Strade Bianche: Cycling’s ‘sixth monument’ will be wide-open affair

A few big names are missing, but it's the white roads of Tuscany that are the biggest stars this weekend.

Photo: James Startt/VeloNews

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Strade Bianche — the wildly popular and wholly unpredictable romp across the Tuscan white roads — will be a wide-open affair Saturday.

Cycling’s “sixth monument” sees deep start lists in both the women’s and men’s races, yet there are no stand-out favorites in either race.

Since the inception of both races — 2007 for the men’s and 2015 for the women’s — no predictable race tactic blueprint has truly emerged. The race is more similar to the more chaotic Paris-Roubaix say than to the tried-and-true Tour of Flanders.

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Sometimes solo moves stick, other times it’s a more tactical battle. No matter what the scenario, the famed “sterrato” gravel roads over the green Tuscan hills play judge and jury.

The races have only produced a handful of repeat winners. Annemiek van Vleuten and Michal Kwiatkowski won two times each, and Fabian Cancellara won three times in the men’s race’s earlier incarnation.

So what to expect Saturday for cycling’s “southernmost northern classic?”

Let’s dive in:

A ‘monument’ is born

The setting is second to none. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

Cycling’s five monuments — Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia — are the standard-bearers of one-day racing.

They pack the history, the distance, and the prestige to stand apart.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not Strade Bianche should be included in that list.

Its men’s race distance at 184km is one negative, as all of the monuments extend into that magical sixth hour of racing at distances topping 220km.

Yet, the race certainly checks the boxes in every other category.

Its winner’s list is a who’s who of the men’s and women’s peloton.

This weekend should see another stellar winner added to that honor roll.

A year ago, the French sports daily L’Equipe surveyed 381 professional riders about their race favorites on the calendar. When asked which race they thought should be added to the monument club, it was a landslide with Strade Bianche topping the list.

Minor course tweaks for 2023

The women’s course features eight gravel sectors.

Cycling likes to brag that its stadium is its geography, be it the French Alps to the Adelaide Hills.

Strade Bianche can boast both manmade and Mother Nature’s opulence. Starting and finishing in Siena, deep in the heart of Italy’s Renaissance, from the Fortezza Medicea to Piazza del Campo, Strade Bianche doesn’t skimp on backdrops.

The men’s race features 11 gravel sections with 63km of the famed white roads in its 184km parcours, while the women’s race sees eight gravel sectors with 31.6 km of its 136km trajectory.

The men’s Strade Bianche route features 11 gravel sectors.

Who will be first?

Van Vleuten bridged from over three minutes behind to chase down race-leader Garcia.
Van Vleuten won Strade Bianche twice. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Van Vleuten is a favorite in any race she will start in what’s her farewell season. She’s the only repeat winner in the women’s race since its inception in 2015 with back-to-back victories in 2019 and 2020.

Yet it’s anyone’s race as the women’s WorldTour is deeper and more balanced than ever. There are 24 women’s teams of seven riders each, with all the 17 Women’s WorldTour teams lining up, plus seven wildcards. The men’s race sees 25 starting teams, with seven invites and 18 WorldTour squads.

Defending champion Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) and former winner Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek Segafredo) are both already showing top form in early races.

Four-time podium finisher Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) will also be leading a list of favorites Saturday.

There are a few notable absences in the men’s race, including defending champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and 2020 winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), both cooling their jets for Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, respectively.

Egan Bernal also won’t be racing due to a nagging knee problem, but the newly aggressive Ineos Grenadiers will bring Tom Pidcock, two-time winner Kwiatkowski, and Magnus Sheffield. Pello Bilbao will lead Bahrain Victorious, with Tim Wellens leading for UAE Team Emirates.

Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Mathieu van der Poel is the only “big” starting this year, though former winners Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step), Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) might argue with that.

In both races, it will be interesting to see if long-distance attacks that have worked well in the past from such riders as Pogačar and Van Vleuten will carry the day, or if there will be a more select group of riders arriving at the final wall into Siena with chances for the win.

How will the absence of Pogačar shape the race? (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

Weather forecast: Cool, breezy

Julian Alaphilippe was thrown off his bike in a crash at Strade Bianche
Winds proved decisive in last year’s men’s race, with pre-race favorite Alaphilippe among the most seriously impacted. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Fair spring weather typically holds for Strade Bianche, with only one recent edition of the race ending up with muddy tracks in 2018.

Last year, strong winds proved decisive and helped provoke the high-speed crash that sent Alaphilippe catapulting over his handlebars.

On Saturday, forecasters are calling for sunshine and mixed with clouds. Riders will see cold temperatures in the morning of around 2C before warming up to around 14C in the afternoon.

Forecasted showers Friday could tamp down some of the dust and make for a gripper race, and there’s only a 15 percent chance of showers Saturday.

Winds will be from the north and northeast, meaning tailwinds going out, and mostly head and crosswinds as the course loops back toward Siena.

It’s not expected to be a repeat of last year’s race-impacting gusts, but winds will pick up as the afternoon unfolds, ranging from 10km/h to 15km/h.

How to watch

Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) got the better of Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) to win the 2022 Strade Bianche Donne.
Will Kopecky repeat? Find out Saturday. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images) 

There will be plenty of viewing options for the Italian classic.

Be sure to check with local listings. Declan Quigley and Matthews Stephens will be calling the international feed, while different broadcasters will have different teams as well.

GCN+ will be broadcasting live portions of the women’s and men’s races for its U.S. and European subscribers, starting at 11:30 a.m. (CET) and continuing through the end of the men’s race. Eurosport will also be broadcasting both races across its networks in Europe.

SBS is picking up the race in Australia, while RAI is broadcasting the race live in Italy.

Sign-on for the women’s race is from 8:05 a.m. to 9:20 a.m., with the race start at 9:25 a.m. (all times CET). The estimated finish in Siena is at 1:30 p.m. local time.

Sign-on for the men’s race is from 10:20 a.m. to 11:35 a.m., with the race start at 11:40 a.m. The estimated finish in Siena is around 4:30 p.m. local time.

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