Strade Bianche women’s preview: Stars come out to kick off Women’s WorldTour

The 2018 Women's WorldTour gets underway Saturday in Italy with the fourth edition of Strade Bianche.

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The 2018 Women’s WorldTour gets underway Saturday in Italy with the fourth edition of Strade Bianche.

Following a week of wet weather, the eponymous white roads of Tuscany have taken on more of a sickly brownish hue — but that should only make an already thrilling race more interesting.

Elisa Longo Borghini comes into the event as the defending champ after powering into the Piazza del Campo just a few seconds ahead of Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Elizabeth Deignan last year. All three are back for the 2018 edition of the race, alongside most of the other stars of women’s cycling, ready to kick off the WorldTour calendar in style.

The Route

The race runs 136 kilometers (84.5 miles) through Tuscany. The riders will roll out from Siena and make wide loop south before heading back to Siena again for the finale.

Along the way, they’ll traverse eight “strade bianche” sectors. Things get more challenging as the day goes on; the gravel trek up the Ville di Corsano stands out as a tough early test. The long and lumpy fifth sector, reached just before the 70-kilometer mark, will be another slog sure to whittle down the pack.

The major selections will likely come 90 kilometers into the day. From that point on, the course undulates over climbs and descents back to Siena, with the last three gravel sections all featuring punchy climbs.

The final challenge is the sharp uphill dig into Siena’s Piazza del Campo. The ascent is approximately half a kilometer in length, with an average gradient around 12 percent. From the top, it’s only 500 downhill meters to the finish.

The Contenders

Strade Bianche may be the most wide-open race on the calendar. Northern classics specialists and punchy climbers will both find plenty to like on the parcours. There are plenty of riders in both categories on the start list this Saturday.

As with most races on the women’s WorldTour calendar, the favorites discussion should probably start with Boels Dolmans. The squad boasts a former winner in Megan Guarnier, as well as the world’s best rider of the moment in Anna van der Breggen. Oh, and world champion Chantal Blaak too.

Defending champ Elisa Longo Borghini has also been a constant contender at Strade Bianche, finishing inside the top five in each of the three editions of the race so far. The Italian is always deadly on home roads, though standing up to the Boels juggernaut will be a challenge.

Canyon SRAM may be one of the few teams in attendance with a shot at matching the power of Boels. Katarzyna Niewiadoma would love improve on her back-to-back runner-up results, and she has the climbing legs to do it. Still just 23, she gets better every year. Teammates Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Elena Cecchini, Alena Amialiusik could also be in the mix.

Mitchelton-Scott’s Amanda Spratt got the season off to a great start when she claimed the overall at the Santos Women’s Tour. She’s done well at Strade Bianche in the past and has a nice team around her this year. Sunweb has a fine three-pronged attack in Lucinda Brand, Coryn Rivera, and Ellen van Dijk. The same goes for Cervélo-Bigla with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Ashleigh Moolman, and Lotta Lepistö.

Astana’s Arlenis Sierra, Alé Cippolini’s Marta Bastianelli, FDJ’s Shara Gillow, and Cylance Pro’s Giorgia Bronzini are others to watch Saturday in Siena.

Podium picks

I like van der Breggen to get her 2018 season off to rollicking start with her second career win Sunday. Longo Borghini should be in the mix as well, while Niewiadoma has the chops to land at least a podium yet again.

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