Road

Strade Bianche course covered in snow, messy route expected

The Italian one-day race is slated for Saturday, and course conditions are expected to be wet and muddy.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Snow has blanketed Tuscany, causing some concern for cyclists racing in Strade Bianche this Saturday, but the race organizer says not to worry.

Defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), and others have been training on the famous roads that are now white with snow rather than gravel.

“The snow is falling now. I’ve seen the photographs and heard from RCS Sport’s people in the area,” the organization’s director of cycling Mauro Vegni told VeloNews.

“It won’t be a problem for Saturday. At worst, we’ll just see a light snow on the Tuscan hillside with the cypress trees pointing out. Anyway, expect to see another epic race.”

The 184-kilometer, Italian one-day race that began in 2007 covers 63km of “strade bianche,” or white gravel roads, south of Siena and finishes in the city’s famous Piazza del Campo. A cold snap in Europe has left much of Italy covered with snow. BBC published a story with the headline, “Europe freezes as ‘Beast from the East’ arrives.”

Kwiatkowski wrote on Twitter during his course preview, “Strade Bianche it is,” referring to the roads that are now a different form of white.

[twitter url=”https://twitter.com/kwiato/status/968812005552480256″ align=”center”]

Race organizers posted this photo on the event’s official Twitter feed this week:

[twitter url=”https://twitter.com/StradeBianche/status/968403640196173824″ align=”center”]

As Vegni indicated, though, the mercury should rise after another light snow Thursday. The road could be more brown than white as rain mixes with the fertile Tuscan soil that produces Brunello and Chianti wines.

Such conditions made for a sloppy stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d’Italia. That year, Italy’s grand tour covered some of the gravel roads and former mountain biker Cadel Evans, his white world champion jersey covered in mud, prevailed for the stage win.

Riders should not have to face the cold plagued last weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but conditions will be technical with the warmer weather and predicted rain for Friday and Saturday.

“It’s truly cold now,” Vegni added, “but at least we shouldn’t have snow.”

In Strade Bianche’s 11 years, 2017 saw some of the worst conditions as rain fell the night before and the day of the race. The women finished their race in a downpour while spectators in Piazza del Campo found applauding nearly impossible with umbrellas in hand.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) won the women’s race, while Kwiatkowski prevailed over Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) in the men’s edition.

By the time Kwiatkowski climbed into town and rode into the famous square for his second victory, the rain had let up but faces and bikes showed that the riders dealt with some terrible conditions.

Besides the weather, riders will have to contend with the gavel roads and the climbs and descents that dot the Tuscan countryside.

Over the last few days, several riders have traveled to Tuscany to prepare for both Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico, the latter which begins next Wednesday.

With expected bad weather, the course could suit technically strong riders like world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), three-time men’s elite cyclocross world champion and 2015 Strade Bianchi winner Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), and current cyclocross world champion Wout Van Aert (Veranda’s Willems-Crelan).

Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step), and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) could be in the mix as well.

On the women’s side, watch for Marta Bastianelli (Alé Cipollini), Urša Pintar (BTC City Ljubljana), and Greta Richioud (FDJ Nouvelle). The women race 136km, including 30km on gravel, and finish two hours before the men.