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Women’s WorldTour finally kicks off with Strade Bianche Donne

Annemiek van Vleuten takes aim at third Strade Bianche win as she looks to keep up her 2022 winning streak.

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The long wait is almost over, and the biggest Women’s WorldTour calendar is about to begin.

Strade Bianche is the first of 71 race days in 2022 at the highest level of the sport and should provide the perfect curtain opener in what is set to be a historic season.

Inaugurated in 2015, eight years after the first men’s event, the women’s Strade Bianche never fails to deliver the action.

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From big solo breaks to tense and tactical finales, this race could unfold in several different ways and that’s the beauty of it.

Added to it is the stunning scenery of Tuscany with the white gravel roads slicing through the fields and hills that surround the area.

It all combines to make one of the most spectacular races of the year.

31.6km of gravel roads

When you find a good formula then it is good not to tinker with it too much.

Strade Bianche organizers RCS has decided to leave well alone when it comes to the course design for 2022, leaving it to exactly match last year’s offering.

The race will start and finish in Siena, with the women’s peloton rolling out at the early time of 09:10 and the race is scheduled to finish shortly after 13:00 (CET). With the men’s race kicking off at about 11:00, if you fancy a day in front of bike racing then you’ll get two action-packed races for the price of one.

Gravel roads define the racing at Strade Bianche and, with 31.6 kilometers of the stuff for the women’s race, it makes up almost a quarter of the 136km route.

The “white roads” come in waves with just a few short stretches for the riders to recuperate before the next comes along. The first — a 2.1km downhill section — appears after just over 17 kilometers of racing with the last — a short section of 1.1km that features a tricky downhill before an 18 percent climb — finishing just 12km from the finish line.

Of the eight gravel sectors that litter the route, the most challenging is the 9.5km San Martino in Grania sector, which sits right in the middle of the parcours.

It is not just the length of the section but the twisting nature of it, combined with some steep gradients and sharp descents. While the average gradient is a palatable 2.1 percent, it hits a much more challenging 16.9 percent closer to the end.

This section is a huge opportunity to make a major selection in the peloton and even make an early move toward victory. Four more gravel sectors are to come after this, each providing its own challenges for the riders.

Should a small group come to the line, the riders will then have to take into account the steep climb toward the finish line in the Piazza del Campo. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak played a blinder here in 2021, tiring out her companion Elisa Longo Borghini, a better climber, before dropping her with a stinging attack up the final ascent.

Annemiek van Vleuten versus the world, Marianne Vos returns

Defending champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak will be in Sienna to defend her title, but it is another former champion in Annemiek van Vleuten that will be the rider to beat come Saturday.

The Dutch rider has won this race twice — in 2019 and 2020 — and she has been on incredible form since she started her season last month in Valencia. Over the last two weeks, van Vleuten has won a stage and the overall in Spain before claiming the win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend.

Of course, van Vleuten is far from infallible, and she faltered at this race last year when she missed the three-rider group that would go on to decide the victory. She is not the kind of rider to dwell on the past, but she may well be spurred on by last year’s disappointment as well as the possibility of becoming the first rider to win the race on three separate occasions.

Defending champ van den Broek-Blaak will have a strong SD Worx squad around her that will be looking to dismantle the peloton and set the team up for its first win of the season. The Dutch squad has set the tone in its opening races but has so far come away with just Demi Vollering’s second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

The team is only two races into the season, and it will have regrouped after the “opening weekend.” Vollering will also be on the Strade start line in Siena, as will Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Lotte Kopecky.

Another team putting forward a formidable line-up is Trek-Segafredo with former champion Elisa Longo Borghini and reigning world champion Elisa Balsamo. Lucinda Brand is due to return to road action at the race, while Audrey Cordon-Ragot and upcoming rider Shirin van Anrooij are scheduled to ride.

Like SD Worx, Trek-Segafredo has come out swinging in 2022 and we can expect more of the same from the team this weekend.

In addition to Brand, the rider that beat her to the cyclocross world title in Fayetteville, Marianne Vos, will make her 2022 road debut on the dusty roads of Tuscany. This is arguably not a race best suited to Vos, but we can always count on her to be in the mix.

Other riders to pay attention to are former podium finishers Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ). Meanwhile, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope riders Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Marta Cavalli are likely to play a role in the race.