The peloton at Strade Bianche in 2021.

Preview: The route and the favorites for the 2022 men’s Strade Bianche

Julian Alaphilippe and Tadej Pogačar are among the big names set to contend on the white roads of Tuscany.

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A week on from the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the one-day calendar continues to ramp up as riders head to Italy for this Saturday’s Strade Bianche. The trek through Tuscany has become an early-season favorite for cycling fans everywhere, and as ever, this year’s edition has drawn a wide array of stars to contend for victory on the event’s eponymous “white roads.”

As Saturday’s showdown in and around Siena looms, we’re taking a closer look at the percorso and the potential protagonists.

Here’s what’s on tap for the men’s race (and keep an eye out for Abby Mickey’s preview of the women’s race) at Strade Bianche …

The Route

The men’s race at the 2022 edition of Strade Bianche will traverse the same roads as last years race, starting and finishing in historic Siena and covering 184 km with a grand total of 63 km of gravel across 11 sectors.

The first 100 km of the race will cover six of the 11 sectors while also taking on the single largest climb on the route to Montalcino. After the lengthy fifth and sixth gravel sectors, riders will have a chance for some respite on a relatively gentle stretch of road before things really heat up for the final 75 km.

The seventh and eighth gravel sectors are the longest in the race and both feature climbing. The eighth sector, which includes the Monte Sante Marie ascent, probably rates as the most challenging of all. Expect to see attacks here, with the peloton likely to be whittled down considerably.

The up-and-down final 40 km will offer plenty more opportunities for action. The ninth gravel sector is short but difficult with some climbing involved, the 10th sector is particularly tricky with double-digit gradients early on, and the 11th and final gravel sector starts with a descent before concluding with a steep upward pitch.

Just under 12 km remain from the close of the final gravel sector, but challenges remain all the way to the line, with two small climbs on the run-in to the incredibly steep final push into Siena. From the flamme rouge through to the last 500 meters, the gradient averages over 12%. Finally, riders will turn towards the finish with a short descent into the scenic Piazza del Campo.

As if the route alone didn’t present enough challenges, the weather could add to the difficulties. Rain is expected for Friday, which could leave the roads treacherous, and as of Wednesday is at least some chance of rain on Saturday, with wind in the forecast too.

The Favorites

Although Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) won’t be in attendance to defend his title due to his back injury and 2020 winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has decided to skip the race and focus his efforts elsewhere, the Strade Bianche provisional start list does still feature plenty of star names. At the same time, it’s still very much a provisional start list as of Wednesday – so keep that in mind if anyone we mention ends up skipping the race, or if there’s a surprise addition to the cast of protagonists between now and the weekend.

Headlining the list of contenders are Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers).

Julian Alaphilippe at the Tour de La Provence.

Pogačar has the shortest odds with most bookmakers as of Wednesday, but I see Alaphilippe as the top contender. The reigning world road champ and the 2019 Strade Bianche winner has the ideal skillset for the finale, where the double-digit gradients suit a three-time winner of La Flèche Wallonne. Van der Poel may have gotten the better of him last year, but the Dutchman isn’t around to stand in Alaphilippe’s way – and Alaphilippe looks to be in fine form after a strong showing at the Tour de la Provence, where he finished second overall. Quick-Step will have an interesting lineup without former winner Zdenek Stybar but with the big engine of Kasper Asgreen, who could try his luck from afar to take the pressure off of Alaphilippe.

Pogačar nevertheless stands out as an intriguing contender in a race that has seen him finish increasingly closer to the top of the standings each of the past three years, with a seventh-place finish his most recent result.

Tadej Pogačar wins stage 7 of the 2022 UAE Tour, wrapping up overall victory for the second consecutive year.

The reigning Tour de France champ may not be known as a connoisseur of rough roads, but he hung with the heavy hitters into the finale last year, and if he can go just a bit deeper this year, the last climb will be a chance for him to put his world-class climbing skills on display. He proved at the UAE Tour that he is in great form, too. Pogačar’s UAE teammates Alessandro Covi and Diego Ulissi are also riders to watch.

Pidcock will lead the way for the Ineos Grenadiers. He finished fifth in 2021 and the world cyclocross champ seems as well-suited to the course as anyone in the professional peloton; that said, his Omloop Het Nieuwsblad showing left at least something to be desired as he finished a quiet 18th. We’ll see if he can right the ship at Strade Bianche.

Tom Pidcock at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Beyond Pidcock, the Ineos Grenadiers could also look to get Jhonatan Narváez or Richard Carapaz involved.

Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) is another intriguing rider for this race considering it will be his debut. He’s a versatile rider who has focused more and more on the cobbled Classics in recent years, so he certainly seems like a potential contender. The finish is probably steeper than he’d like but Matthews has produced strong showings on multiple occasions on the punchy climbs of the Ardennes Classics and could surprise in Siena.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) counts two podium performances at Strade Bianche on his career palmares and he’s off to a strong start this year, winning the Trofeo Pollença-Port d’Andratx and a stage and the overall at the Gran Camiño. The 41-year-old remains a rider to watch.

2018 winner Tiesj Benoot is a strong card for Jumbo-Visma to play, which also counts Sepp Kuss in its lineup, though Tom Dumoulin will be absent after initially being expected to start. Matej Mohorič could go for a long-range strike for Bahrain-Victorious on the up-and-down run-in to Siena, and an in-form Tim Wellens could do the same for Lotto Soudal.

Tim Wellens at the Trofeo Pollença-Port d’Andratx.

Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroën) has never won the race but has finished second twice and counts an amazing eight top 10s on his career palmares, and he looked good en route to third place at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Romain Bardet will be an interesting option for DSM, Gianni Moscon will give Astana Qazaqstan a contender, and EF Education-EasyPost has one in Michael Valgren.

Other riders who could be in the mix include Michael Gögl, who rode to sixth last year, as well as his his Alpecin-Fenix teammate Gianni Vermeersch, 2019 Strade Bianche runner-up Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech), Bora-Hansgrohe newcomer Sergio Higuita, and Trek-Segafredo’s Quinn Simmons.

The action gets underway on Saturday at 11:40 am local time in Siena, with the finish expected sometime between 4:14 pm and 4:44 pm.

CyclingTips star ratings:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Alaphilippe
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Pogačar, Pidcock
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Valverde, Benoot, Wellens, Matthews, Mohorič
⭐️⭐️: Fuglsang, Van Avermaet, Valgren, Asgreen, Simmons, Moscon
⭐️: Bardet, Higuita, Gögl, Covi, Carapaz, Narváez, Ulissi

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