The classic Strade Bianche race will become a triple event this year, with three races taking place across the weekend in March.
Running between a Unesco heritage city, the Crete Senesi region and breath-taking scenery, the weekend of events kicks off on Saturday 7th March with the UCI Women Elite 1.1 category race, which departs from Tuscany’s
San Gimignano and finishes, after 103 kilometres, in Siena’s Piazza Il Campo.
This will be followed on the same day by the classic men’s edition, a UCI Europe Tour 1.HC rated cycling race of 200km.
The first 33km and the final 20km of the women’s course will be raced on the same roads as the men’s edition. In total there will be 17km of gravel roads on the course, divided into 5 sectors, with a well-maintained and solid surface.
The women’s race start will start at 9 am, an hour and a half before the men’s start from the same location.
The men will tackle the same course as last year, which was won a rider who would also take the UCI Road World Championship six months later, Michał Kwiatkowski.
The men’s course consists of 50km of 'white road' in ten sections, with stretches rated '5 stars' for difficulty.
Despite a lack of very long climbs, the course features a long series of very steep inclines, along with approximately 50km of dirt tracks, the famous White Roads or ‘Strade Bianche’, which are arranged in ten sections.
The White Roads are metalled and compacted into a hard, durable surface with a small amount of loose gravel and largely free of vegetation.
From the race start, at San Gimignano, the first 33km is on rolling, asphalted roads. The route passes close to the splendid medieval village of Monteriggioni, before the first White Road section begins (Section One: 2.2km, difficulty rating: 2-stars).
After another 13km of asphalt, the second White Road section follows (Section Two: 2.1km, difficulty rating: 1-star).
Perfectly straight and on the slightest of descents, this section is probably the least challenging of the race.
Section Three is the first really challenging part of the race; a 5.9km sector rated 4-stars. It begins with a short, gentle descent, before ramping upward for a longer climb at a gradient of around 10%.
The fourth White Road section begins at the village of Radi, 4.4km long and with a difficulty of 2-stars. Section Five starts immediately afterwards, in woodland, over less demanding gradients (Section Five: 5.5km, difficulty 1-star).
Beyond Buonconvento lies the climb to Montalcino, the longest of the day (4km at 5%). After the descent that follows, the race joins Via Cassia, an ancient Roman road (now Strada Statale 2) for the feed zone (km 105 to 108) on the way to San Quirico d’Orcia.
At Pienza, the sixth section of White Road begins. This 36km stretch of asphalt is the longest of the race (Section Six: 9.5km, difficulty rating: 3-stars), and begins with a climb over a rougher surface, leading to the village of Lucignano d’Asso, and then returning to asphalt roads towards Asciano.
At Ponte del Garbo (Asciano, km 147), Section Seven of White Road begins; it’s the hardest of the race at 11.5 m and with a difficulty rating of 5-stars. Mostly climbing, it also comprises a number of abrupt ramps and hollows, especially on the roads around Monte Sante Marie, where the gradients are extremely high over short stretches.
At Castelnuovo Berardenga, a very short stretch of flat White Road (300m) precedes Section Eight, beginning just after Monteaperti, which covers 800m and includes a steep ramp where the gradients reach double figures. Then, the route regains asphalt roads at Vico d’Arbia, and pursues them as far as Pieve a Bozzone, where the penultimate section of White Roads starts (Section Nine: 2.4km, difficulty 4-stars) on the climb up to Colle Pinzuto, with gradients of up to 15%.
The final section begins at km 183.8 (Section Ten: 1.1km, difficulty 3-stars), with a sharp descent followed by a steep ascent (maximum gradient 18%) which finishes at the village of Le Tolfe. From there, 12km remain to the finish line at Siena's Piazza del Campo.
The demanding final kilometres, with gradients up to 16%, approach the city of Siena along broad, straight sections of road, connected by sweeping curves, first descending, and then climbing slightly. 2km from the finish line, the route joins Via Esterna de Fontebranda, where the gradient touches 9%. 900m from the finish line, the race route passes beneath Fontebranda Gate where the road surface becomes paving slabs.
The gradient exceeds 10% until 500m from the finish line, reaching its highpoint of 16% in Via Santa Caterina. A sharp right hand turn leads to Via delle Terme, and then Via Banchi di Sotto. With 300m to go, the road continues to climb slightly then, 150m from the line, a right turn leads into Via Rinaldini. The route enters the Piazza del Campo just 70 m from the finish line. The final 30m descends at a gradient of 7% and the finish line itself is flat.
On Sunday 8th March there will be an event for sportive cyclists. The Gran Fondo Strade Bianche will be held on the same roads that the professional cyclists competed on just one day before, and with the same finishing line, in the Piazza Il Campo. More details will be announced soon.
The event seems to be an updated counterpoint to the L’Eroica vintage and classic bike ride which takes place in the Chianti region of Tuscany every first Sunday in October. Only bikes produced before 1987 may take part and the 5,000 riders who attend annually enjoy classic Italian food and wine along the route.
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.