Saturday’s Strade Bianche offers an early-season spectacle as the pro peloton takes on the white roads of Tuscany, Italy.
Former time trial world champion and Classics multi-winner Fabian Cancellara is vying for a third victory in the race, but could this be Peter Sagan’s year? Or triple cyclo-cross world champion Zdenek Stybar?
We rate the chances of the front runners.
Fabian Cancellara, Trek-Factory RacingA recurring trend in recent years has been Fabian Cancellara putting a dominant performance in one March classic to strike fear in his opponents prior to the major cobbled classics in April – in 2010, 2011 and 2013 he won the E3 Harelbeke, and in 2008 and 2012 he won the Strade Bianche. Those two victories make him the record holder for number of wins at Strade Bianche and, having already displayed good form in Oman, will once more be the man to beat.
Zdenek Stybar, Etixx-QuickStepEtixx-Quick Step may be missing Michal Kwiatkowski – the rider who won last year’s edition – but retain the hope that Stybar can deliver them victory, whose background in cyclo-cross make him seemingly the perfect rider for the dirt roads of Strade Bianche.
Alejandro Valverde, MovistarDespite not being a man you’d associate with any spring classics outside of the Ardennes, the lack of cobblestones and uphill finish of Strade Bianche a race well-suited to Alejandro Valverde. Last year a powerful late attack saw him finish third, and will be difficult to beat should he make the key selection.
Greg Van Avermaet, BMCHe may ride under the cloud of a doping investigation, but Van Avermaet looks like one of the major favourites for the win. His talent for both northern and hilly classics meet something of a synthesis at Strade Bianche, where he finished in the top ten for three years in a row between 2011 and 2014, and has decent form this season.
Peter Sagan, Tinkoff-SaxoConsecutive runner-up finishes indicates just how much Peter Sagan relishes the Strade Bianche, and under normal circumstances he’d be hot favourite to win. But he hasn’t been at peak form for a while now, and has gone a remarkable eight months without a win. His fortunes will have to improve if he’s to end that barren run.
Ian Stannard, SkySuch is his form that Ian Stannard is impossible to rule him out of winning, but he truth is that the route does not suit him quite as much as the Het Nieuswblad he won last weekend – last year, for instance, he followed up his Het Nieuswblad victory with 16th at Strade Bianche.
Sep Vanmarcke, LottoNL-JumboThe Belgian currently looks like one of the strongest riders in the peloton, but, like Stannard, he is unproven in Strade Bianche. If he can translate the power he produces going over cobblestones onto the dirt roads of Strade Bianche, though, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Simon Gerrans, Orica-GreenEdgeIf Gerrans has any form, the hill in the final kilometre could provide him with a platform to win Strade Bianche. But the Australian is yet to ride in 2015 having broken his collarbone in the winter, so will instead be using this race to build his form ahead of the Ardennes classics.
Filippo Pozzato, Lampre-MeridaOne of the forgotten men of pro-cycling has quietly been putting in some good displays of late in the shape of a couple of top five finishes at the Tours of Qatar and Oman. Victory is likely to be a bridge to far, but he could well put himself into contention for a surprise high finish.
Rinaldo Nocentini, Ag2rThe tifosi may be in short supply of local heroes to cheer on, but one rider who performs consistently well in semi-classics like the Strade Bianche is the veteran Nocentini. He came close to winning here in 2013 when he finished third behind the Cannondale duo of Sagan and Moreno Moser, while an impressive 10th at last autumn’s Tour of Lombardy suggest he still has strong legs at the grand old age of 37.