‘A muddy Strade Bianche will force risk taking, crashes and showcase the most skilled riders’

Riders took to the start of the 2017 Strade Bianche with the prospect of some heavy rain in the forecast

The director of today’s Strade Bianche in Siena’s countryside says any rain will force risk-taking, with likely crashes, but fans will see the most skilful cyclists.

The 175-kilometre race with 61.9 kilometres over the famous white gravel roads began under light rain. More is expected around lunchtime and could turn the sectors into a mud bath.

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“We’ve never tried Strade Bianche in the rain,” RCS Sport’s cycling director, Mauro Vegni told Cycling Weekly as the riders signed in this morning.

“We’ve had days when it rained beforehand, but afterwards, it turned out well. Clearly, it’ll change the way this race is confronted.

“All the descents and climbs will become much more complex and complicated. We’ll see who’s the most skilful, and who wants to risk it more, and clearly it’ll come with the risk of crashing, but that’s also the beautiful thing of this sport. No?”

Fabian Cancellara won three of the last 10 editions, including in 2016 before he retired.

“I don’t like the mud, but I think it can make a heroic race today,” said 2015 winner and former cyclocross world champion Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors).

“It’ll be much more nervous, but it’s difficult predict how the gravel will be loose or if it’ll stay hard. It depends how hard it’ll rain.

“Our DS, Davide Bramati was here when it was raining, he could see how muddy it was. It wasn’t too much, but of course it can change a lot.”

“I just am using the Specialized tyres, 26, nothing special. I’ve used those in the past two years. I was happy with them, so there was no reason to change.”

The riders will race some of the first serious sectors around 13:00 local time. Sector eight of the 11, Monte Sante Marie is one of the most difficult and longest. They should race it around 14:00.

When the Giro d’Italia passed this area in 2010. Cadel Evans used his mountain bike skills to stay upright on the white gravel that had become a brown slush. He won the stage with the rainbow on his world champion jersey barely visible. Others, including Vincenzo Nibali in the pink jersey, crashed.

The Giro d’Italia face the muddy roads of Strade Bianche in 2010 (Watson)

“I’ve never raced these roads when they’re wet,” 2013 winner Moreno Moser (Astana) explained. “I’m asking myself how I’ll handle the bike on the wet gavel!

“It’s beautiful when it’s dry, but for sure, with wet and muddy roads, it can be a better show for the race.”

“I’ll be dirty!” added Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).

“We already have some really good tyres, they are our normal tyres and they perform well on roads like these as well.”