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The 2022 Women’s WorldTour season is just around the corner with Strade Bianche kicking it off on Saturday. The Italian one-day event has not been around for long but quickly rocketed to popularity, with its challenging white gravel roads and picturesque scenery.
Starting and finishing in Siena, with the brutal climb to the city’s centre Piazza del Campo as the backdrop for the finale, Strade Bianche is the favourite event for many of the women in the peloton. This season it is the first of a historic 71 days of WorldTour racing for the women, nearly double the amount of WWT race days in 2021.
This race has been won solo, it’s come close to a two-person sprint to the line, with tactics playing a major role in the closing kilometres and the strongest teams in the women’s peloton fighting each other for that top step. Riders like Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon-SRAM have been hunting for victory in the Piazza del Campo since the race was first added to the calendar in 2015.
An added bonus to this year’s event is the extended live coverage that offers two hours of phenomenal racing through the Italian countryside. Who will win Strade in 2022? Here’s what you need to know.
The now-familiar route matches the previous three editions, with 31.6 km of traditional white gravel roads broken into eight gravel sectors and scattered across the 136 km race.
The first taste of gravel comes only 17 km from the start and covers 2.1 km. From there the following three gravel sections are 5.8 km, 4.4 km, and 5.5 km before the longest stretch of white roads San Martino in Grania stretches for 9.5 km. Not only is the San Martino in Grania section the longest sector of gravel in the race, it is also particularly challenging. With climbs maxing out at 17% grade in places, the race could be won or lost at this point, even though it sits halfway through the race. A strong team will make the difference if any of the race favourites suffer from a crash or mechanical in this section.
The women then race the .8 km sector Monteaperti that includes a very small ascent, before the final two sections of dirt Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe. Colle Pinzuto is the longer of the two at 2.4 km and is entirely uphill. This ascent tops out 17 km from the finish and there is only 4 km to regroup before the final 1.1 km sector of gravel.
From the end of the final Le Tolfe section, which drops then kicks up mercilessly, there is only 12 km to go before one woman can raise her arms in the Piazza del Campo.
Based on her dominant performances already in 2022 it’s likely Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) will take her third Strade Bianche title on Saturday. Van Vleuten won back to back editions in 2019 and 2020. The 2019 win was particularly memorable. She seemingly teleported from the peloton to the break and then rode away from everyone with over 12 km to go to win solo.
With a victory fresh in her mind from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, one week prior Van Vleuten will rock up to the start line of Strade Bianche as THE rider to beat.
One rider everyone would be thrilled to see win this edition of Strade Bianche is Kasia Niewiadoma. The Canyon-SRAM rider has been on the podium four times. In three of those podium finishes, from 2016 to 2018, Niewiadoma was runner-up to Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini, and Anna van der Breggen. In 2019 she finished third behind Van Vleuten and Annika Langvad.
Niewiadoma’s attacking and aggressive style is well suited to the rolling hills of Italy. She was also riding relatively well at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. As far as support, her new teammate Soraya Paladin has finished 14th in Strade Bianche twice and will hopefully be able to help Niewiadoma get the monkey off her back.
FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope will line up with all of their possible three team leaders. Grace Brown, who featured in all three Belgian one-day races over the week, is not currently on the unfinished start list but posted an Instagram story of a “gravel cramming” ride. Brown has had a strong start to the season but spent most of Le Samyn on Tuesday testing the legs rather than going for the victory. She was part of an impressive selection in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before Van Vleuten broke away from the group.
Brown’s teammates Marta Cavalli and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig opted out of the opening weekend in Belgium and instead focused on this first WorldTour event. Cavalli was climbing really well at Setmana Valenciana in February, as was Uttrup Ludwig. The two finished second and third in the overall classification behind Van Vleuten.
What remains to be seen is FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope’s ability to harness the strength of these three incredible riders for a team victory, and as the first WWT race of the year, Saturday will be the first glimpse of if their three-leader approach will succeed or fail.
Two cyclocross legends return to the (kind of) road this weekend, perhaps because the inclusion of dirt makes the transition easier. Newly crowned cyclocross world champion Marianne Vos and her runner up Lucinda Brand have been laying low since the cyclocross World Championships at the end of January.
Vos has finished consistently around 6th or 7th in the last three editions of Strade Bianche. She has never finished on the podium and isn’t likely to win on Saturday, but she is still one of the strongest riders in the race and could play a role in the final composition of the peloton. Vos is the leader of Jumbo-Visma in almost any race scenario and having her back on the start line will be important for the Dutch team.
Brand on the other hand will likely ride in support of her Trek-Segafredo teammate Elisa Longo Borghini who won the race in 2017, was third in 2018 and was outsmarted to the line last year by Chantal van den Broek-Blaak. As the Italian national champion racing on home soil, winning Strade Bianche is a big deal to Longo Borghini, so even though her form didn’t look to be 100% at the opening weekend in Belgium she can’t be overlooked to pull out some kind of incredible ride.
Once again the strongest team on the start line will be SD Worx. When it comes to riders worth watching from the Dutch team it’s not so much which one as the team as a whole. In 2021 Anna van der Breggen was their top rider to watch but the race was won by Van den Broek-Blaak. SD Worx had the numbers in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland but came up short both days. On Saturday they will be fielding their best riders, with Demi Vollering as their top rider to watch.
Vollering was the only rider at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to hold on to Van Vleuten’s blistering final attack but couldn’t outsprint the former world champion at the finish, a telling finale. It was her first race back, and her form is almost there, but will it be enough to beat Van Vleuten in the final climb to the finish in Siena?
SD Worx has proven over and over that any of their riders can win, and Saturday is no exception. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio will return to the road after focusing on the virtual racing circuit over the winter. Whether that style of racing can transfer into a longer race with more drawn out efforts is yet to be seen. Although she’s not the standard rider type for this style of finish, Lotte Kopecky can never be discounted. Her presence has already proven to be beneficial, or at least impactful, for SD Worx.
Update: Marta Cavalli of FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope and Lucinda Brand of Trek-Segafredo are not on the official start list.
CyclingTips Star Ratings
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Van Vleuten
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Niewiadoma, Longo Borghini, Vollering
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Uttrup Ludwig, Vos, Van den Broek-Blaak
⭐️⭐️: Mavi Garciá, Brown, Moolman Pasio,
⭐️: Floortje Mackaij, Elise Chabbey, Liane Lippert
Star rating will be updated when the final start list is available prior to the race.
How to watch
With the men’s race on the same day and a lot of the same roads, the women kick off just after 9:00 CET. GCN+ will have live coverage starting at 11:30 CET for viewers in North America, Europe, and the UK. The two hours of action-packed viewing will be the most television coverage of Strade Bianche the world has ever seen.