“The special area where Strade Bianche is held is like some kind of magic.”
– Alberto Bettiol
Although only 14 years young, Strade Bianche enjoys status shared only by the oldest races on the calendar. The Italian one-day classic, featuring Tuscany’s stunning scenery and unpredictable racing, is beloved by riders and fans alike. The peloton will roll out of Fortezza Medicea and cover 184-kilometers, including 63-kilometers of dirt roads, before reaching its distinctive conclusion in Siena’s Piazza del Campo.
“The special area where Strade Bianche is held is like some kind of magic,” says Italian , who will race his fifth Strade Bianche on Saturday. “Even for someone like me, an Italian, who lives so close to the area and has the opportunity to see more of it and more often, even for me, it’s magic. Strade Bianche is the only race through the UNESCO World Heritage site of Val d’Orcia, a valley in Tuscany in the south of Siena. Alberto Bettiol
“The finish line in Siena is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage site,” Bettiol adds. “We finish in the main square in Siena called the Piazza del Campo, with the famous tower of Siena, and for me, it is the most beautiful square in the world. There is nothing like it.”
To make it to the finish line, riders first next to contend with 11 sectors of gravel road. The first comes 17.6-kilometers into the race and is typically the launching point for the early breakaway. Riding the gravel, like riding the cobbles, requires a specific skill set.
Bettiol, who hails from Castelfiorentino, around an hour from Siena, attended the early editions of Strade Bianche with his father. He grew up dreaming of racing over his home region’s hills and white graveled roads.
“People who are not always used to riding the gravel can be surprised at how different and how difficult it is,” says Bettiol. “It’s not like the pavé up north or the normal asphalt. It takes time to building the confidence to be aggressive on the gravel.
“The first thing in my mind to say about riding on the gravel is that you can’t be scared,” Bettiol adds. “You have to ride where there is less gravel and more field because even the small rocks can be hiding deeper parts underneath. The wheel can sink down, like in sand, and then you can lose control. You can also lose control if you brake too aggressively on the gravel. You need to brake as smoothly as possible.”
Come Saturday, Bettiol will share leadership with Simon Clarke. The Australian, who has spent much of his career based out of Milan, speaks fluent Italian and considers the area a second home. Clarke came 17th in Strade Bianche last year, the top finisher for EF Pro Cycling, in a race that saw only 53 riders reach the finish.
“We’re not the favorites. This is a card in our hands that we can play to get results.”
– DS Fabrizio Guidi
“I expect the team to be in the race all day,” said sport director Fabrizio Guidi. “We have Simon and Alberto as our leaders. Nobody expects us to win. We’re not the favorites. This is a card in our hands that we can play to get results. When you have not so many eyes around you, you can sometimes stay better in the bunch without the stress surrounding the bigger names.”
Guidi notes that weather conditions greatly impact tactics and the way the race ultimately evolves as it travels along the Tuscan countryside. Last season, a mid-week snowstorm turned gravel into mud. Far gentler weather is expected this season with Saturday’s forecast calling for sun and subsequently dust.
“The road conditions change with the weather,” explains Guidi. “If it’s wet or not, if it’s windy or not, it can all change the race. No matter the weather, it’s a race where skill is needed, strength is needed and smarts are needed. Nothing about this race is easy.”
While the gravel roads dominate the discussion, the climbing included in this course cannot be overlooked. The shark-tooth profile shares similar elevation gains to the Aprils’ Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which is widely considered a climber’s classic. The short, steep climbs spread throughout the Strade Bianche route offer little respite to the legs.
Both FuboTV and flobikes will broadcast Strade Bianche in the US. Rai Sport holds broadcast rights in Italy. Eurosport covers much of the rest of Europe.
“Everybody should look at the TV on Saturday,” says Guidi. “They should know they are watching one of the best and most successful young races. They will see fantastic countryside and a spectacular, unpredictable race.”
“Other races are trying to find more gravel roads but they’ll never be as known as the ones we race in Strade Bianche.”
– Alberto Bettiol
“It’s unique,” Bettiol adds. “Other races are trying to find more gravel roads but they’ll never be as known as the ones we race in Strade Bianche. To copy the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix or the finish line of the Via Roma in Milan-Sanremo, it’s impossible. Those are things you can only find in those races. It’s a young race, but a lot of riders, big riders who have won other big races, like Sagan and Stybar and Van Avermaet, are all interested in Strade Bianche. They understand, like we all do, the importance and particularity of this race.”
EF Education First for Strade Bianche:
Learn more about Tuscany, host region of Strade Bianche, at EF.com.