Since its introduction to the cycling calendar in 2007, Strade Bianche (Saturday, March 7) in Italy has become one of the most anticipated races of the spring.
Its appeal lies in its uniqueness. As a one-day race held in spring it is in many ways similar to the races held in northern Europe – the gruelling, undulating terrain ensures that events play out in the chaotic manner of a spring classic, and at around 200km in length it comfortably falls into the category of ‘semi-classic’.
But many factors distinguish the Strade Bianche from its spring-time cousins. Set in the relative warmth of Northern Italy as opposed to the notoriously grim northern Europe, conditions are generally dry and a lot more pleasant than the mud-baths served up in Belgium.
Then there’s the dirt roads. Whereas the northern classics road surface of choice are cobblestones, Strade Bianche is defined by the 50km of dirt roads that make up a quarter of the route. The ten sectors pose an altogether different test, and renders the Strade Bianche a unique challenge on the cycling calendar.
Strade Bianche has created some tantalising finales in its short history, here are some of the best from the Tuscany
Like the cobblestones in the northern classics, these dirt sectors are spread out across the route and serve the same function of breaking up the race, and the terrain is - similar to classics like the Tour of Flanders and Het Nieuwsblad - littered with many short, sharp hills that make life even more difficult and attritional for the peloton.
But even these hills are distinct from those in Belgium. They are generally a little longer and do not, of course, cover any cobbled roads, and therefore favour lighter climbers more than powerful rouleurs. And, perhaps most crucially of all, the climbing is not done by the time the riders reach the finale, as a 1km-long drag with gradients of 16 per cent in Siena swings the advantage towards those with a quick uphill sprint.
This hodgepodge of a route has accordingly produced a diverse list of winners. Sometimes big, powerful riders like Fabian Cancellara have won, and on other times punchy riders like Philippe Gilbert and Alexandr Kolobnev, while 2009 even saw climber Thomas Lovkvist win.
Team Sky has opted for power by bringing Ian Stannard. The man of the moment is clearly on great form following his Het Nieuwsblad win, and possess the strength necessary to win Strade Bianche. Whether he can handle the climbing will be another matter, although he’ll have super-domestique Peter Kennaugh to help him out.
Also representing Britain will be Orica-GreenEdge’s Adam Yates. The 22-year old only began his season last weekend and therefore may be lacking in form, but the difficulty of the terrain will be good practice for him ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico.
Strade Bianche 2015: Route
When: Saturday March 7 2015
From: San Gimignano
Strade Bianche 2015: The teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Trek Factory Racing
Strade Bianche 2015: TV Guide
British Eurosport will be airing the race live from 13:15, with highlights later in the evening.
>>> Where to watch Strade Bianche
Strade Bianche: Recent winners
2014: Michal Kwiatkowski
2013: Moreno Moser
2012: Fabian Cancellara
2011: Philippe Gilbert
2010: Maxim Iglinsky
2009: Thomas Lovkvist
2008: Fabian Cancellara
2007: Alexandr Kolobnev
Strade Bianche: Last year’s top ten (2014)
1. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) OmegaPharma-Quickstep 5-20.33
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale at 0-18
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 0-35
4. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Merida at 0-39
5. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff Saxo at 0-40
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing at 0-58
7. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 1-42
8. Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant Shimano at 2-01
9. Wouter Poels (Ned) OmegaPharma-Quickstep at 2-10
10. Simon Geschke (Ger) Giant Shimano at 2-50
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