They call Strade Bianchi Europe’s southernmost northern classic, and our women’s team will be taking on its famous gravel roads on Saturday, March 5.
Ahead of the racing, we’ve compiled 10 reasons why the race is a modern marvel even though its history is longer than you might expect.
Women’s WorldTour opener
Strade Bianche has been on the calendar since 2016 and this year kicks off the Women’s WorldTour season, one that is bigger, longer and better than ever before.
“It’s special for me as I love Italy and everything Italian,” Kiesanowksi said. “This is my first time here at Strade Bianche because the race for women came right at the end of my career so I never got to race on these special roads.”
Ecco a voi il percorso di #StradeBianche Women Elite @eolo_it 2022!
Partenza dalla Fortezza Medicea per un totale di 136 km, ben 8 sterrati (31.4 km) con arrivo a Piazza del Campo per un’edizione che si preannuncerà bianchissima! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/jjKlKoojJk
— Strade Bianche (@StradeBianche) February 16, 2022
The name ‘Strade Bianche’ translates to ‘white roads’ and refers to the stretches of gravel that the riders take on. Much like any cobbled classic, these sections define the race by whittling down the group down until only the strongest remain.
The women’s race consists of eight sectors that were never meant to be raced on by cyclists but instead connect the farmers and residents to tiny villages and local vineyards. Tire pressure and line choice are crucial and if it rains the roads turn into a mud bath.
Italian Barbara Malcotti will be taking on her country’s gravel roads for the first time.
“I think it will be quite hard but for sure it will be one of the best experiences I can have in my career,” said Malcotti. “I’m young and I need to experience lots of different races so this race is important for me and for my future.”
The race is characterised by not only the roads but the stunning Tuscan countryside. The images of dust clouds swirling above the peloton as they traverse cedar tree-lined climbs are some of the defining images of the cycling season.
Kiesanowski has been able to sample this beauty for herself.
“I made sure to come to Italy a few days early to spend time in Siena and get to know the course well,” the New Zealander said. “The best thing about Strade Bianche is it’s in Tuscany and it’s an incredible part of the world, not only for racing but for exploring and experiencing the beautiful Italian culture.”
In the wheel tracks of amateurs
Strade Bianche actually started out as a race for amateurs. L’Eroica Strade Bianche (“Heroic race of the white roads”) is an annual granfondo that was created in 1997.
The idea was to recreate cycling’s heroic era by encouraging riders to take on the classic white roads atop vintage bikes. A decade later and a bright spark decided that the professionals really ought to be racing on these ancient roads as well.
Although it may have humble, modern roots, the race does actually have a longer 120-year track history that many fans don’t know about.
The roads have been used in competition since 1897 when wine-making brothers Ernesto and Giulio Gallo founded the Giro dello Toscana in order to advertise their crimson delights by holding a race on the white roads.
In 1923 the race was renamed ‘Strade Bianche’ when Ernesto sold the race to Bianchi, it then became an institution in itself and was won by countless legends of the sport like Alfredo Binda, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani.
Diverse start lists
One of the reasons Strade Bianche is consistently such an exciting race is because of the wide range of cyclists that take it on.
Usually, the harsh terrain of the spring classics suit powerful rouleurs but the steep rolling terrain and uphill finish in Siena, means that every type of rider from powerful finisher to lightweight climber competes for victory at Strade.
As Kiesanowski explains, “the race itself is a true test of an all-around racer: skilled, punchy climber, great bike handler, the list goes on.” The Human Powered Health roster for Saturday is proof of this with a wide range of talents represented despite starting short-handed due to illness and injury.
— Strade Bianche (@StradeBianche) March 6, 2021
Shaken not stirred
Just when you thought this race couldn’t get more dramatic, it goes and finishes in a true theatre of sport, Siena’s Piazza del Campo.
Home to the world’s oldest horse race, the Palio, which features at the start of the James Bond movie ‘Quantum Of Solace’ (we’ll forgive you if you missed it), the race culminates in the very centre of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The steep often decisive Via Santa Caterina climb up to the square encourages more action than a 007 rooftop shootout.
Another cool thing that the race has included in an effort to create its own history, is naming sectors of the route after its multiple winners.
Swiss classics legend Fabian Cancellara won the men’s race in 2008, 2012 and 2016 and as a result, the toughest five-star sector was renamed Monte Sante Marie (Settore Cancellara).
The sector is not in the women’s race, but if Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) triumphs on the white roads for a third time, the courtesy of renaming a sector will likely be extended.
Heroic cycling ties
Part of Tuscany’s rich sporting heritage is its cyclists. One of whom is two-time Tour de France and three-time Giro champion Gino Bartali. A legendary figure in the sport both pre and post World War II, Bartali’s cycling story extends far beyond simply winning bike races.
During World War II, Bartali carried out a heroic duty for the Italian resistance that saw him riding between Florence and Assisi smuggling fake identity documents hidden in his bicycle frame.
Batali would use the white gravel roads of the race to remain hidden from the authorities on this daring 180km ride. The legend used his fame to deflect unwanted attention from patrol guards, stating that the ride was simply just training. He risked his life on every journey but this act of heroism saved countless lives.
Years after, when speaking on his wartime service, he said, “the good is done, but it is not said and certain medals hang on the soul, not on the jacket.”
Finally, what better way is there to finish off the race by toasting victory with a glass of famous Chianti wine? The region is internationally renowned for the wine which is traditionally bottled in a squat vessel enclosed in a straw basket called a fiasco, the only place you can find these is in Tuscany.
As we prepare for this special start to the Women’s WorldTour season, make sure to follow the team’s social media accounts to see the images and live coverage coming from this brilliant race.
How to watch
The Strade Bianche will be shown live on GCN+ and Eurosport with coverage starting at 5:35 am ET with the race finish expected for 7:15 am ET.