Strade Bianche Preview
We are ready for the gravel headliner of the season. Of so much fame gravel has gained over the last few years, mostly in America, we are all left to think at just how this race, the one that essentially started the whole gravel revolution, is only at it's 13th edition.
Yes 13th, but these roads have seen some names like Fabian Cancellara, Phillipe Gilbert, Michal Kwiatkowski give some of the most iconic performances of the last decade. The opening edition of the race in a professional level was won by Aleksandr Kolobnev, one of the references of a puncheur in that era that seems so distant. The puncheurs still remain the biggest ranked to taking the win but year after year it feels like a race where the climbers will one day take over.
Well I think at this point we should all be familiarized with the route we have in our hands. Although the profile may look somewhat deceiving, it will always be a benchmark in what one-day racing should look like. The narrow roads, the unique surroundings and the roller-coaster of gradients make it a really special kind of racing, oh and did I mention that there's gravel?
The climbing though is what provides the racing side mostly, and with it's carachteristic white road walls, very punchy and ondulating terrain, it's definetely in the hard category. 63 Kilometers of unpaved roads spread alongside 11 sectors, most of them being in the bulk of the race. Where should we keep our eyes sharp though with all this riding?
Monte Sante Marie
Sector number 8, it's the final long sector of gravel so unsurprisingly it's a chosen site. Inside this sector is the Monte Sante Marie which is located 48Km away from the finish line and has it's 950 meters at 11% gradient. It's location in the early parts of the sector means further encouragement to open up the race, which at that point must be pretty shattered by then.
You probably know this place, you know that little hellish ramp with 18Km to go? Where every year we see riders dangling barely making it up it? Well it's the Colle Pinzuto, it starts with around 200 meters at 15%, the maximum I can only wander how much, but I do know how hard it is just by seeing the pros struggling up it. It's perhaps the last major attacking spot before the riders get to Siena.
Via Santa Catarina
Well this little road needs no introduction I assume. It's a scenic spot for the whole of cycling, and luckily we'll get our anual look of it on Saturday. The final attack? The sprint for the corner? Or the confirm of a solo victor? What we do know is that after this climb we should have the winner's name already written in the news in our heads.
In for a Sunny day it seems
Well, on an ordinary day I wouldn't say that the gravel will be by any means a decisive factor, everyone has to ride it after all. But then, on a special day like the one we had last year, the sky closes down and the water starts pouring and for some reason that pleases most cycling fans as we all look for the most memorable race everytime we look at our screens, or go see it with your own eyes. The point is that this is indeed one of the races where rain can make the most difference, and trying to justify our pointless love for a rainy sufferfest
However it seems like luck won't be on our sadistic side Saturday, the forecast of the leading days points towards a clear yet cold sky. The wind will also be absent so we can exhale in relief knowing we won't have riders keeping their powder dry cause of a dreadful headwind.
Deceuninck - Ah the Belgians.. Why do they seem to win everywhere they race.. Here they are the main favourites and for good reason, the sole presence of Alaphillipe and Stybar inspires fear, they are the ones to beat.
Lotto Soudal - The defending champions. Benoot crashed last weekend at OHN, although Marc Seargent says he's recovered from it doubts are still surrounding his name at the moment. BUT with Tim Wellens riding the way he's been riding Lotto sudenly becomes a very serious case. This double is incredibly strong when in peak form, the only question is if Benoot is capable of performing to expectations.
CCC/Dimension Data - The teams with the puncheurs, GVA, Kreuziger and Valgren, these two teams come perhaps as a bit of an outsiders facing such competition but all 3 are more than capable of winning. They should race smart and play with the Belgian teams' responsabilities.
Sky - Interesting to say the least, Moscon is a big gun for sure, and with Ed Dunbar with him it's a fun double to see. Plus you've got Thomas, the "underdog". He isn't really looking like TDF form is coming soon but you never know, he's a very versatile rider and one who can surprise.
Lotto Jumbo - Wout. Van. Aert. Ok let's face it, does he have the talent to win? Yes. But does he have the team? That's where the game changes. Wout may do well on his own, but I really cant see Lotto stepping up to his case and that will likely cost him big time.
Trek/Astana/Bahrain - These are the climber teams, Mollema, Fuglsang and Nibali lead them respectively. They must go from far I guess, it's the only chance as they can't match the explosiveness of the top puncheurs. They can set the race on fire, specially knowing how Astana like to play the dice.
Bora/Sunweb/Emirates - Lots of outsiders here,Majka, Schachmann, Oomen, Power, Rui Costa and Pogacar. So much talent but will they find space for a place in the top 10 in the middle of so much fuss?
EF/Movistar/Mitchelton/Katusha - Some outsiders but all teams without a true leader, maybe a surprise result can appear but nothing race-changing.
AG2R/FDJ - Sadly the French tems are left in the bottom. They don't really seem to have anyone to lead them for a proper result, maybe breakways are the way to go.
Neri/Nippo/Vital Concept - Well these 3 don't have as much pressure on their shoulders. But with Visconti and Moser leading the two Italian PCT squads, they do have something to fight for, specially taking into account a former winner is racing for them (Nippo).
What we must think of after is that this is no ordinary race, the hill-climbing extends to the whole day and many don't have the legs that are able to keep the same power after such a draining race. If that was the only "but" I could still go for it but looking at the history, this racce has always been won by big powerhouse riders, those you'd see on the cobbled classics, Alaphillipe isn't one. For that reason I won't place my hypothetical money on Alaphillipe, "the" big gun.
This terrain is made for the strong men, sure one can climb well but then, the rolling terrain doesn't favour lightweights. Sure Deceuninck could use Stybar as a card so Alaphillipe can go on the wheels, but I honestly think Stybar is strong enough not to be played as a card for any rider.
Deceuninck are the key to the race, follow their wheels and you may have a chance to win. There will be long-distance attacks, I would say by Astana.
So, Puncheur or Climber?
⭐ Benoot, Moscon, Kreuziger, Valgren, Fuglsang
I'll go with a 2nd Strade Bianche win for Stybar. He is in brilliant form and has the best team, the race suits him to the bones and I can see only very few other rider's within winning range.
Make sure to let us in on your opinion, and of course follow us on twitter for the latest updates!