The peloton during the 2019 Strade Bianche (Sunada)
Every cycling fan knows and loves the cobbled Classics that decorate the calendar this time of year. But as Strade Bianche – which in 2020 will take place on Saturday August 1 – demonstrates, cobblestones aren’t the only troublesome road surface that can juice up a race.
Since its inception in 2007 the Strade Bianche has become famous for its dirt roads. These unpaved sectors are characterised by uneven road surfaces and gravel, that is difficult enough to ride over to cause splits, and give the Classic a unique feel to it.
The race achieved WorldTour status in 2017 and this continues. A women’s race race introduced in 2015, and there’s a sportive the following day, which attracts thousands of amateur riders.
The coronavirus pandemic, that caused lockdown through much of the world and saw bike racing come to an abrupt hault in March, means that this years Strade Bianche takes place in August rather than it’s usual early spring slot.
The men’s route – which is 184km long – includes 11 gravel sectors, totalling around 63km over the course of the whole race. Most feature in the middle of the race, with sectors 5-8 lasting 11.9km, 8km, 9.5km and 11.5km respectively and all crammed in between 110km and 42km to the finish line.
It’s the last of these, in Ponta del Garbo, that’s the toughest, not just for its excessive length, but also for the fact that most of it is uphill. For Strade Bianche isn’t just a test of how well a rider can go over dirt roads – it’s also undulating throughout with plenty of steep gradients, including the uphill finish in Piazza del Campo, Siena.
As such, all sorts of different type of cyclist has a shot of winning here. On one hand Classics specialists like three-time winner Fabian Cancellara and 2015’s winner Zdeněk Štybar have done well here.
The peloton in the 2015 Strada Bianche
But the hilly terrain brings also into contention climbers. The likes of of Vincenzo Nibali, for instance, can find joy in the unrelenting gradients over some of the parcours and frequently ride in hope of making a similar impact in front of the tifosi at the Strade Bianche as they might at Il Lombardia.
The traditional uphill finish in Siena favours puncheurs like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe, meaning it really is a race for a wide variety of rider.
The women’s Strade Bianche covers 136km, with eight sectors and 31.4km on gravel roads – comprising 23 per cent of the course. The race was bolstered to UCI Women’s WorldTour status in the competition’s first year in 2016, and this has continued each year ever since.
Women’s winners have included Annemiek van Vleuten (2019) Anna van der Breggen (2018), Elisa Longo Borghini (2017), Lizzie Deignan (2016) and Megan Guarnier (2016). The uphill finish into Siena favours a fast finisher who can climb with the best of them.
Strade Bianche: Recent winners
2019: Julian Alaphilippe
2018: Tiesj Benoot
2017: Michal Kwiatkowski
2016: Fabian Cancellara
2015: Zdeněk Štybar
2014: Michał Kwiatkowski
2013: Moreno Moser
2012: Fabian Cancellara
2011: Philippe Gilbert
2010: Maxim Iglinsky
2009: Thomas Lovkvist
2008: Fabian Cancellara
2007: Alexandr Kolobnev
Women’s Strade Bianche: recent winners
2019: Annemiek van Vleuten
2018: Anna van der Breggen
2017: Elisa Longo Borghini
2016: Elizabeth Deignan
2015: Megan Guarnier
Strada Bianche sportive
The sportive event takes place on Sunday, after the pro races. The event will not take place in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Riders can choose between two routes – a long course of 139km, featuring 31.4km of gravel, or s shorter option at 86.6km with 21.6km of white roads.
The 2017 event attracted 3,500 riders, and over 5,000 have been tempted to ender in 2018. The long route is identical to the women’s race, with an extra 3km which incorporates the neutral zone not included in the women’s distance, though still covered by the riders.