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Arguably one of the most enjoyable races of the season is now firmly established as one of the major targets of the year for the peloton’s top riders.
Strade Bianche packs the prestige, tactical challenge, and range of required skillsets to make it one of the most complex puzzles to unravel for peloton’s stars.
Riders need to be able to climb, pack power and speed for the finale, and have the bike handling skills to handle the unique challenge of the gravel roads of Tuscany.
Having said that, a few big names are missing for 2023. Elisa Longo Borghini, Marta Cavalli, and Egan Bernal are sidelined due to injuries and illness, while Tadej Pogačar and Wout van Aert, both former winners, are side-stepping the race.
In some ways, those key absences make it perhaps a bit easier to pick the favorites — at least for those interested in such things — and also makes the race a bit more open.
Any time a big pre-race favorite are not racing, the collective hopes of the rest of the peloton naturally rise. A few brutal accelerations soon shatter most of those dreams, and in a race as demanding and prestigious as Strade Bianche, the cream naturally rises to the top.
Every race boasts a singular pre-race favorite, and that honor falls to a pair of Dutch riders with Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceunkink).
It’s hard to measure where either rider is, however. Van Vleuten has been uncharacteristically muted in her early outings and Van der Poel will be making his road racing debut.
Big riders step up for big races, and it’s a safe bet that both will be at the pointy end of the race when it counts.
Behind them is a fleet of rivals ready to ride their wings.
SD Worx has made Strade Bianche Donne their race, winning three of the past five editions. Their run was short-circuited by Van Vleuten’s back-to-back wins in 2019 and 2020.
If Lotte Kopecky doesn’t win, there’s half the roster who could fill her shoes. Demi Vollering and rising prospect Niamh Fisher-Black will also be protagonists.
Ashleigh Moolman, a former cog in the SD Worx machine, could be one of their top rivals. Others to watch include four-time podium finisher Kasia Niewiadoma, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Liane Lippert, and Mavi García.
In the men’s race, all eyes will be on which version of Van der Poel shows up. He’s been hobbled by back injuries, though the worst seems past him. If he’s flying like he was when he won his latest cyclocross world’s crown a few weeks ago, he could be hard to match.
Tom Pidcock, the rider who skipped facing off against Van der Poel at Hoogerheide, could be his most dangerous rival on the gravel.
Pidcock brings the full package to Siena, and will see deep support from Ineos Grenadiers. The UK team’s newly aggressive style could see Magnus Sheffield and former winner Michal Kwiatkowski marking some early moves.
Former winner Tiesj Benoot — now on Jumbo-Visma — and Tim Wellens — now on UAE Team Emirates — guarantee that both of those “super teams” will be present in the mix.
Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quick-Step) will be hoping to make up for last year’s horrific somersaulting crash and rediscover his winning stride after a rough 2022 season.
Any number of riders can emerge, and Strade Bianche is one of those rare races where the grand tour riders, climbers, and brawny classics brawlers can all be a factor.
Strade Bianche is always fast and usually very selective. Even if a small group arrives to Siena, the final wall up to the main piazza usually springs the winner.
VeloNews’ picks: Strade Bianche Donne
Bet the bank — Annemiek van Vleuten
Covering the spread — Lotte Kopecky, Kasia Niewiadoma
Even money — Ashleigh Moolman, Demi Vollering, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
Worth a fiver — Marta Bastianelli, Liane Lippert, Mavi García
VeloNews’ picks: Strade Bianche
Bet the bank — Mathieu van der Poel
Covering the spread — Julian Alaphilippe, Tom Pidcock
Even money — Tiesj Benoot, Magnus Sheffield, Tim Wellens
Worth a fiver — Aleksandr Vlasov, Quinn Simmons, Pello Bilbao