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Strade Bianche: Pre-race reactions from Pogačar, Van Avermaet, Fuglsang, Carapaz, and Alaphilippe

VeloNews spoke with many of the top stars at the start line Saturday. The mood? Everyone expects a wide-open, explosive race.

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SIENA, Italy (VN) — Cold, wind, rowdy crowds, and a crisp Tuscan sun welcomed the peloton at the start of Strade Bianche on Saturday morning.

VeloNews was at the start line Saturday talking to the protagonists. The general mood? It’s going to be wide open, hotly contested race. Recent rain knocked down some of the dust, and cooler temperatures and strong wind will make the race a bit more taxing physically.

Here’s what the stars had to say:

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates): ‘I am not the only favorite’

Life is good, I like this race, and today is going to be really tough. There are a lot of favorites here. I am not the only one. After UAE Tour, we’ll see. This is a different race now. The shape is good, so let’s see how things go today. The wind? It’s complicated on the gravel roads, especially on the downhills. I hope there are not too many crashes.

No regrets! Why would I regret coming here? I love this race. Even if I do not finish the race, I will not regret it. It’s a different challenge on the gravel, it’s fun. It’s completely different racing than a normal race. I am going to have fun today. I did not preview the course, we came late from UAE. I just arrived yesterday. I did three times this race, and I’ve done some training here. I know the course and I know how the gravel feels, so let’s see. I’ve learned a lot before, so we will see if it helps me today.

Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën): ‘I hope to use my experience’

I hope to have a good race. Top-10 is the goal. I do not think the shape is good enough yet to win, because there are some stronger guys here today.  I hope to use my experience like I did at Nieuwsblad, and hopefully have a good day. Then I can still go far. The first aim is to survive Santa Maria, and after that, it’s a parcours that better fits me.

The wind will be a big factor. I think it will be a fast start, but sectors five and six will be more important than other years. This race is a little bit in between, because the classics riders go well here, but so do some grand tour riders. It’s kind of an Amstel Gold thing in Italy. It’s a race I really love, and it’s super spectacular.

Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco): ‘It’s an open race’

I don’t know much about the race. I’ve watched the race a lot of times, it’s one of the races I watch start to finish when I’m home. We reconned the full course on Wednesday and again a little bit yesterday, so I think I know the course well enough. I’m just going to ride my own race and see what I can do. This race creates a lot of opportunities to try diferent things and I’m just going to see what I can do. It’s quite an open race without van Aert and van der Poel.

Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech): ‘Still struggling from COVID’

I thought I was doing really good with my shape but then I caught COVID after Valenciana and I’ve been struggling there on. If it wasn’t because I wanted to be here, I think the team would have left me at home. I think we have two good cards with me and Simon, I’m feeling better now, but we of course are not the favorites .We’ll try to hang on as long as possible and hopefully the legs are brilliant and we can do something in the final.

Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious): ‘I love this race’

I love this race. It’s well suited to my capabilities – I’m not the top classics rider, I’m not the top climber, biut this race you need both so I’m looking forward to today. I’m not in top shape but I’m doing well. I had a minor illness after Valenciana but I managed to get back on at the ‘opening weekend’ and I felt great so today could be even better. Pogačar? I think Alapahilippe is main favorite and then Pogačar.

Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers): ‘Strade Bianche is on my road toward the Giro’

I am feeling good. I’ve arrived here in good form, and we’ll try to do the best we can. Above all, this is good for me in my preparation for the Giro. This race is important in the preparation ahead of my principal goal. I think it’s going to be a very hard race. It’s going to be aggressive racing. There are a lot of candidates for the victory. 

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl): ‘There are many favorites today’

This is a beautiful race, a special race. There is not a race like this on the calendar. There are many favorites today. I am not the only one. Of course, I hope to do well. The team here is motivated, and I am motivated because this is one of my most beautiful memories. Racing in the rainbow jersey always gives you something extra. We will see how the race goes today. It will be difficult. I expect a big battle today.

Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo): ‘The gravel is almost over-hyped’

It’s a big goal for me. I rode well here last year, I like the race, I find it enjoyable, so it only makes sense to come back and target it this year. We’re trying to win the bike race. It’s unpredictable, and it will be harder with the added wind. And you see the field here, it’s good as always, so we try to be there with a few guys in the final, and play our cards a bit.

The gravel is some ways it’s almost over-hyped. It’s not super technical compared to what you see in a gravel race. It’s more about positioning going into the sectors. You also have to have good luck. We can’t have the luck we had last year. You have to be strong on the climbs and be a good bike-handler, it’s a nice mix.

Up next is Tirreno, and after that I’ll have a small break in Girona for 10 days, and then start in Belgium with E3 straight through Roubaix.