From the cobbles of Belgium last weekend to the white roads of Italy on Saturday, the 2017 classics season is officially under way. The young-yet-instant classic Strade Bianche is up next, tempting both general classification riders and one-day specialists.
Cannondale-Drapac will send a balanced roster to the 175-kilometer race, part stage racers, part one-day race hunters. Sep Vanmarcke, third last weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Rigoberto Uran lead the charge, supported by Alberto Bettiol, Simon Clarke, Alex Howes, Sebastian Langeveld, Toms Skujins, and Dylan Van Baarle.
“The team is strong and very motivated,” said sport director Fabrizio Guidi. “The race has a special charm and suits to the characteristics of our group. There are strong team contenders focused on their single leader. We have several solutions to counter the favorites. Rigo and Sep are our leaders, and strategy will be more than important. We have to be smart, but we have a plan. We definitely race to win.”
All told, there are 11 gravel sectors this year, two more than in 2016, totaling 62 kilometers, or a third of the parcours. The route offers a delectable roll over some of Italy’s finest roads, unspooling like white ribbons spilling over the hills in Tuscany.
“It’s a special race, because it’s heroic, even though it’s only existed since 2007. It’s special to race on the gravel roads, and it’s a very nice and hard parcours,” Vanmarcke said. “I have only participated once, and finished fourth, so it suits me.
“I just race it like a cobbled classic,” he added. “It’s important to start the sections in front, because on the gravel sections the peloton will stretch out. Also with flat tires and crashes, it’s very important to stay focused from start to finish.”
The Monte Sante Marie is the queen sector, at 11.5 kilometers of white gravel road. It’s mainly uphill, with both sharp climbs and descents. The race is traditionally still undecided as the bunch seeps into Siena. At 900 meters to go, the road tilts upward at 10 percent, and it’s likely on these cobblestones into the square that the victor will break free.
“Our team looks really good for the upcoming Italian races,” said sport director Tom Southam. “More than just the fact that we have options in the race is the fact that in Sep and Rigo we have two guys who inspire great performances from the whole team. Combine that with the quality bike riders they have backing them up and they should be a formidable team.
“It might seem like a lifetime, but it was only actually a few months ago that these guys put Rigo on the podium of a Monument in Italy, so they can do a serious job here.”
Visit the official Strade Bianche website.
Find Strade Bianche race results here.
Follow @StradeBianche, the official Twitter account.
Use #StradeBianche to follow the race live on Twitter.
Watch the finish of Strade Bianche on Eurosport 1 from 1.45PM to 3:30PM CET.
Cannondale-Drapac for Strade Bianche
Dylan Van Baarle
Cannondale-Drapac for GP Industria & Artigianato
Simon Clarke, 2016 winner