Belgium’s not the only place in the world where the pro peloton ventures off the smooth roads at this time of the year. Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders are both renowned for their cobbles but there’s another challenging event coming up – The Strade Bianche.
The race is situated just south of Florence and held over the old unpaved roads of the Tuscany region.
There are no cobbles bar a few in the final run in to the finish. Dusty roads are the order of the day with white plumes of smoke rising from the wheels of the peloton, it’s the images from this race that make it a spectacle!
If it’s dry, the mass of fine dust claws its way in to the riders’ lungs, eyes and bike components; if it’s wet it’s even worse, with a fine slurry of grime clinging to everything in sight. Of the 138 who started the race in 2011 only 58 finished.
The 2010 Giro took on some of the similar white dirt roads of the region and it ended up one of the most memorable stages of any tour in many years. See the video below to see exactly how fantastic (for spectators) the stage was.
190km separates the start and finish towns, with 55km of that on the white stuff. The race is usually tackled by riders who are looking to go to Tirreno-Adriatico on the following Wednesday, Milan San Remo and then the big Belgium Classics. Very few, if any, would be jetting up to Paris for the following days Paris-Nice stage race.
Riders to watch this year (apart from last year’s winner Gilbert and his BMC team mate Ballan), would be the obvious guys – like Cancellara, Pozzato and Van Summeren.
Other names worth a mention would be Cadel Evans, he took the Giro stage that covered similar roads back in 2010 and his mountain biking background could come in handy if its wet. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini), Leonardo Bertagnolli (Lampre-ISD) and the 2010 winner Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) are also names worth a mention due to good form at this race in previous years.
Unlike Roubaix or Paris-Nice, where the sections of unpaved roads or cobbles are relatively short, the Strade Bianche sections run for up to 13.5km at a time. Despite the hills not being massive, the course is by no means watered down; the climbs are made more difficult by where they appear in the stage and can decide the race.
With 20km to go a 15% climb is a perfect place for a breakaway attack. If the peloton’s still together after that, 6km later a 18% climb offers another area for guys to make a winning move.
The final run in to the finish town of Siena is also a place for a good dog fight, the narrow winding cobbled street offer a last ditch attempt to take the win.