Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport struck gold in 2007 when it created Strade Bianche. The one-day race in Siena, Italy, touches the hearts of cycling fans worldwide with its white gravel roads, rolling countryside and Cypress trees. The icing on the cake: a finish in Piazza del Campo.
Though Saturday’s race is not in the WorldTour, Philippe Gilbert helped cement its status. The current king of one-day races, charged ahead of Alessandro Ballan in Siena’s famed piazza last year for the win. Fabian Cancellara and Thomas Löfkvist have also won here.
Gilbert teams up this year with Ballan and Cadel Evans to form a super squad, BMC Racing. Adam Blythe, George Hincapie and Greg Van Avermaet will enforce the trio’s efforts.
Sky skips the race for a second year running, but there are plenty of other big teams: RadioShack-Nissan (with Cancellara), Garmin-Barracuda (Ryder Hesjedal, Daniel Martin, Johan Van Summeren), Astana (Roman Kreuziger, Maxim Iglinsky), Liquigas-Cannondale (Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan, Daniel Oss) and Movistar (Giovanni Visconti).
The teams are coming to experience what cyclo-tourists have enjoyed for years in the Eroica ride. The Eroica, this year on October 7, inspired RCS Sport to create Strade Bianche. It wanted its own classic, one similar to the Northern Classics, like Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders.
“Strade Bianche reminds me of my beginnings,” Gilbert said last year. “The very peculiar dirt roads, it’s a surface that recalls the old times of cycling.” The race’s organisers described the Belgian rider as “Gilbert da battere” or “Gilbert the man to beat”.
The others will have 190 kilometres to do, 57.2 on gravel roads, from Giaole in Chianti to Siena’s Piazza del Campo. The gravel sections will force an elite group, the climb into Siena’s centre will whittle it down and the final right-hand bend will reveal the winner (who will need to take the inside line).
“Without a doubt,” said Iglinsky in 2010, “it was the most beautiful win of my career.”
Strade Bianche 2012: The route
Saturday, March 3; Italy
1. km 35.0 to 48.5, length: 13.5km (**)
Longest of the day, perfect place to form an escape.
2. km 53.9 to 59.4, length: 5.5km (*)
Easiest of the day, but the escape took root here last year.
3. km 82.3 to 94.2, length: 11.9km (***)
Follows main climb to Montalcino, where Evans won in the 2010 Giro d’Italia.
4. km 95.2 to 103.2, length. 8.0km (****)
Sector follows immediately after number 3, and combined, will eliminate riders.
5. km 132.4 to 143.9, length: 11.5km (*****)
The race’s key sector, entering into the crucial tail end. Long and undulating, perfect for attacks.
6. km 163.7 to 167.0, length: 3.3km (**)
Downhill run that leads into sector 7…
7. km 170.4 to 172.8, length: 2.4km (****)
… with a ramp of 15% immediately.
8. km 176.7 to 177.8, length: 1.1km (***)
Descents and an 18 per cent rise, which Damiano Cunego used last year to reel in Stuart O’Grady and Van Avermaet. Only 12km to the Campo.
Strade Bianche 2012: Top picks
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) – Defending champ ready for his first win of year ahead of crucial classics month
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) – The Canadian former mountain-biker loves gravel and has experience, 12th and 5th in Siena
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) – Dangerous in almost any race thanks to his punch and speed, a la Gilbert
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) – Tour champ and very capable on gravel, as he showed at the 2010 Giro
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) – In form, will play off of Sagan. Remember his panache at last year’s Giro stage to Orvieto?
Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) – Experience Strade Bianche winner and support from Roman Kreuziger
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) – Past winner and classics star should nearing top form with classics approaching
Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) – Always a player in Siena and motivated by team switch
Strade Bianche: Previous winners
2011 Philippe Gilbert (Bel)
2010 Maxim Iglinsky (Rus)
2009 Thomas Lofkvist (Swe)
2008 Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
2007 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus)
Strade Bianche: Last year’s top ten (2011)
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing
3. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD
4. Jure Kocjan (Slo) Team Type 1
5. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard-Trek
6. Angel Vicioso (Spa) Androni Giocatolli
7. Oscar Gatto (Ita) Farnese Vini
8. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Farnese Vini
9. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing
10. Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Leopard-Trek
Strade Bianche 2012: TV guide
For the first time the race is broadcast live and streamed on the organiser’s website, http://www.gazzetta.it/Speciali/StradeBianche/it/