Without question, Strade Bianche is one of, if not the most, beautiful races of the season.
Strade Bianche on Saturday 6th March is the first WorldTour level classic that takes place on Italian soil on both the Men's and Women's calendar. The race occurs in central Italy, just south of Firenze in Tuscan hills, making for a stunning setting.
In the men's race, the riders will take on over 3,000 metres of climbing throughout the day, whilst the women will undertake 2,000 vertical metres. This is unbelievable because there are few climbs longer than one kilometre in length. Constant short hills and descents await the competition, making this a race of attrition. Strade Bianche is unique in the sense that gravel roads are scattered throughout, a rare sight in a road race. The winner must be strong in many senses if they are to cross the line victorious in Siena.
Strade Bianche 2021 profile (via La Flamme Rouge)
Contenders - Men
(Image credit: LB/RB/CorVos/SWpix)
Only 42 of the 166 starters finished the race in 2020, displaying Strade’s brutality perfectly. Wout Van Aert won solo in Siena that day after attacking with 12km to go, dropping Davide Formolo and Maxi Schachmann, who both finished on the podium.
It was Van Aert’s first of six victories in 2020 on the road. He will kick-off his 2021 season in Italy as he looks to make it back-to-back victories on the famous white Italian roads. He perhaps starts as the out-and-out favourite. As ever, though, the competition is stellar.
2019 winner Julian Alaphilippe is back after missing the race in 2020. Deceuninck have a strong line-up in Italy, where 2015 winner Zdeněk Štybar will join Alaphilippe. The Czech man has wracked up a series of impressive results here — since his win in 2015 he has finished in the top-10 every year.
Jakob Fuglsang is a force to be reckoned with in the Classics nowadays. He was just beaten to the line by Alaphilippe in 2019 and finished in the top-five last year. Although he has never won the race, Fuglsang will start as a premier contender.
UAE-Team Emirates finished second last year with Davide Formolo, and clearly have intentions of going one better this year, bringing Tadej Pogačar to join up with Formolo in Italy. We know Formolo can go well here, and although Pogačar has never finished in the top-ten, the race should suit him.
Tim Wellens is a rider who always starts the season well and proved that again this year by winning a stage and the overall classification at Étoile de Bessèges. He has only ridden Strade twice but finished in the top-ten on both occasions, including a podium finish in 2017.
Strade Bianche is one race that Greg Van Avermaet is yet to conquer in his illustrious career. He finished second in 2015 and 2017, beaten by Štybar and Kwiatkwoski respectively. After finishing eighth in 2020, GvA will look to put that record straight with his new team AG2R Citroën.
Trek-Segafredo look well equipped to contend on the white roads of Tuscany with numerous riders that have won already in 2021. Bauke Mollema is in great shape after winning at the Tour des Alpes and the Trofeo Laigueglia, but Gianluca Brambilla also won at the Tour des Alpes, taking the overall classification too. Brambilla has come close to winning this race before when he finished 3rd in 2016. Trek also have second-year pro Quinn Simmons who possesses bags of potential.
Oh yeah, one more rider we should mention, Mathieu van der Poel – heard of him? He only managed 15th last year in his first appearance at the race, but the gravelled, hilly roads should suit his style. He will be disappointed not to improve on that result this year.
Favourites: Mathieu van der Poel, Jakob Fuglsang, Julian Alaphilippe, Wout Van Aert, Zdeněk Štybar
Outsiders: Tom Pidcock, Matej Mohorič, Søren Kragh Andersen, Quinn Simmons, Tim Wellens
Contenders - Women
Annemiek van Vleuten (Image credit: Alberto-LaPresse/CorVos/SWpix)
In the women’s edition of Strade Bianche there is one name that stands above the rest — Anna van der Breggen looks imperious at the moment. After winning the rainbow bands last season, she started her 2021 campaign in the same vein by winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after an attack on the Bosberg. She has raced Strade Bianche on five occasions, finishing in the top 5 every time and winning in 2018. Her SD Worx team put on a tactical show at Omloop with the likes of Demi Vollering acting as the perfect ploy for AVDB. We could see something similar in Italy.
Annemiek van Vleuten was caught in a group further back at Omloop — not the start to her Movistar career she’d have hoped for. Despite that, Van Vleuten won Strade in both 2019 and 2020. She will be motivated to bounce back after a disappointing start in Belgium.
Omloop was disappointing for Trek-Segafredo too. Lizzie Deignan was dropped early on like Van Vleuten. Despite that, Elisa Longo Borghini looked active and tried numerous attacks, notably at the foot of the Muur, though she couldn't escape. The duo can never be written-off. Both women have won at Strade before, meaning Trek are one of the teams to beat.
Kasia Niewiadoma has been the nearly-woman at Strade thus far in her career. She came second three years running between 2016 and 2018 and third in 2019 but the hot, August conditions last year wreaked havoc for the Polish rider and she didn’t finish the race.
With the race back in its usual calendar slot, Niewiadoma has been vocal about the fact that she is targeting Strade and it’s only a matter of time before she finally reaches the top step.
Marianne Vos makes her Jumbo-Visma debut at Strade Bianche. Her best finish in Tuscany was sixth last year. Nonetheless, the short hills could suit the three-time World Champion.
Finally, we can't overlook Alé BTC Ljubljana's Mavi Garcia. Was Garcia’s second place in 2020 a fluke or can the Spanish rider repeat her show of strength on the white roads in Tuscany?
Favourites: Anna van der Breggen, Kasia Niewiadoma, Elisa Longo Borghini, Annemiek van Vleuten, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
Outsiders: Demi Vollering, Marta Bastianelli
Cover image: LB/RB/CorVos/SWpix