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by Abby Mickey
March 5, 2020
At the time of writing, it’s not clear whether Strade Bianche is even going ahead. The coronavirus outbreak in Italy has seen multiple teams pull out of the race, and the gran fondo cancelled, and the pro races could be called off at any moment.
But assuming the race goes ahead, we want you to be informed. With that in mind, here’s former pro (and host of the Freewheeling podcast) Abby Mickey with your guide to the second Women’s WorldTour event of the season: Strade Bianche.
Over the years, as women’s cycling has grown its fanbase thanks to exciting racing and even more exciting characters, many have clamoured for men’s races to add women’s races. The one-day-races in particular seem, from the outside, capable of holding a women’s event in conjunction with the men’s. Strade Bianche was no exception.
Since 2015 the iconic white gravel roads have delivered edge-of-your-seat racing. It started with the American racing for Boels Dolmans, Megan Guarnier, who won with a daring solo attack in 2015. Last year viewers saw Annemiek van Vleuten on top form as she soloed away with over 10 km to go and held off a powerhouse chasing group including Marianne Vos, Kasia Niewiadoma, and world champion Anna van der Breggen.
We’ve seen a variety of weather, from dry and practically balmy in 2019 (compared to the other racing these ladies do this time of year) to absolutely disgusting rain which led to mud and chaos in 2018. Strade Bianche is a race that never disappoints, from beginning to end. Now, let’s all cross our fingers the coronavirus doesn’t cancel the race and that, if the race does go forward, the riders remain coronavirus free when they get home from racing.
Five years does not a Monument make, however, Strade Bianche is well on its way. One factor that the race has in common with the Monuments is a course that rarely to never changes yet provides exciting racing every year.
This 136 km loop, starting and finishing in Siena, Italy, and the terrain on which the race is held, are guaranteed to provide some stunning photos. Strade Bianche would not be Strade Bianche without the namesake white dirt roads of Tuscany, flanked by almost fake-looking rolling green fields and Italian Cypress evergreens. The finish will be the same as it has been in every previous edition: a narrow and steep cobbled climb to the Piazza del Campo in the center of Siena. The final climb is only 600 meters long, but a staggering 13% gradient leads to a painfully long sprint.
Profile of the 2020 women’s Strade Bianche.
According to weather.com (admittedly unreliable at the best of times) the unaccounted for player in this game could be rain. With a 70-80% chance of rain in the days leading up to the race and a 50% chance the day of, we could see the gravel roads turn into slip-and-slides. Unfortunately for the ladies, the temperatures are not looking to favor warm-climate-loving racers.
Annemiek van Vleuten of Mitchelton-Scott has already made a statement: the curse of the rainbow jersey will not touch her. We saw last weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad that she’s holding good form. After her successful solo move at Strade Bianche in 2019 — a move which is more and more becoming her signature — make sure you’re paying attention to her with a ways still to go in the race. Mitchelton-Scott have announced they will not race Strade Bianche among other events.
Van Vleuten winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend.
Canyon-SRAM rider Kasia Niewiadoma is the definition of consistent at Strade Bianche. She has placed second in the 2016, 2017, 2018 editions as well as third in 2019. As of writing it is unclear whether or not she will be racing.
If the weather delivers a wet and wild edition for us Lucinda Brand’s (Trek-Segafredo) cyclocross skills might come in handy. However, Trek-Segafredo is not lacking in cards to play. Ruth Winder has already shown she is on form this year. Ellen van Dijk completely dove back into racing after her crash last year. Lizzie Diegnan has claimed every different step of the podium, placing second in 2015, third in 2017, and taking victory in 2016. Basically, watch the blue stripey jerseys.
Deignan (then Armitstead) winning the 2016 Strade Bianche.
Boels-Dolmans is another team with an abundance of depth. If the roads are wet and a climber doesn’t get away, Chantal Blaak, who just won La Samyn on Tuesday in France, and had a strong showing at ‘Opening Weekend’ in Belgium, could be one to watch. Anna van der Breggen, winner of the 2018 edition, is always one to watch, regardless of a slightly quieter lead up. She delivers jaw-dropping rides on the reg. Fingers crossed she’s hungry for the win, for all our benefit.
Sunweb had a pretty disappointing 2019 but so far it’s been a banger 2020. Liane Lippert currently wears the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey after winning the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Last weekend, Floortje Mackaij pulled off an impressive third place in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and we can expect to see a similar performance from her this weekend.
Mackaij (right) was third at Het Nieuwsblad.
For viewers in most of Europe and the UK, you can watch the action live on Eurosport and, hopefully, via a livestream here at CyclingTips. Viewers in the USA should be able to catch the women’s race on FloBikes. Australian fans — your best bet is to tune into the livestream here at CyclingTips.