Many say that one day it may become part of the Monument bike races. An accomplishment like this would confirm the beauty and charm of the competition once and for all. What race is this? Of course, we’re talking about the Strade Bianche. This event started in 2007, quite recently, but has quickly become one of the most loved by professionals, operators and amateurs alike.
A history that goes back… a few years
Don’t let age fool you. The Strade Bianche race is still budding – turning 13 in 2020 – but it is envied by older sporting events because of the prestige that it has gained in such little time. This status arrived in a completely natural way, thanks to the beauty of the path and sceneries that go by, as well as to the charm of the roads covered by the cyclists. White roads have always evoked strong emotions in the world of cycling: dirt, mud and gravel are elements that usually are not related to road cycling, but when the two come together, they create an explosion of sensations and legendary moments. The Chianti hills, San Gimignano, Siena, Montalcino and other territories in the Sienese area: these are among the most beautiful places in the world. All this beauty is the claim to fame of the Strade Bianche, a race that in few years has already become an epic challenge among cyclists.
The perfect cyclist
The Strade Bianche track is famed not only for its breathtaking beauty, but also because it is very challenging, with strenuous segments. The Sienese race has a lot in common with the two great “Northern classics”: the long, demanding segments on rough terrain, just like the Paris-Roublaix and the numerous, terrible climbs, typical of the Tour of Flanders. For this reason, this competition is certainly not for everyone, or at least it cannot be won by just anybody. What kind of cyclist is best for this race? We could say that is a modern cyclist, meaning not a classic climber, not a true sprinter and not a rouleur, but an athlete who can put all these characteristics together, particularly speed and pace. By looking at the Strade Bianche winners, it’s easy to understand who the right cyclists for this track are, and they all have the qualities we mentioned above:
- Fabian Cancellara, the Swiss cyclist who has already won this race three times
- the multiple world champion Peter Sagan
- the phenomenal Julian Alaphilippe
- the expert Philippe Gilbert
This is why an athlete must have great resistance, the strength to push their limits during climbs and hills, and a solid pace. The race takes place at the beginning of March and not all riders are already 100% in shape, so there is always room for surprises, such as when in 2018 the winner was the Belgian Tiesj Benoot.
The Strade Bianche track, with a total of 184 km, is winding and undulating, both on the planimetric and altimetric plan. There aren’t any long climbs, but there are shorter segments of varying steepness, especially on dirt roads. There are 63 km of white roads, meaning unpaved gravel roads, divided into 11 sectors. Amateurs and aficionados can also cover this path with a gravel.
- The start is in Siena and the first few kilometers, albeit undulating, are calm and completely on asphalt.
- At the 18th kilometer, here is the 1st dirt sector, 2.1 km long, the first white road challenge for the racers. Sector 1 doesn’t really have great challenges, as it is completely straight and on a slight downhill slope.
- Soon after comes sector 2, 5.8 km long, which begins to show the first few trials of the race, with a brief slightly downhill segment and a long climb, with inclines nearing 10%.
- Sector 3, 4.4 km long, starts in the village of Radi, followed closely by the 4th sector, also known as ”La Piana”. Neither of these sectors is too demanding. After pedaling a few more km, cyclists must face the climb of Montalcino, the second climb in the race, 4 km long at an average incline of 5%.
- Sector number 5 is the longest, measuring 11.9 km. Here, many athletes certainly start to feel weary, also because the next unpaved path, the 8 km-long number 6, begins after only one kilometer. These segments are very vigorous, with plenty of curves and hills, demanding physically but also mentally, because they require high concentration. Here, less trained legs can start to feel the strain, which is why strength must be well-balanced during a race such as the Strade Bianche.
- The race passes the municipality of Buonconvento for the second time, where cyclists will find the feed zone. Next comes the 7th sector on dirt road in San Martino in Grania, 9.5 km long, in the midst of the Crete Senesi. This is a demanding segment, with a string of slight hills in the first part and a more demanding climb at the end.
- Sector 8 starts in Ponte del Garbo, rather long with its 11.5 km, considering its timing within the race and that it is the hardest of the White Roads. This segment is almost entirely uphill, with several climbs and descents and very steep inclines.
- After a very short 300 meters on a flat unpaved road comes sector 9, only 800 m long, but characterized by a stretch with inclines higher than 10%.
- After Pieve a Bozzone, cyclists must face the 10th, second-to-the-last sector, 2.4 km long, which on the uphill road of Colle Pinzuto reaches 15% in incline. At this point, many riders give up.
- Just a few kilometers later, riders will find the 11th and last sector on unpaved road, just over one km long, with a steep descent followed by a quick climb with maximum incline reaching 18%. Now, there are only 18 km to the finish line.
- The last kilometers are outside the city of Siena, with an initial descent and then a climb, until the riders are just 2 km from the finish line, entering the Via Esterna di Fontebranda, a very demanding climb, with inclines up to 9%. The cobblestone street starts just shy of one km to the finish line, and the incline is over 10%, arriving in Via Santa Caterina, where it reaches 16%. This tract is much more than difficult. The riders then turn in Via delle Terme and take via Banchi di Sotto. About 300 meters from the finish line, the road begins to descend slightly, leading the competitors to Piazza del Campo.
The most audacious, strong, brave cyclist of the day will be the one to raise their arms in victory. The Strade Bianche is a race that cannot be won by just any rider, but by one who has legs, heart and guts.