The iconic white gravel roads of the Strade Bianche will once again host the kick-off event of the UCI Women’s WorldTour this weekend.
Now in its second year, the Women’s WorldTour promises to build on its inaugural success with more racing and exposure as women will take on classic men’s events such as the Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The season-long series starts off this Saturday in Italy, where riders will be battling rough roads and fierce competition for the first win and leader’s jersey of the season. And if last weekend’s European opener, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, is anything to go by, we are in for a treat!
The Iconic White Roads
Despite its relatively short history in professional racing, Strade Bianche is an event full of history. It began as an amateur gran fondo, called l’Eroica, which is held in October in Tuscany each year following the World Road Championships. The ride is a throwback to earlier days. All participants ride bicycles built before 1982. Many wear vintage clothing and accessories.
The professional race began as a men’s only affair in 2007, and a women’s event was added in 2015 with much elation. Boels-Dolman’s Megan Guarnier won the historic event that year and her teammate Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead) defended the team’s win in 2016.
What the race lacks in age, it makes up for in the allure of the race. Named after its many “white roads”, the race features various gravel sections, plenty of climbing and stunning scenery.
As mentioned above, both Strade Bianche victories have gone to the Boels-Dolmans team. In the inaugural Strade Bianche women’s race, Megan Guarnier soloed her way to the victory, with her teammate Lizzie Deignan (then racing as Lizzie Armitstead) joining her on the podium in second and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) in third:
Last year, Strade Bianche was given the honour of opening the highly anticipated inaugural Women’s WorldTour, and all eyes were on then world champion, Lizzie Deignan.
Several crashes and breakaways shattered the field, and the fight came down to three top riders: Deignan, Emma Johansson (Wiggle-High5) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo-Liv). In a final attack up the steep finish climb, Deignan dropped her breakaway companions and soloed to the win.
What to expect at the 2017 UCI WorldTour kick-off event
Both the men’s and women’s races are held on the same day, with the women’s race on much of the same roads as the men’s. For the 2017 edition, the women’s course is slightly longer than the previous editions. Where the race started with a 103-kilometer route in 2015, the women now race 127 kilometers with start and finish in Siena.
All the grey bits in the profile above are gravel roads, around 30 kilometers in total. But you’ll also notice the constant climbing, which makes this race extremely difficult. It will be a nervous race, in which everybody wants to be in the front right from the start.
This being the kick-off event of the 2017 Women’s WorldTour, racers will be vying for not just a win, but also series points and, of course, series leader’s jerseys. Two jerseys will be awarded in Siena: the white Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey for the race winner, and a marine blue jersey for the best U23 rider.
The top 20 ranked UCI teams receive an automatic invite to all one-day Women’s WorldTour races, but not all teams will be in attendance. Most notably, the Belgian teams Lotto-Soudal and Lares-Waowdeals – with former former world cyclocross champion Thalita de Jong at the hem – have decided to sit out the 2017 Women’s WorldTour opener.
“This race wasn’t on Thalita’s program because of her ‘cross campaign. Now that she crashed in the World Cup race in Hoogerheide and missed the end of the cyclocross season, she’ll debut for the team in a stage race in Valencia,” commented Marc Bracke, DS of Lares-Waowdeals. “Because of the cost involved in getting the team to Strade Bianche, we decided to skip this race and do a double program in Valencia and the Women’s WorldTour race in Drenthe instead.”
Lotto-Soudal DS Liesbet de Vocht said her team decided to decline the invitation as a lot of their riders are currently active on the track, and their main climber Jessie Daams is still coming back from injury.
All other top WorldTour teams are set to attend the event (noting that actual ‘Women’s WorldTour teams’ have yet to be introduced), and will be joined by several Italian UCI teams.
