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.