08 March 2019

2019 Strade Bianche NamedSport – all set for the gravel challenge

The press conference on the eve of the Strade Bianche NamedSport and the Strade Bianche Women Elite NamedSport, both UCI WorldTour Calendar races, featured the UCI Road World Champion, Anna van der Breggen and Tiesj Bennot, last year’s winners.

 

Speaking in the breathtaking Palazzo Sansedoni – Fondazione Monte dei Paschi (the headquarters of the race), in Piazza del Campo, Siena, they were welcomed by Comune di Siena Head of Sport, Alberto Tirelli.

 

In the start list, among the main rivals, last year’s winner Tisj Benoot, Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, multiple Grand Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, previous Strade Bianche winners Moreno Moser (2013) and Zdenek Stybar (2015) and his team mate Julian Alaphilippe, Olympic Champion Greg Van Avermaet and former Cyclocross World Champion Wout van Aert amongst many others. In the Women’s race dossard no 1 will be worn by last year’s winner and UCI Road World Champion, Anna van der Breggen, who will be challenged by Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Marianne Vos amongst the others.

Download the start list (men)

Download the start list (Women Elite)

QUOTES

 

Anna van der Breggen, 2018 Women’s race winner, said: “This is really special race. We can’t compare it with any other one. The town is beautiful. Every cyclist likes to ride in Italy. Here with the gravel roads, the ups and downs, it’s a great race to start the WorldTour season with. I always love to compete here. The gravel sectors feel so different than last year. It will change the racing 100%. One year ago, because of the cold I had to wear gloves, this year it’s nice and sunny. There are more and more competitive teams in women cycling. It’ll make the race even more exciting tomorrow.”

 

Tiesj Benoot, 2018 Men’s race winner, said: “I had a bad crash last week, but the wounds are healing very well. I feel like I’m ready to defend my title. Compared to the weather conditions we had last year, the race will be less hard but it’s a course that doesn’t need bad conditions to be demanding, because there are a lot of climbs. In 2016, when I did it for the first time, it was also dry and the bunch exploded. There’s less wind than last year and this is maybe the most important factor on the dirt sections.”

 

13th STRADE BIANCHE NAMEDSPORT – 184km, 11 sectors and 63km on gravel roads (34.2% of the course)

 

It’s a twisty and undulating course, with no long climbs but punchy hills, most significantly on the unpaved parts. There are roughly 63km of gravel roads, across 11 sectors, eight of which are shared with the Women Elite course.

 

Starting from the Stadium/Medicean Fortress area of Siena, the initial undulating kilometres are on asphalt before reaching the 2.1km-long gravel Sector 1 at km 18, which is perfectly straight and slightly downhill.

 

After few kilometres the riders then face Sector 2 (5.8km), the first real challenge with a short descent followed by a long climb with sections of over 10% gradient.

 

The course then goes through Radi, where gravel Sector 3 starts (4.4km long; the second part of what was gravel Sector 1 in the race’s first edition) shortly followed by Sector 4 – named “La Piana” – and one of the race’s classic gravel sectors (5.5km in length, and featured in the course ever since the first edition) with no significant gradient, leading to Buonconvento.

 

After few kilometres the second climb of the day starts: the Montalcino (4km at 5%). Following Torrenieri the riders face Sectors 5 (11.9km) and 6 (8km) with only 1km of tarmac in between. Both are hard, hilly, very punchy and with many challenging bends, climbs and descents.

 

After the second passage through Buonconvento the riders will reach the feed station, positioned in the area of Ponte d’Arbia. Soon the route reaches Monteroni d’Arbia, which marks the beginning of Sector 7 of San Martino in Grania (9.5km) in the middle of the Crete Senesi. It’s a long sector with continuous up and downs in the first part, ending up with a twisting climb before meeting the tarmac again.

 

In Ponte del Garbo (Asciano) gravel Sector 8 begins. At 11.5km it’s the hardest of the race, mostly uphill and characterised by tough hills, the most important being those close to Monte Sante Marie, with steep gradients on both climbs and descents over short distances. After Castelnuovo Berardenga there’s a very short, flat section of gravel (300m) before facing, after Monteaperti, Sector 9 – it’s only 800m long, but greets the riders with a double digit gradient ramp before they rejoin the tarmac in Vico d’Arbia and then a paved road through Pieve a Bozzone.

 

Next comes the penultimate section of gravel (Sector 10, 2.4km) on the climb toward Colle Pinzuto, with gradients up to 15%. After a few kilometres the riders then face the last gravel section (Sector 11, 1.1km) which features a sequence of a demanding descents followed by a very punchy climb (with a maximum gradient of 18%) that ends up at the Tolfe. From here only 12km separate the riders from the finish in Piazza del Campo, Siena.

 

Final Kilometres

 

The demanding final kilometres, with gradients up to 16%, approach the city of Siena along broad, straight sections of road, connected by sweeping curves, first descents and slight climbs. 2km from the finish line, the route joins Via Esterna di Fontebranda; here the gradient touches 9%.

