Road

Your New Favorite Race: Strade Bianche

Strade Bianche is the newest classic, but it packs a punch with scenic dirt roads, steep climbs, and a finish in the ancient city of Siena.

The 2018 WorldTour season is underway! If you want to learn the basics about some of cycling’s key races, our “Your New Favorite Race” series will get you up to speed on climbs, cobblestones, and everything in between.

Your New Favorite Race: Strade Bianche, Saturday, March 3, 2018.
Distance: Men – 184km; women – 136km

Why should you care about this race? It’s like Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold Race’s Italian love-child — a hilly route that features rough, unpredictable roads. Perhaps for this reason, Strade Bianche attracts a fascinating mix of climbers and classics riders. How often do you see Alejandro Valverde and Peter Sagan standing on the same podium? It feels like cycling’s golden era, when Tour de France contenders would happily mix it up at Flanders and Roubaix.

The 2014 Strade Bianche podium was long on talent but short on smiling faces. Peter Sagan was second; Michal Kwiatkowski won, and Alejandro Valverde was third. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Most dramatic edition in recent history? The 2015 Strade Bianche had one of the spring’s most exciting finishes. Three men came into the final climb to Siena (more on that in a moment): Zdenek Stybar, Greg Van Avermaet, and Alejandro Valverde. Van Avermaet punched it into the first — and often decisive — right-hand corner. Valverde popped, but then Stybar found an extra gear and punished Van Avermaet for going too early. Ouch!

Honorable mention goes to the 2016 edition, when Fabian Cancellara won for a record third time, hunting down poor Gianluca Brambilla on the final climb and showing Stybar the gutter on that crucial right-hand corner.

Your race’s defining feature: It would be easy to just say the race’s rolling, sinuous, and sometimes sketchy dirt roads are the most important feature — after all, “strade bianche” means “white road.” That would be like calling Paris-Roubaix “pavé dangereux” or Flèche Wallonne the “Mur de Huy sprinten.” (Sorry, that second one was Google Translate, plain and simple).

However, those beautiful white roads don’t usually decide the winner. You can lose Strade Bianche on the dirt, but the climb to Siena is the most pivotal and spectacular part of the course. Riders blast up this climb through the ancient city like X-Wing fighters diving into the Death Star’s canyon in “Star Wars.” Okay, it’s not that fast because the climb pitches up to 16 percent at its steepest point, but the narrow streets, hemmed in by old buildings, create a neat effect. Watch out for the sharp, narrow turn onto Via delle Terme. If your favorite rider is not on the front coming out of that corner, it’s tough to sprint past with only about 300 meters to go.

But the thing is … Strade Bianche is still a young race. This year will be the 12th running of the men’s race, so it doesn’t quite have the deep heritage of its northern classics brethren. Should that matter to you? Probably not. Even if we can’t swoon over arcane historical footnotes like we do for Flanders or Liège, it’s a damn fun day of bike racing. Plus, all the dust makes for epic photos.

Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Ladies first? Indeed! The Women’s WorldTour kicks off Saturday, as it did in 2017, and we can expect great racing. Last year, Italian Elisa Longo Borghini out-sprinted Katarzyna Niewiadoma on the slippery, wet climb through Siena. With a different winner each time in the race’s three-year history, Strade Bianche is always exciting.