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.”

“Already after its first years, it is very important to the riders,” Cannondale-Drapac sport director Fabrizio Guidi told VeloNews last year. “You see the big, strong guys like to come here. It can one day be like one of the monuments.”

RCS Sport cycling director Mauro Vegni noted, “We are happy with how this race is growing.

“Above all, the TV coverage has expanded in a short time. The helicopter shots show off the product: Italy, Tuscany, the hills, the vineyards, and gravel roads.”

The race climbs the steep (16 percent), narrow streets into Piazza del Campo for its finish. The square is famous for its horse races and now, Strade Bianche.

“If I had a free day,” added Vegni, “I’d sit in Piazza del Campo, one of the most beautiful and known squares in Italy.”