Thursday, 28 February 2013

Strade Bianche 2013: Preview

It is difficult to believe that this race has only been in existence since 2007 because it already holds a place of prestige in the modern cycling calendar. The dusty dirt roads surrounded by beautiful Tuscan countryside help this race fit into it's character as a 'spring classic' - this coupled with it's lengthy route and usually a strong field of competitors make this race a must see for cycling fans...

This race hasn't always been a 'spring' classic, indeed the first edition was held in October before it was moved to its March position in 2008. It usually serves as a little pre-cursor to Tirreno-Adriatico which starts next Wednesday and those looking to compete in the week long Italian stage race are likely to line up at the start of the Strade Bianche on Saturday too. The race may only have a six year history but it has been six years of formidable winners with Fabian Cancellara taking victory here twice (he's looking to make it three this weekend) and Philippe Gilbert, Maxim Iglinsky, Thomas Lovkvist and Alexandr kolobnev all adding their names to the honours board along the way.

The race is most famous for its navigation of the picturesque white gravel road of Tuscany known as the 'sterrati'  and whilst they may look pretty they also make for some seriously difficult miles of racing. In all their are around 70km of sterrati throughout the 188 kilometre route and the gravel not only makes work hard for the legs and produce clouds of dust, but it's unpredictability can lead to crashes and of course punctures. The route itself is lumpy for pretty much the entire length of the race, the last coming as the race enters the winding roads of Siena for what really is a stunning finish in the Piazza del Campo.

The race finished in the Piazza del Campo

17 teams will compete here including 12 WorldTour teams though noticeable by their absence will be Sky and Saxobank amongst others. Big name riders here include the likes of Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde but the name on everybodies lips will be Fabian Cancellara - twice the winner if he makes it three then a section of the sterrati will be named after him as from this year onwards La Gazzetta dello Sport have said they will name sections of the route after riders who have won the race three times. Cancellara has already told the press he wants to win here but with this added bonus his determination will be stronger still.

Cancellara is race favourite
So who can get in his way? Well, another name doing the rounds is of course that of Peter Sagan for no particular reason than that if he decides he wants to win a race and put his all into it, he can. The Slovakian has already proven himself over this distance and with his main ambition this year being the 'classics' then where better to open his account that at Starde Bianche - if Cancellara drags Sagan on his wheel to the final few kilometres then I know who I would be betting on to win that sprint and unfortunately for Cancellara it has become a bit of a trademark for him to hit the front of the bunch and use his immense power to drag rivals to the finish line with him rather than break away alone.

Young pretender; Moreno Moser
There will also be plenty of Italians looking for victory in their home classic, not least the Lampre duo of Damiano Cunego and Pippo Pozzato who might look to use teamwork to their advantage. Astanas Enrico Gasparotto will be looking to get something out of this race too but their is another Italian on my radar and he should be on the minds of the rest of the Peloton too: Moreno Moser. The up-and-coming youngster with the famous cycling name has made his presence felt as an attacking punchy rider who can certainly go the distance. He's on my 'one to watch' list and with victories in last years Trofeo Laigueglia and the overall winner of the Tour of Poland he has reason to be. If their is one thing getting in Moser's way its that he shares a team with Peter Sagan who will undoubtedly be team leader on the day - if for any reason Sagan withdraws then expect to see moser at the sharp end of the race.

If you are watching in the UK then the race will be live from 14:30pm on British Eurosport 2 on Saturday, if you live elsewhere then check your local TV schedule for details. Otherwise the usual feeds can be found online. It should make for a great afternoons racing and is usually close fought though Cancellara finished 45 seconds in front of anybody else last year. Whether he can do the same again is yet to be seen and there are plenty of riders who will be looking to prevent him from doing so. Even if the racing doesn't live up to the hype, the scenery alone makes it a race worth tuning into and with the recent disappointment's of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Le Samyn I would take your chances while you can...

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