Some races are born to be forgotten, while other races are born to become legendary. The latter applies to Strade Bianche, which since its inception, in 2007, grew in fame, prestige, style and class, and achieved Classic-like status in the peloton and among the fans, much thanks to its magical location. With its unique and spectacular course and multiple dirt sections, Strade Bianche can easily be called the Italian Paris-Roubaix, and it’s no wonder the organizers have decided to promote it this year as being “La Clasica del Nord piu a Sud d’Europa”.
The race originated as an amateur granfondo and now has a rock solid slot in the UCI calendar, just before Tirreno-Adriatico, many of the riders who will contest the “Race of the Two Seas” and Milan-Sanremo lining up at the start of Strade Bianche. What makes this race even more beautiful, besides its white gravel obstacles and Tuscan hills, is that Classics riders and Grand Tour cyclists alike come every year here, and both have a strong chance to take the win in the beautiful Piazza il Campo.
San Gimignano, a small medieval town in the province of Siena, hosts the start for the second year in a row and just like last season, the first white gravel section (San Leonardo) comes after 33 kilometers. The third one – Ville di Corsano – will be the most difficult of the race until that point, a 5,9 km sector with a 10% maximum gradient which is sure to stir things up. The course then hits Ridi and the peloton will go over two more long sterrati, but not so difficult in terms of altimetry. Montalcino, which hosted a Giro stage in 2010, brings another tough terrain, 5 km with a 5% gradient, which will mark the halfway point of the parcours.
This part of the route includes five more unpaved sectors (in total, there are ten sectors covering around 50 kilometers), the most difficult being Monte Sante Marie, Vico d’Arbia, Colle Pinzuto and La Tolfe. The first of these isn’t a regular climb, having flat parts and descents, but also gruesome gradients of 20%. The last three obstacles will provide some important opportunities to the riders that have strong legs and are willing to attack from far, thus avoiding a last-minute fight for the win in the Piazza il Campo. Vico d’Arbia, Colle Pinzuto and La Tolfe all have double-digit gradients, which ramp up to 15% and even 18%. If there’s a group on the last unpaved sector, a rider who launches an attack can make it explode and tear everyone else to pieces, thus soloing to the win.
From La Tolfe there are just 12 kilometers left until the finish, and the last kilometers follow the outskirts of the city of Siena, along wide, long and straight roads running downhill and uphill, before the course goes via Esterna di Fontebranda (9% maximum gradient). The stone pavement begins 900 meters before the finish line, after passing the Porta di Fontebranda. The gradient is over 10%, reaching peaks of as high as 16% in via Santa Caterina, 500 m from the finish.
Further on, a sharp bend to the right in via Delle Terme leads to via Banchi di Sotto. From 300 meters to the finish onwards, the road is a slight, continuous descent. With just 150 meters to go, the route turns right into via Rinaldini. The race course then enters Piazza il Campo just 70 meters before the finish line and the rider who will be first in that last corner is sure to take the win in Siena.
Two-time winner of Strade Bianche, Fabian Cancellara will be a contender, and in case of one more victory he will give his hame to one of the white gravel sectors, the first rider to do so. The Swiss, stage winner at the Tour of Oman in February, is going to be supported by a strong team, which will include Jasper Stuyven, Fabio Felline, Hayden Roulston and Markel Irizar. Of course, Cancellara isn’t in the best shape, but this doesn’t mean he’ll not seize the opportunity if it arises. If he’s to attack, then La Toffe should offer him the launch pad, just like in 2012.
Michal Kwiatkowski is the defending champion, but he’s not coming at the start in 2015. Instead, Peter Sagan – who popped last year when the Pole attacked on the via Santa Caterina, will be here keen to take the win after two consecutive podiums in a row and nab his first victory in more than 250 days. Sagan has all that it takes to win Strade Bianche, but is going to be a marked man by his opponents, so the race can easily turn against him.
After showing some fine form in the Tour of Oman, Filippo Pozzato can’t be overlooked as he’s trying to become just the second Italian to triumph in the Tuscan one-day race, after Moreno Moser, in 2013. Speaking of Moser, his season to date has been promising so far, with two top 10 placings (a stage in the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race), so the Cannondale-Garmin cyclist is entitled to hope for a resurrection in the race he scored his biggest win so far.
Coming from Belgium, where he pulled off a remarkable coup last Saturday after a masterful ride, Ian Stannard will be backed by a strong squad, with also Salvatore Puccio, Andrew Fenn and Peter Kennaugh due on the start line, and should have an important say in the fight for the win. The same applies to Astana’s Lars Boom – very impressive in the previous races of the season – who returns to Strade Bianche two years after he did not finish at his debut here.
Greg Van Avermaet was 5th in 2012 and is going to be a contender also now, but it remains to be seen if the ongoing doping investigation in which he is involved will or will not have an impact on his ride. His countryman, Sep Vanmarcke, has a big shot at this, but needs some luck on his side after last week at Omloop he punctured with 43 kilometers to go and missed on the decisive break. For Vanmarcke time has come to start winning, and Strade Bianche will provide him this opportunity.
Alejandro Valverde arrives at Strade Bianche hoping to better his 3rd place of last year. Although he hasn’t raced since the Tour of Oman (where he came on the podium), the Spaniard is expected to be in the mix, giving that he’s always in a strong form. Besides Valverde, other riders worth following are Rinaldo Nocentini – who ups his preparations for Tirreno-Adriatico here – Oscar Gatto, 3rd in 2012, Zdenek Stybar, and Damiano Cunego, who’s searching for his first win in two years.
– Fabian Cancellara is the rider with the most wins, two
– Belgium, Italy, Kazahstan, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and Sweden have at least a victory in the race
– Moreno Moser (22-years-old in 2013) is the youngest winner of Strade Bianche, while Fabian Cancellara is the oldest (30-years-old in 2012)
– The two are the only former champions who will ride this year’s race
– Biggest time gap between the first and second came three years ago, when Fabian Cancellara finished with a 42-second lead ahead of Maxim Iglinskiy
– Romania will have its first ever riders in the race: Eduard Grosu and Serghei Tvetcov
– Italy is the country with the most cyclists at this year’s edition, 60
– Simone Velasco (19-years-old) is the youngest rider in the 2015 race; Matteo Tosatto (40-years-old) is the oldest one
– Cyclists from 31 countries will line-up at the start of the 9th edition