The sun should shine on Strade Bianche’s Tuscan roads after heavy rain and snow made last year a mud-fest for everyone, including winner Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal).
Benoot will line up with number one on his back despite some doubts around his participation due to a crash last weekend in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
He and other stars like Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) will encounter dusty conditions over the 63 kilometres of gravel roads in the one-day race.
“Last year, the cold weather also had an influence,” Benoot said. “The forecasts are better now but I do not focus on that since the course is tough enough to make the difference.
“It will be very difficult to repeat last year’s performance but with the legs I had during the Omloop, I can certainly compete for the victory.”
Caked in Tuscan mud, he arrived victorious in Siena’s famous Piazza del Campo ahead of Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Wout Van Aert.
A winter blast saw the skies pour snow on Siena and the surrounding hillsides in the week ahead of the race in 2018. The scene was reminiscent of the stage seven of the 2010 Giro d’Italia, won by Cadel Evans.
Nearly two weeks have passed since rain fell on the Tuscan lands famous for their Brunello and Chianti vineyards and the gravel paths that make up the 184-kilometre course.
The women race 31.5 kilometres of gravel in their 136-kilometre course.
Former cyclocross world champion Van Aert surprised everyone with his ride in 2018 and how he battled on despite cramping on the closing climb.
“The weather conditions that da. It was five degrees and it rained all day, it was more a survival trip than a usual race,” Jumbo-Visma’s Van Aert said.
“I’ve never gone as deep as I did, I was drained for a few days.”
He will be one of the favourites for the race. Of the 11 sectors, sectors five and six usually have their say with only one kilometre between them and as span of 20 kilometres total.
“It’s a special feeling when you go back there. I’m very much looking forward to it,” Van Aert continued.
“It’s a mighty race for me with my background as a cyclocross rider and the gravel roads for which you have to be technically able.”
“There are a lot of heavy gravel roads but the biggest break-up will probably take place after the two long sections just before the feed zone,” Benoot added.
“The area of Monte Sante Marie is very technical with some steep parts uphill and downhill. It is really a gruelling race which is underestimated by many riders.
“For me, the finish at the Piazza del Campo in Siena is one of the most beautiful ones, maybe together with the Champs-Élysées. It is thus a special place for me.”
The magic will continue in this area as organisers RCS Sport have signed a new three-year agreement with Siena.