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Strade Bianche’16: The PEZ Preview

The classics circus has moved from the cobbles of Belgium to the gravel roads of Italy and the dust (or possibly mud) of Siena. Ed Hood gives us his run-down on the ‘Paris-Roubaix’ of the South; the history, course and favorites and Ed’s bet for Saturday. The Strade Bianche PEZ preview.


The “Northern Classic in the south of Europe” is how organizers RCS Sport/La Gazzetta dello Sport, pitch their event. It’s not how I would describe it – I think it sells their race short. The Strade Bianche is unique; their description of the percorso does a better job of encapsulating what the event is all about:


Strade Bianche 2012
If it’s dry there will be dust, but if it rains…

A twisty and undulating course, with no long climbs but with punchy hills, most significantly on the unpaved parts. There are roughly 53km of gravel roads, appearing in nine sectors among the unique scenery of the Crete Senesi. The finish line is in Piazza del Campo, Siena, after 176km.


There’s fabulous Tuscan scenery throughout – including the famed ‘sterrati,’ the white dirt tracks which provide the photogs with such great opportunities and all topped off with a ‘fairytale’ finale in the Piazza del Campo; the scene of the famed horse race.

There are ‘BUTS’ with the first one being the field quality; only 12 of the 18 World Tour teams ride.

AG2R LA MONDIALE (FRA) – Bakelants, Riblon
ASTANA PRO TEAM (KAZ) – Nibali, Rosa
BMC RACING TEAM (USA) – Van Avermaet, Phinney
ETIXX – QUICK STEP (BEL) – Štybar, Martin
LAMPRE – MERIDA (ITA) – Ulissi, Modolo
LOTTO SOUDAL (BEL) – Monfort, De Clercq
MOVISTAR TEAM (ESP) – Valverde, Visconti
TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO (NED) – Gesink, Battaglin
TEAM SKY (GBR) – Landa, Poels
TINKOFF (RUS) – Sagan, Bennati
TREK – SEGAFREDO (USA) – Cancellara, Nizzolo
And six of the UCI Pro Continental squads

BARDIANI CSF (ITA) – Colbrelli, Bongiorno
CCC SPRANDI POLKOWICE (POL) – Rebellin, Paterski
SOUTHEAST – VENEZUELA (ITA) – Pozzato, Belletti
TEAM NOVO NORDISK (USA) – De Mesmaeker, Peron

With the organizers helpfully listing their ‘faves’ from each team – but more of that in a minute.

The 176K distance and field quality provide the second, ‘but’ with the race on the UCI calendar as UCI 1 HC, on a par with the likes of the Trofeo Laigueglia and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but not a full blown Classic.


The third and final ‘but’ lies in the race history – whilst the youngest of the classics, The Amstel Gold Race is on edition 51; this will be but the tenth Strade Bianche. We have to be wary of folks telling us that a race is a ‘classic’ – that’s a status which has to earned irrespective of how much money or publicity it’s generating.

Think, Wincanton Classic, Tour de Trump, Tour of Beijing – and that ‘other’ Chinese race which never even got off the ground – but to accommodate which the UCI reconstructed the tail end of the European season. But let’s deal with the history there is – and who can win a race where bike control is all on the white fire and farm roads which rear and dip across the rolling Tuscan countryside.

Monte Paschi Eroica 2007
Alexandr Kolobnev, the first Strade Bianche winner

It was 2007 when Russian Hardman, – and a man who’s been close to being world champion twice, Alexandr Kolobnev who won the first edition. A year later, it was the man who many associate closest with the race, the Swiss Fabian Cancellara taking the honors.

In 2009 Sweden’s Thomas Lovkvist pulled of perhaps the best win of his pro career – along with the Circuit de la Sarthe and Tour of the Med in winning on the giant Tuscan paving slabs. Maxim Iglinskiy won in 2010 for Kazakhstan – didn’t he. . . Ah, yes.

Montepaschi Strade Bianche
Maxim Iglinskiy

Walloon, Phil Gilbert was the man in 2011 with Cancellara making himself ‘recordman’ on two wins in 2012.

Montepaschi Strade Bianche - Eroica 2011
Gilbert in 2011, not 1911. He won’t be here in 2016

Home Boy Moreno Moser flattered us to deceive in 2013, whilst it was just one of a whole raft of great results for Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski in 2014 – topped of course by the World Elite title. Last year saw the race won by a man who has absolutely all the skills for it – ex-World Cyclocross champion, Zdenek Stybar (Czech).

Strade Bianche 2012
‘Recordman’ Fabian Cancellara

With two previous winners on the start line in Cancellara and Stybar, either one could win. Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) has started his final season full of drive and power with wins already in Mallorca and the Algarve Tour time trial stage; his big problem will be that all of the other favorites will be watching him like a hawk.

Strade Bianche men elite 2015
2015 winner, Zdenek Stybar

Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step) has started his year quietly but with his big two goals for the year – Flanders and Roubaix – not far away, a leg stretching, morale boosting win would be very nice, thank you – and he has the best team in the business to back him.

Strade Bianche 2015 special
Valverde leads Sagan last year

The second and third finishers in 2015 also ride – BMC’s Belgian Greg Van Avermaet and Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) with both men on excellent form. GVA took last weekend’s Het Nieuwsblad in fine style whilst the Spaniard recently won his fourth Ruta del Sol. It was the Spaniards second consecutive third place finish into Siena – and he’s nothing if not persistent.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad men elite 2016
In-form Greg Van Avermaet, 2nd in Het Nieuwsblad

Slovak World Champion, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) rides backed by a strong team with second in Het Nieuwsblad and seventh in Kuurne-Brussels-Kurne, saying all that needs to said about his form – and he just loves those dirt tracks. That ramp to the campo will be tough for such a bulldog built man, but he was second here in 2013 and 2014, don’t forget.

Vincenzo Nibali wins in Oman

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is another man on form – with the Green Mountain stage and GC in Oman notched on his top tube for 2016; and he’s another rider with bike handling skills headed towards the magical end of the scale.

We’ve only listed six men – but we believe that all the podium places will be split between them.

‘Wild cards?’ Sonny Colbrelli (Italy & Bardiani-CSF) – but we’ll be speaking of him more come The Primavera.

One name? Peter Sagan.

PEZ Strade Bianche race report on Saturday and rider quotes and video catch-up in EUROTRASH on Monday. Live action on Saturday via Steephill TV.

Kuurne - Brussel - Kuurne 2016
Ed’s pick: World Champion Peter Sagan

• See the race live: check Steephill.tv for broadcast schedules

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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