900m from the finish line, the race route passes beneath Fontebranda Gate where the road surface becomes paving slabs. The gradient then exceeds 10% until 500m from the finish line, reaching its steepest gradient of 16% along Via Santa Caterina. A sharp right hand turn leads to Via delle Terme, and then Via Banchi di Sotto. With 300m to go, the road continues to climb slightly then, 150m from the line, a right turn leads into Via Rinaldini. The route enters the Piazza del Campo just 70m from the finish line. The final 30m descends at a gradient of 7% and the finish line itself, which is flat.

 

STATS

 

  • A race for northern athletes – all the previous Strade Bianche winners were born north of Tuscany, the Italian Region where the race is held
  • No consecutive victories – in the previous 12 editions no one rider has been able two win two years in a row; in fact the same country hasn’t won twice in succession
  • 30 – Fabian Cancellara is the only rider who was able to win Strade Bianche after his 30th birthday, in 2012 and 2016

 

5th STRADE BIANCHE WOMEN ELITE NAMEDSPORT – 136km, 8 sectors and 31.4km on gravel roads (23.1% of the course)

 

A twisty and undulating course, with no long climbs but with punchy hills – most significantly on the unpaved parts. There are roughly more than 30km of gravel roads across eight sectors (all shared with the Men’s course).

 

Starting from the Stadium/Medicean Fortress area of Siena, the initial undulating kilometres are on Tarmac before reaching the 2.1km-long gravel Sector 1 at km 18, which is perfectly straight and slightly downhill.

 

After few kilometres the riders then face Sector 2 (5.8km), the first real challenge with a short descent followed by a long climb with sections of over 10% gradient.

 

The course then goes through Radi, where gravel Sector 3 starts (4.4km) shortly followed by Sector 4 – named “La Piana” – and one of the race’s classic gravel sectors (5.5km in length, and featured in the course ever since the first edition) with no significant gradient, leading to Buonconvento.

 

After the passage through Buonconvento the riders will reach the feed station, positioned in the Ponte d’Arbia area. Soon the route reaches Monteroni d’Arbia, which marks the beginning of Sector 5 of San Martino in Grania (9.5km) in the middle of the Crete Senesi. It’s a long sector with continuous up and downs in the first part, ending up with a twisting climb before meeting the tarmac again.

 

After Castelnuovo Berardenga there’s a very short, flat section of gravel (300m) before riders face, after Monteaperti, Sector 6 – it’s only 800m long, but greets the riders with a double digit gradient ramp before they rejoin the tarmac in Vico d’Arbia and then a paved road through Pieve a Bozzone.

 

Next comes the penultimate gravel section (Sector 7, 2.4km) on the climb toward Colle Pinzuto, with gradients up to 15%. After a further few kilometres the riders will face the last section of gravel (Sector 8, 1.1km) which features a sequence of a demanding descents followed by a very punchy climb (with a maximum gradient of 18%) that ends up at the Tolfe. From here only 12km separate the riders from the finish in Piazza del Campo, Siena.

 

Final kilometres are the same as the men’s course.

 

STATS

 

  • Anna van der Breggen – her victory last year sparked a series of successes in the season, including the Tour of Flanders, La Flèche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege before culminating in the victory in the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck-Tirol
  • Elisa Longo Borghini – the best placed Italian finisher in each of the four previous editions of the race (3rd in 2015, 4th in 2016, winner in 2017 and 3rd in 2018)
  • Katarzyna Niewiadoma – the young Polish rider has finished 2nd in the last three editions: 2016, 2017 and 2018

 

 

POINTS OF INTEREST

SIENA

It would have been too difficult to decide between Piazza del Campo and Torre del Mangia, between the cathedral and the other buildings of the same complex, such as the baptistery, the crypt and the grand façade (known as “Facciatone”). So the entire old town centre was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its outstanding artistic value. Siena is a true jewel of art, both sacred and profane at the same time, ever bustling with life and with more than a million visitors each year. It hosts major sporting and cultural events, such as the legendary Palio, staged twice a year, in which the 17 city quarters (“contrade”) challenge each other in front of large crowds coming from all over the country to attend the town’s most famous and iconic event.

 

The Strade Bianche is a legendary race that perfectly fits into a historical context that serves as an excellent setting for both the race start and finish. While waiting for riders to speed by, spectators can explore the city’s monuments and enjoy the many local delicacies, including wild boar sauces and specialties, ribollita, panforte (Siena’s iconic dessert), as well as world-renowned, refined wines, such as Chianti. Ricciarelli – traditional pastries made from almonds, sugar and egg whites – are the perfect snack while waiting for the finish.

 

Siena was founded by the Etruscans, it grew under the Romans, and was ruled by the Ghibellines and later the House of Medici. Nowadays, Siena belongs first and foremost to all those lucky ones who have visited or will be visiting this UNESCO World Heritage site. A must-see: Torre del Mangia. A must-taste: Ricciarelli. The best time to be in town: 9-10 March; or 2 July and 16 August – Palio di Siena.

