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Strade Bianche, a clash of titans


Every single year, the world’s best riders gather for the first time in the season on the Strade Bianche’s gravel roads. True, this year physical injuries and calendar constraints have forced Tadej Pogačar, Wout Van Aert and Elisa Longo Borghini to forgo the Tuscan trip, but all the other big names are here and eager to put on an unforgettable show.

Strade Bianche presented by Crédit Agricole

Among the men, the spotlight is on Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), who is making his return to road racing after becoming world cyclocross champion for the seventh time in his career. He has already reached the Piazza del Campo with his arms raised, back in 2021, with that famous shot on the final wall of the Via Santa Caterina which not even world champion Julian Alaphilippe could put up with. And who knows, the epilogue might actually be similar to that of two years ago, as the Frenchman of Soudal-QuickStep will also be at the start and is reported to be in good form after his success at the Faun-Ardèche Classic. Among the stars, look out for Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), whose only participation at the Strade Bianche goes back to 2021, when he finished in fifth place. He will be supported by a rider who knows how to win this race, the always reliable Michal Kwiatkowski, winner in 2014 and 2017.

Zdenek Stybar (Team Jayco AlUla), winner in 2015, and Tiesj Benoot, winner in 2018 of perhaps the most legendary edition of the Strade Bianche amidst rain and mud, who will captain Jumbo-Visma after his recent victory at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, will not be missing either. On the other hand, those who have never managed to raise their arms to the sky are Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), second in 2013 and 2014 and on the last act of his career on the Sienese gravel roads before retiring, and Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroën), second in 2015 and 2017. Also on the list of favourites are Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Victorious) and Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates), who were among the most dynamic riders on the opening weekend of the Flemish Classics.

However, plenty of riders are keen to join the fight for glory, from Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) to Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), via Sergio Higuita, Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-hansgrohe), Thibaut Pinot, Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ), Magnus Sheffield, Ben Tulett (Ineos Grenadiers), Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Simon Clarke (Israel-PremierTech), Andreas Kron (Lotto Dstny), Mauri Vansevenant (Soudal-QuickStep), Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo).

The Italians have only claimed this race once, 10 years ago with Moreno Moser, and this time too they do not start with the favours of prediction. There is no shortage of cards to play, however, as Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), Andrea Bagioli (Soudal-QuickStep), Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), and Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) all seem to be in good shape. Andrea Vendrame (AG2R Citroën), Samuele Battistella (Astana Qazaqstan), Davide Ballerini (Soudal-QuickStep), Davide Formolo and Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) can also aim for a good result.

Strade Bianche Women Elite presented by Crédit Agricole

It is unavoidable to start with her majesty Annemiek Van Vleuten (Movistar), who at 40 years of age continues to be the untouchable queen of the peloton. The Dutchwoman is the only one to have won the Strade Bianche twice, in 2019 and 2020, and, knowing her, she has no desire to miss out on the chance to score a hat-trick. On her way, however, she will find Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx), the defending champion, who when it comes to one-day races becomes really hard to beat. Last week, moreover, despite being the season opener, she took Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with a splendid solo.

Alongside her will be Demi Vollering, who wants to build on the great season she had last year. When it comes to the prestigious classics, then, the sheer class and experience of athletes such as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ), Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon/SRAM Racing) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal QuickStep) must always be taken into account.

Certainly not planning to stay out of the battle are Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ), Liane Lippert (Movistar) and Juliette Labous (Team DSM), who are chasing the most prestigious result of their still young careers. Elise Chabbey, Soraya Paladin (Canyon/SRAM Racing), Mavi Garcia (Liv Racing TeqFind), Floortje Mackaij (Movistar), Sofia Bertizzolo (UAE Team ADQ) and Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx) will also try to be in the mix. Also very suggestive is the name of Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck), a young cyclocross ace who has very little experience in road races, but who will be interesting to keep an eye on.

In the rather remote event that the race should turn out to be less selective than expected, Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) and Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), who are usually more comfortable in less demanding races ending with a sprint finish, should also be considered.

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