Preview: Strade Bianche

Written by: Felix Mattis
Posted 5 months ago

Gravel racing is trending, but the Women’s WorldTour road race Strade Bianche is even harder than most of the pure off road adventures: Between start and finish in Siena in Tuscany, the race covers 137 kilometres and passes through twelve gravel sectors with a total of 39.8 kilometres on lose ground – sometimes ramping up to steep climbs with gradients of up to 18%.

New in this 1oth edition of the women’s race over the “white roads” of Tuscany: The riders will have to tackle the pre-decisive two gravel climbs of Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe twice this year.

After the first passage a new loop in the north of Siena was added, with two new climbs at Strada del Castagno and Montechiaro, before returning to Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe again and then riding back to Siena to the final climb up the infamously steep Via Santa Caterina into the oldtown to the finish line on Piazza del Campo.

You can follow the race from the start at 9.35 CET right through to the finish around 13:45 CET with the live ticker in the new Pro Cyclong Women App on Android or iPhone!

What happened last year?

The result sheet of the 9th edition of Strade Bianche for women was dominated by SD Worx: Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky made for an excitingly close finish on Piazza del Campo with Vollering crossing the finish line just a few centimetres ahead of Kopecky in the end.

But that was only one part of the story: Until the steep climb in Via Santa Caterina on the final climb of the race, Kristen Faulkner (Jayco – AlUla) was leading alone. The American attacked roughly 40 kilometres before the finish, had a gap of two minutes and then was chased by Vollering and Kopecky after the final two gravel climbs Pinzuto and Tolfe, where first Vollering and then Kopecky rode away from their opponents.

The SD Worx duo caught Faulkner at the foot of the Via Santa Caterina, rushed past her and then fought for the victory on Piazza del Campo with Faulkner finishing third 18 seconds behind them.

In the official results Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ – Suez) was third, though. That is, because Faulkner was disqualified a few days later for wearing a continuous glucose monitoring sensor during the race.

The Parcours

The new parcours is not much longer than it was in the past – but it’s much harder! Whilst the first 80 kilometres are more or less identical with the first five gravel sectors, including the longest one of the race at San Martino in Grania (9.5 km, 5* Sector).

But after descending to Arbia then, the race changes. Instead of doing a long loop on paved roads to the east, the race now moves straight to the north to the sixth sector, Monteaperti.

The long paved loop before traditionally calmed the race down and opened up the chance to breakaway from the group of favourites for riders like Faulkner in 2023 or Mavi Garcia in 2020, who both almost won the race afterwards.

Now this loop is gone and therefore the race organizer RCS sends the riders directly onto the pre-decisive 4* sectors Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe before then adding a new loop in the north over the new sectors Strada del Castagno (3* and 1.3 km) and Montechiaro (2* and 3.3 km). After that loop the peloton reaches the Pinzuto-Tolfe combination a second time and then rides home to Siena on the traditional route towards the steep final kilometre through Via Santa Caterina and onto Piazza del Campo.

This means: The race is just 1 kilometer longer in total, but inlcudes 8.1 km of gravel more than before.

The Favourites

Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky are the women to beat this year again with their Team SD Worx – Protime. Kopecky comes to Siena as Women’s WorldTour leader in the purple Santini leader’s jersey after winning the UAE Tour Women and finishing second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

But Omloop showed: The World Champion is beatable. Marianne Vos (Visma – Lease a Bike) did so in Ninove and now hopes to repeat that in Siena. That will be a very hard task, though. Strade Bianche is more of a climber’s race, especially with the new parcours.

Therefore Gravel World Champion Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM Racing) and mountainbike and cyclocross ace Puck Pieterse (Fenix – Deceuninck), who were 6th and 5th last year are equally as interesting as contenders for the victory. Last year’s 3rd Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ – Suez) is unfortunately not racing in Siena due to a fractured sacrum. We wish her a speedy recovery.

Faulkner (EF Education – Cannondale), who Ludwig had inherited the podium spot from after the race last year, showed good form with her solo victory at Omloop Het Hageland on Sunday, but was not on the provisional start list for Strade Bianche.

The Weather

The weather at Strade Bianche always plays a role: The white roads are extremely slippery when really wet, but also tricky when totally dry and dusty.

On Saturday it will be a mix of both: Rain is in the forecast for the night before the race, but in the morning it should be dry – and stay like this throughout the race, with temperatures between 10°C and 14°C and a bit of wind at 15-20 km/h from the West.

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