To win this race, you’ll need to be an all-rounder and have luck on your side as well. With 30 kilometers of dirt roads, there’s always the possibility of a puncture and crashes. Factoring out these coincidental circumstances, we think it will be these women that stand the biggest chance to arrive in Siena first:
Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling)
Making her 2017 road debut in the Strade Bianche, it will be Marianne Vos’ first time on these iconic dirt roads in a race situation. She was out with an injury in the past two years but in the autumn of 2014, she took her Rabo-Liv teammates to participate in l’Eroica, an action that is believed to have spurred organisers to introduce a women’s race. Vos will now get her first chance to race the event – and to potentially get herself the win.
Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling)
Supporting Vos in her debut race, Polish road champion Kasia Niewiadoma will also take to the start in Strade Bianche. With her second place finish in 2016, she took the first ever Women’s WorldTour young rider leader’s jersey. Still in the youngster category, WM3 Pro Cycling could grab two leadership jerseys if Vos and Niewiadoma both finish well. After a crash prevented a good result for Niewiadoma in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend, she will want to take revenge in the Italian race. As an excellent climber, the race profile certainly suits her.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott)
Annemiek van Vleuten has had a very promising start to the 2017 season, winning the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and podiuming in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Now that she has proven herself as a climber as well, she will certainly be a race favourite at Strade Bianche and most races going forward.
Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans)
One of three cards for the Boels-Dolmans team to play, Deignan won last year’s edition in dominating fashion. Strade Bianche will be her season debut and we anticipate her to come out swinging.
Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans)
The first-ever winner of a women’s Strade Bianche, Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) knows what it takes to win the event. And as last year’s winner of the Women’s WorldTour series, she’s also keen to defend her overall title. Doing well in Siena will be an important first step.
Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans)
Boels-Dolmans’ new recruit, Olympic and European road race champion Anna van der Breggen, has been working on her off-road skills this winter as she participated in the Costa Blanca MTB Race, which she won together with Margot Moschetti. Let’s see of her new off-road skills will come to use. Twice a fifth-place winner, she’ll be keen to show her new team just what she’s capable of.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon-SRAM)
After a failed Olympic campaign, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot shocked the cycling world when she announced she would quit cycling, not sure whether she would ever return. We are glad she did, and as part of Canyon-SRAM for the next four years, she will return to cycling in Strade Bianche. Having to await in what shape she returns, we cannot imagine her not playing a major role in the race.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5)
Italian rider Elisa Longo Borghini has been the ambassador for this event ever since it was announced. And while she managed to snag a podium finish in the inaugural event, the win still eludes her. At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend she showed to be in good form, so her Wiggle-High5 teammates will likely be working to get her on the podium again this year.
Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb)
Lucinda Brand carried over her cyclocross fitness to take the win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend, and that win will surely have given extra confidence going into Strade Bianche. Brand might have a tough time on numerous climbs, but if she makes it up with the best, she’ll be one to watch in the finish straight.
How to follow the race
The UCI offered an exciting prospect as it announced a list of of tv channels that would broadcast the finale of the women’s Strade Bianche LIVE from 12.20 to 1.20 p.m. CET. Don’t get your hopes up yet though, as none of the tv listings include this hour of live racing for Saturday. We know that Eurosport will broadcast a 30-minute highlight video in some areas, straight after the men’s finish at 3.30 p.m. CET. We might also get another extensive highlight video of the race again by RAI Sport 2, and maybe a short highlight video on the UCI YouTube channel.
If you want to take a chance to see the women’s finish live, check out where the race is supposedly broadcasted in your area and turn on the tv at 12.20 p.m. CET (3.20 a.m. PST, 6.20 a.m. EST, 10.20 p.m. AEDT).
If you follow the race via social media, use #UCIWWT, the official Women’s WorldTour hashtag, for all things Strade Bianche and Women’s WorldTour. There’s also the official race hashtag #StradeBianche, but that’s in use for both the men’s and women’s race.
Having said that, last weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad didn’t announce an official women’s race hashtag either, but eventually #OHNwomen was used for the women’s race. If a women’s specific hashtag is introduced, we’ll make sure to let you know on our social media channels.
Of course we’ll have a race report on the Strade Bianche with a photo gallery, so be sure to tune in at Ella after the race!