WORDS: NICK CHRISTIAN | PHOTOS: OFFSIDE/BRAKETHROUGH MEDIA/RCS
After the success of Top Mañana and Tomorrow’s Worlds, we’ve expanded the franchise of our popular race prediction game to cover all men’s and women’s WorldTour races throughout 2020.
The Rouleur team will be spending hours each week poring over form guides, weather forecasts and stages profiles, all in an inevitably fruitless attempt to give themselves some sort of edge over their rivals.
After an extended hiatus due to a certain global pandemic, normal service (or as normal as we can manage, what with one thing and another) resumes with Strade Bianche.
Our old adversary, the Cycling Mole, is once again on hand to rain on our parades, taking us to task and mercilessly mocking our selections.
Whether you see it as the unofficial 6th Monument or not, there could be no more fitting races to resume with than two triumphant tours of Tuscany. Both women's and men's startlists are as strong as those you'll find in any one-day race this year.
The race starts in Siena and finishes in the same city's historic Piazza del Campo. It will look a little different this year, with the public prevented from accessing the fabled square, though that will surely not reduce the significance of the result for the winners.
The women's race will feature 30km of white roads across its 136 km length, while the men will be kicking up dust for 63km of their 184.
Although the course includes no major climbs, the total upward pedaling (technical term) for the course is still 3000+ metres, so it's not one for the sprinters, either.
A little warmer than it was back in March - tomorrow's forecast is for 36°C compared to the 12°C that it was in the race's originally spot - which might be expected to advantage the natives over the northerners. Have our panelists taken that into account?
Women's: Anna Van Der Breggan (Boels Dolmans)
How much should we read into the second first race of the season? It was all a bit plus ça change, wasn't it? My dark horse pick would be Liane Lippert but hard to see past the double Dutchwomen, both of whom have won this race before, so I'm gonna go for... the other one.
Women's: Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton Scott)
The women’s race has run five times to date. Niewiadoma has been there or thereabouts in every single edition, including being runner-up three years in a row - a phenomenal hit rate. She’s got the chops, just needs the breaks.
The experienced Dane did everything right at Strade last year, bar beating Alaphilippe up the brutal incline to the Piazza del Campo - but that’s a tall order for anyone. He’s got unfinished business here, for sure.
Women's: Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton Scott)
Why? Because she’s World Champion. She’s also rapid and even if it wasn’t a bike race, say a highly competitive game of chess or bar billiards or something, I’d still back her to win.
Men's: Ben Swift (Team Ineos)
I’ve seen, via an undisclosed source, just how well he’s going at the moment. I know that he’ll be there in support of either Mosco - seeing as it’s his home race - or Kwiatkowski - seeing as he’s won it before - but these are unprecedented times. And honestly, who knows how well any of these guys are going. First British winner of Strade Binache will be Ben Swift. You heard it here first. Even his name sounds fast.
Strade Bianche is a modern-day classic, I don’t care what anyone says. This year we get to see it in 37-degree heat, which will have a huge impact on the race. Some of the Belgian boys will not cope very well, but given the amount of time everyone spends at altitude these days it might not have too much of an impact.
I’ll deal with the women’s race first. All the picks are strong and there’s nothing for me to laugh at. You would expect to see the names Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna Van Der Breggen and Longo Borghini. If you’ve been paying attention to the recent racing you would have seen that van Vleuten just won three races in the space of four days over in Spain. If you aren’t picking here you have a problem. She is my pick to dominate the race.
The men’s race is much harder to predict, as we have a glittering start list full of amazing puncheurs. Remember, a proper climber has never won this race. Miles is going for Alaphilippe to defend his title, but the Frenchman has been saying that he won’t be at his best at the start of the season. Andy has gone with my old mate Tiesj Benoot, who just happens to be my mum’s favourite cyclist. Tiesj will go well, but he is a little worried about the heat. Ian is going with Fuglsang, the Dane finished second last year. I expect to see him in the mix again this year, but climbers don’t win this race. I would like to welcome Stuart J Clapp to the tipping contest, I’m not sure why he needs the J. More importantly, what does the J stand for? Judging by his pick of Ben Swift I suspect it stands for Joker. I presume the undisclosed source is Ben Swift’s dad. Put it this way, if Ben Swift wins Strade Bianche I’ll buy everyone a pint.