 

SOVICILLE

“That pleasant place”, as its Latin name suggests, is a quaint village in the province of Siena, teeming with churches and ancient fortifications. If you are in town on any third Saturday then consider visiting the famous “Mercatale”, an open-air market held in Piazza Marconi, attracting visitors from all over the province and offering local food from the Val di Merse and the province of Siena. One of the finest Romanesque buildings of the entire Siena area, the parish church of San Giovanni Battista, is found in the hamlet of Ponte allo Spino.

 

MURLO

Murlo is a tiny ancient village in the province of Siena, rising on the hills that mark the transition from the rolling landscape of the Crete Senesi to the woody scenery of the Maremma Grossetana. Now teeming with major historical and architectural heritage, Murlo was a cradle of the Etruscan civilisation, and the so-called Cappellone, an Etruscan statue depicting a man wearing a large hat, has become the symbol of the town. Following recent DNA studies conducted by the researchers of the Genetics Institute of the University of Turin, the inhabitants of the village were found to be the actual descendants of the ancient Etruscans. The town lies far off the main streets and still retains its old-world charm, especially if you make your way to the village along the ‘white roads’ surrounding it.

 

MONTERONI D’ARBIA

This village in the province of Siena is named after the river that flows through the Val d’Arbia. The early 14th-century fortified watermill is well worth a detour from the Strade Bianche route. The hilly region of the Crete Senesi around San Fabiano and the small villages of Radi and Ville di Corsano (the latter with a tiny Romanesque parish church) offer a beautiful landscape and valuable historical heritage. Monteroni is a major destination for cycle tourism, and approximately 20km of the ancient Via Francigena pilgrim route run across the town and its surroundings.

 

BUONCONVENTO

Buonconvento is part of the Crete Senesi district, and is listed as one of “the most beautiful villages in Italy”. The town is still surrounded by the ancient defensive walls and its red brick houses give it a mediaeval look. Major landmarks include the belfry (Torre Civica) of the ancient government palace, which is decorated by the coats of arms of the former governors. Wandering the streets of the town is just as evocative, especially in September, when the famous Sagra della Valdarbia brings together the love for good food, music, arts and literature.

 

MONTALCINO

This lovely medieval village rising on the top of a hill, at the heart of the iconic Tuscan landscape, was founded by the Etruscans. Its pentagonal fortress stands out as its major landmark. After the fall of Siena in 1555, the city rulers retreated here, where they founded the Republic of Siena at Montalcino and held out for four years hoping that one day they may be able to return to Siena. The town is also known to wine lovers worldwide for Brunello di Montalcino, an excellent red wine that gets better and better with aging.

 

SAN QUIRICO D’ORCIA

This village, with a population of approximately 2,000, hosts the impressive Horti Leonini, created by Diomede Leoni around 1580; a magnificent example of Italian gardens and the most popular attraction in town. Major landmarks also include the Osenna collegiate or parish church (dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries), and an ancient castle in the hamlet of Vignoni. Recently, the entire village made its big-screen debut as it was chosen as location for the Italian movie “La scuola più bella del mondo”, starring Rocco Papaleo and Christian De Sica.

 

PIENZA

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996, Pienza was hometown to Pope Pius II, who considered it the Renaissance’s “ideal city”. The projects that were conceived at that time are a significant example of the urban architecture of the Italian Renaissance, although not all of them were actually implemented. Palazzo Piccolomini, one of the buildings that Pope Pius II commissioned, was chosen by director Franco Zeffirelli as location for filming some scenes of “Romeo and Juliet”. Piazza Pio II, Palazzo Piccolomini and the Cathedral are well worth visiting.

 

ASCIANO

Lying at the heart of the Crete Senesi, Asciano is one of the oldest and most remarkable towns in the Siena area. Initially an Etruscan settlement, it was further developed by the Romans. The old town still retains its distinctive medieval look, with major landmarks that have survived to the present day, such as the 11th-century Basilica of Sant’Agata, which was further expanded in the Gothic style. History and modern architecture merge together in the Site Transitoire, by French sculptor Jean Paul Philippe, located amid the Crete Senesi, where three small roads meet.

 

CASTELNUOVO BERARDENGA

The town, founded in the Middle Ages, lies north-east of Siena, in the Chianti area. Inside the church of Madonna del Patrocinio, at the heart of the village, is a 14th-century terracotta statue of the Virgin Mary, which was found among the ruins of the castle. The picturesque surroundings of Castelnuovo Berardenga are dotted with castles; making the area a major tourist destination. Main landmarks include the monastery and church (Certosa) of San Pietro or Pontignano (established in 1343, with a magnificent cloister that is open to the public), the castle of Montalto and the village of San Gusmè. Within the municipal district of Castelnuovo Berardenga is the tiny village of Montaperti, which is known for being the setting of a battle that was fought between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines that is commemorated with a torchlight procession every year.

 

SUNDAY 10 MARCH – THE GRAN FONDO

On Sunday, over the very same course as the women’s pro race the previous day, the Gran Fondo will see 5,000 sportive riders taking on the Strade Bianche of the Terre di Siena.