Featured image courtesy of Gruber Images
Outbreaks of coronavirus cases on Italian soil back in March saw Strade Bianche cancelled, the first race to suffer the cut. Nothing delights cycling fans more than to see World Tour cycling back as the 14th edition of Strade Bianche gets underway. The white dirt roads, the short sharp ascents, finale into Siena’s Piazza del Campo – this is what we’ve missed!
Having to adapt to new protocols will be evident with face masks, social distancing and sanitising materials – something we’re all getting used to. New safety measures have been successful for football, for cycling open roads mean that fans can’t be prevented from standing on the side of the road.
UCI President David Lappertient has praised the return of World Tour racing but with growing numbers of Covid-19 cases in Belgium, France and Spain – he has warned that race cancellations are still a possibility.
We all hope that everything runs smoothly. The sport is thankfully still alive and we’re now looking forward to what should be an entertaining day’s racing.
179 days after postponement we now have a race on our hands. Dirt roads throwing up dust, riders in unknown form – all the ingredients for an exciting days’ racing.
Set among the Tuscan hills, this year’s race is of course different because of rescheduling – August instead of March, conditions won’t be the same. 184 km in total for the men with 11 gravel sectors, the Lucignano d’Asso at 11.9 km the longest section. The final sector at 12 km to go at Le Tolfe could see the opportunity for attacks before the final 16% climb entering Siena’s city walls and then a fast run to the finish.
Two years ago we had pouring rain and last year we had springlike conditions. We could see temperatures reach 34 degrees in Tuscany hence hot conditions, potential for gravel sections to be looser and dusty conditions will be inevitable, likely to cause havoc.
Who will win the 19th edition is the million dollar question! Because of a lengthy break we haven’t the foggiest on who will shine bright and take the victory but we do know some names to keep an eye on.
Strong climbers and classics specialists are in abundance as are former cyclocross riders. Last year saw Julian Alaphilippe take the win, Jakob Fuglsang finish second and Wout Van Aert claim third place – all three starting their careers in cyclocross.
After a stunning comeback to win Amstel Gold last year, it’s no surprise that another current cyclocross sensation starts as favourite. Mathieu van der Poel has never ridden Strade Bianche so surely he cannot finish at least on the podium! We said the same about Wout Van Aert’s debut in 2018 and look where he finished.
Riding for Alpecin-Felix, the Dutchman is a hot property in world cycling and with no place at this year’s Tour de France his focus will be all on the one-day classics. It’s his debut, he has the talent and putting your cyclocross skills to good use on dirt roads will go a long way. Winning overall with favourite tagged on your back would be a huge achievement if the Dutchman pulled it off.
Last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe starts as do four other former winners in Tiesj Benoot (2018), Zdeněk Štybar (2015), Philippe Gilbert (2011) and two-times champion Michal Kwiatkowski (2014 and 2017).
Deceuninck Quick-Step always make a big impression for the classics with Alaphilippe ready to kick off his revamped season ahead of the Tour de France, Štybar has the ability to win the race again and in Luxembourg road champion Bob Jungels and last year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen runner-up Kasper Asgreen, Quick-Step have options on the table.
After winning Milan Sanremo, La Fleche Wallonne back-to-back and surprising all of us at the Tour, Julian Alaphilippe has a big year ahead. Yes he’s confirmed that he won’t be targeting Tour de France GC but could that just be a way of shifting attention away from him? Who knows but there’s no doubt that the Frenchman has bags of talent and could easily win numerous classics from now until October.
Belgian riders are in abundance with Wout Van Aert looking to go one better than 2018 and last year. The Jumbo-Visma man has finished on the podium twice and alongside rival Mathieu van der Poel, this could be a new emerging duel for years to come.
Greg Van Avermaet has yet to score a classics win in Europe for CCC Pro Team, Dylan Teuns can climb all terrain as we saw atop La Planche des Belles Filles last year plus AG2R La Mondiale’s Oliver Naesen finished second at Milan Sanremo, so never discount the Belgians cooking up a storm on the road.
British squad Team Ineos arrive with two-times winner Michal Kwiatkowski, three-times road world champion Peter Sagan starts and although Astana arrive with last year’s runner-up Jakob Fuglsang, you might be tempted into thinking that current Kazakhstan national champion Alexey Lutsenko might try something. He finished seventh last year and as we saw at the UAE Tour back in February, Lutsenko can seriously climb!
For the women, many of the teams have been in action already with three recent one-day races in the Basque Country.
This will be the first World Tour race in five months after Liane Lippert won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race to secure the Women’s World Tour purple jersey. The points series restarts tomorrow so thankfully Lippert will get to wear the jersey on the road arriving with a Sunweb team featuring Coryn Rivera, Leah Kirchmann, Franziska Koch, Juliette Labous and Floortje Mackaij. Sunweb controlled much of the bunch last year and they could do the same.
136km along the white gravel roads, the women’s route is exactly the same as last year.
Mitchelton-Scott arrive with the strongest team on paper with last year’s winner and current world champion Annemiek van Vleuten starting alongside Jessica Allen, Lucy Kennedy, Moniek Tenniglo, Georgia Williams and Amanda Spratt.
Van Vleuten might feel pressure as the favourite but she heads into Strade Bianche in good shape after winning all three recent one-day races in the Basque Country plus she’s also won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad pre-lockdown.
Britain’s Lizzie Deignan looks set to start in Trek-Segafredo colours alongside Italian Elisa Longo Borghini, who has finished twice in third and took the win in 2017. Boels Dolmans line up with former winner Anna van der Breggen and we’ll never forget her sensational win back in 2018, so can she do it again?
One huge favourite is Canyon SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma. The Polish rider has finished on the podium for the last four editions, so could she take one big leap and take the overall this year?
Whoever wins this weekend, it’ll be great to see the Women’s World Tour back in action plus the men gearing themselves up for what will be a non-stop bonanza of cycling. Hold onto your hats, make your predictions and get set for a terrific weekend as cycling returns!
Strade Bianche Donne starts at 10.55 and the race is expected to finish around 15.00. For the men, the race starts at 12.45 and the race is expected to finish around 17.00 – all UK times.