Who will conquer the gravel? Eight riders to watch in the women's Strade Bianche

Our top eight picks to land a podium finish in the Piazza del Campo

Lotte Kopecky
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Annemiek van Vleuten and the other superstars of the women’s WorldTour are in Italy, ready to go all out for glory in the seventh ever edition of Strade Bianche Donne taking place this weekend. 

The field will be packed full of quality, with last year’s winner Lotte Kopecky, as well as the likes of Kasia Niewiadoma, Demi Vollering, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Cecile Uttrup Ludwig all due to start. 

Tomorrow's race will follow a similar format to the men’s edition, starting in Siena, before rolling out across Tuscany’s now world famous white gravel roads, which feature in eight separate sectors. Strade Bianche Donne is also packed full of climbing, both on and off the gravel, including the savage finale up the Via Santa Caterina in the heart of Siena which heads into the Piazza del Campo and the finish. 

It’s expected to be a wide open affair, with a whole cluster of riders who could potentially claim the 2023 title. Here’s our pick of the eight who best stand a chance of victory.  

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Suez)

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

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FDJ-Suez’s Danish superstar will be relishing another shot at the Strade Bianche final tomorrow.

The final climb up the Via Santa Caterina is a finale which Uttrup Ludwig will relish, and she has previously demonstrated her capabilities in stage races and other events featuring  punchy, uphill climbs in the closing stages. 

The Danish star puncheur narrowly missed out on a podium place in the last two editions of the race, coming fifth in both 2022 and 2021.  After a 20th place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend, Uttrup Ludwig will be chomping at the bit to hit the podium tomorrow, maybe even the top step. 

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (AG Insurance–Soudal–Quick-Step)

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio

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AG Insurances’ Ashleigh Moolman Pasio has already begun 2023 in impressive shape, and is clearly relishing her freedom in pastures new, away from the shackles of her previous role at SD Worx. 

The South African rider has already beaten Annemiek van Vleuten this year at the Volta Comunitat Valenciana Femines, grabbing the victory on the race's queen stage, which will have provided an extra shot of confidence coming into the Classics. 

Moolman Pasio finished third last year behind Lotte Kopecky and Van Vleuten, and also has several top ten results to her name since 2015. With her current form, she could well sneak her way onto the top spot of the podium in 2023. 

Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx)

Lotte Kopecky

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Last year’s winner, Lotte Kopecky will form part of a two-pronged attack for female cycling’s team of galacticos SD Worx this weekend alongside Demi Vollering. 

With that in mind, they are undoubtedly the team to beat. Kopecky is also bang in form after her stunning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory last weekend, which was also an impressive statement of intent from her team after new signing Lorena Wiebes finished in second in Belgium. 

With her team full of potential winners, the pressure will be off for Kopecky this weekend which could well make her even more dangerous. Whatever happens tomorrow, the likes of Van Vleuten will want to get rid of her early if they are to stand a chance of victory in the Piazza del Campo. 

Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)

kasia N

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Canyon-SRAM's Kasia Niewiadoma has a score to settle with Strade Bianche, and has outlined the Italian Classic as one of her main goals for the 2023 season. 

Last year, the Polish rider narrowly missed out on a podium place in the Piazza del Campo, finishing fourth behind winner Lotte Kopecky. 

Niewiadoma will have been disappointed with her performance at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend, her first race of the 2023 campaign, so will be extra motivated to get a result here. 

She has the consistency and technique to make the difference on the white gravel roads, and with Tiffany Cromwell and Elise Chabbey by her side, the Canyon // SRAM rider will be out to put her Strade demons to bed on Saturday. 

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)

Annemiek van Vleuten

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There is very little to say about Annemiek van Vleuten that hasn’t been said already. At the ripe old age of 39, she is still very much the strongest and best rider within the women’s peloton. Her results in the 2023 season, including a Grand Tour clean-sweep and World Championship road race victory, speak for themselves.

Last weekend, Van Vleuten was left frustrated at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after an untimely mechanical issue before the Muur van Geraardsbergen ruined her chances of victory. With that in mind, she will more than likely be extra fired-up to get back to winning ways this weekend. 

The Dutch rider has two previous Strade Bianche wins to her name from 2019 and 2020, so she has more than enough experience on the sterrato to not be phased by it. If a small group featuring Van Vleuten arrives at the foot of the Via Santa Caterina, watch out for an all out turbo-attack from the 39-year-old reminiscent of her Worlds win to catapult her to victory. 

Demi Vollering (SD Worx)

Demi Vollering

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Kopecky is the other weapon primed and ready to launch in the SD Worx arsenal and should she fail to defend the title, Demi Vollering will be ready to pounce in her place.

The Dutch rider had a relatively disappointing Classics campaign last time around, and will be looking to rectify that this year. Vollering’s big result last Spring was the title at Brabantse Pijl, a big result, but one that doesn’t quite hold the same prestige as a potential win in Tuscany. 

Vollering’s best result at Strade Bianche was a sixth place finish in 2020, and with the right team around her, tomorrow could provide a great opportunity to grab a podium spot or even better, an elusive victory. 

Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck)

Puck Pieterse

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One of the most exciting figures in the field on Saturday will be cyclocross star Puck Pieterse, who is making her women’s WorldTour debut this weekend. 

The 20-year-old riding for Fenix-Deceuninck is already a star in the world of cyclocross, where she recently claimed the under 23 world title and a silver medal in the elite category. Therefore it seems fitting that she will debut in the WorldTour on the sterrato on Saturday. 

Pieterse will be very much an unknown quality, but that could make her deadly. If she is allowed wiggle room to escape in a breakaway, she could well and truly cause a major upset in Italy. 

Silvia Persico (UAE ADQ)

Silvia persico

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UAE ADQ have an excellent card to play on the gravel in Italian Silvia Persico.

The Italian is an exciting and dynamic rider, with a variety of attributes which could stand her in good stead as she tackles the eight sectors and varied terrain that the race will offer. Persico is an impressive sprinter, and can climb as she showed at the recent UAE Tour where she took third place overall. 

As a rider who has also previously excelled in cyclocross, Persico will absolutely be a rider that the likes of Van Vleuten, Kopecky and Vollering will be wary of this weekend. 

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