While much of the hype surrounding the Spring racing season focuses on Belgium and it’s cobbled classics, Italy has it’s fair share of one day classics which are as brutal and testing on both rider and machine. Italy’s racing season gets into full swing this weekend with the Strade Bianche race on the dirt roads of Tuscany attracting some of the best Classics riders in the world. The race also offers a preview to the much anticipated showdown between ‘Fabulous’ Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
In only it’s eighth year, the 2014 Strade Bianche is a modern classic and races across spectacular dirt roads, rolling climbs through the Chianti vineyards and finishes in Sienna’s Piazza il Campo.
With 10 sections of dirt roads -54.4km of the 197km race route, ensures hard and sometimes grueling racing. In 2013 Moreno Moser (Cannondale) won alone in an epic breakaway. Fabian Cancellara has twice won alone with attacks on the steep climb to the centre of Siena.
Mastering the Strade Bianche requires a mix of Classics bike handling skills, climbing ability and good fitness.
The 10 dirt road sections are spread throughout the route and are both short and long, covering climbs, descents and flat roads, making positioning and bike handling skills vital. Fortunately the weather forecast for the weekend predicts dry conditions, with light winds from the north-east and temperatures of 15C. We can expect more stunning images of trails of dust rising from the peloton and covering the riders’ faces.
The secrets of the dirt roads
This years route remains largely unchanged, however San Gimignano hosts the start for the first time. The first section of dirt roads comes after 32km. Four other short sections follow in the opening half of the race, with the climb to Montalcino after 96km marking a natural half way point.
Following the climb to Montalcino the racing steps it up with two long sections of dirt road: section 6: 9.5km long between Lucignano d’Asso and Asciano after 120km, and then section 7: 11.5km long from Ponte del Garbo to Torre a Castello after 147km. Both of these brutal sections contain testing climbs and descents.
Any one not in the front group after these two sections will have little chance of fighting for victory on the final three shorter sections in the last 25km of the race. Sections 9 and 10 both include steep climbs and are both ideal for launching attacks and dropping weaker rivals.
However the final 10km and the approach to Siena are also hilly and make it hard for a solo attack to stay clear. If a small group reaches the medieval walls of Siena together, then the 15% climb in Via Santa Caterina will reveal who is the strongest and possibly allow them to be first into the corner before the descent to the finish in Piazza il Campo.
Sagan is the logical favourite for victory
Sagan fits the bill as the perfect Strade Bianche rider and is the overwhelming favourite for victory. Sagan’s superior bike skills are well suited for the ruts and dust of the dirt roads, he can handle the climbing and has the speed to win the dash to the final corner.
In order to secure a third victory, Fabian Cancellara knows he has to drop Sagan and his other rivals. These factors make for an aggressive finale to the race.
Other definite contenders are Cadel Evans (BMC), who won the stage on the dirt roads in the rain during the 2010 Giro d’Italia, Ian Stannard and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), local hero Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo), Diego Ulissi and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
The big-name start list also includes Omega Pharma-Quick Step sprinting trio of Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi.
This unique bike race can have only one winner. The rest will be left for dust…
Haydn Thomas: email@example.com