What's Cool In Road Cycling

Strade Bianche: PEZ Previews New Gravel Sector In San Martino

Alessandro Federico will be roadside for PEZ on the gravel roads of the Strade Bianche on Saturday. But first he’s been out to preview the new and possibly decisive 10km section of ‘White Road’ in San Martino in Grania, here is what he found in the wasteland of Crete Senesi.

San Martino in Grania is the name of a village of few houses in the middle of nowhere in Crete Senesi, the land of the lonely trees. No shadow for these hills, fully open to the winds and the sun, the Crete is located south-east of Siena, just below the Chianti area, which is north-east of the Tuscan town. San Martino is just a few houses, but gives its name to the country road passing through the Crete, a 10 km gravel road that has been chosen by RCS as a new dirty sector in the 2016 edition of the Strade Bianche.

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It was first ridden by the women last year, during the first edition of the women’s race, and the organizers immediately realized it fitted perfectly as an introduction to the key part of the race: Monte Sante Marie, the 11.5km dirty road that twists like a rollercoaster above the Crete hills that always select the group of the best, with just 20 to 30 riders.

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San Martino in Grania itself could be enough to give a good selection, especially for its final climb, which is 4-5km long, and especially last kilometer of road, which includes several switchbacks before coming back on the paved road, which will head to Asciano and Monte Sante Marie. At the summit; the race still has 63 kilometers to go to the finish, just the right length to make the selection and proceed to the finish with a small group of riders.

Last year the women went over the top of San Martino with 10 riders left at the front and at the finish we had nine of them within a minute, all the others were at 4 minutes plus. What does it mean? Simply that San Martino caused the big selection of the best, the remaining part of the race (not including Sante Marie) did the rest.

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The dirt road starts in Monteroni d’Arbia, a town located south of Siena on the via Cassia, the way to Rome. The first part of the road is flat and straight but after 1 kilometer comes the sight of a hill; it’s just a short climb, followed by a short steep descent, it crosses a creek, twists right and then left, then after 4 kilometers of gravel, starts the climb. First passing the few houses of San Martino in Grania, then penetrating the grain fields till the top of the hill and finally twisting on to the ridge till the last kilometer of the climb, the hardest and the most spectacular.

The road surface can be rated from good to very good overall. The main issue may be some grit accumulation in the short descent, but this is very common on the “Strade Bianche” and is one of the first reasons why the selection will start to take place on the descents (even more true on Sante Marie sector). The climbs are significantly hard and the group will become long, so that on the summit of the hills (these climbs are quite shorts) all the riders will still be there, but in single file. During the descent (and really it’s hard to avoid it) there will be gaps by the bottom, where the new climb starts again. This becomes the main reason for the selection at the Strade Bianche.

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On the top of San Martino in Grania you may already see Siena. It’s over there, on your left, it’s obvious, ‘cause you already have the sight of the Mangia’s Tower, it must be, ‘cause it’s so beautiful. Between you and Siena, there is only the nowhere of the Crete, the lonely trees land. But for the riders there are still 63 kilometers to go, and the hardest sector of gravel, the Monte Sante Marie, included in the race since the very first edition in 2007. Will it be sunny? Will it be windy? Cloudy or rainy? I don’t care; I just care for the smell in the air, which is already bringing the promise of the spring.

Now it’s too late, the gravel waits for too long and is anxious to wake up. It’s the sound of the wheels on the grit, or the chain rhythmically jumping? I don’t know, I don’t care. But it’s coming.

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You can see Alessandro’s 2015 Strade Bianche adventure HERE and the PEZ Strade Bianche Preview HERE.
• See Steephill.tv for live coverage near you.

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