Classics legend Fabian Cancellara says Strade Bianche cannot be compared to the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, as it stands alone.
The retired Swiss, winner of Flanders and Roubaix, closed his career after three wins over the white gravel roads around Siena in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
"Why's it so special? The dirt roads, the panorama of the Tuscan countryside. The magic of Siena. The undulating small paths. The tradition." Cancellara told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
"Oh, but please, let's stop with the comparisons with Flanders and Roubaix. The white gravel roads shine in their own right."
The race covers 184 kilometres with 63 kilometres of grave roads over 11 sectors. Comparisons come easily because the hills are as tough as those in Flanders and the gravel, both uphill and downhill, requires skills like those needed to ride the Roubaix pavé.
"It is really a gruelling race which is underestimated by many riders," 2018 winner Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) said.
"Percentage-wise there is even more gravel in the Strade Bianche than cobbles in Paris-Roubaix. Moreover, there are around 3000 altitude metres to overcome."
The race began in 2007, first in the autumn. It moved to the spring and began to gain status, attracting more star riders and a WorldTour ranking.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) said, "It deserves to be the sixth Monument in cycling."
The one thing it seems to lack compared to the five Monuments is history, only starting over a decade ago.
Like the Paris-Roubaix organisers, RCS Sport has begun to name sectors after three-time winners – so far only Cancellara.
Michał Kwiatkowski ( Team Sky) counts two victories but will not race in 2019.
"Perhaps the last one [was the most special], that of 2016, because compared to the first editions the race had grown a lot," Cancellara added.
"The fact that for my three victories they put my name on a gravel sector makes me proud today. I will not be in Siena this time, but I won't miss it on television."
Cancellara named Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) as favourites for Saturday.
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