The race only started in 2005, but it feels 100 years old, as gravel roads, misty hills and ancient farmhouses set the stage.
The first signs of Spring appear as leaves are budding in the hills around Chianti, but that’s no guarantee of sunny weather.
After a day on one of the most jagged race profiles of the year, the knockout punch comes on the steep cobbled climb into Siena, where it’s gloves off for anyone left in contention.
The circuit has changed again this year as Ale showed us with his scouting mission this week but the heart of the race remains the same, gravel roads, beautiful countryside and hills.
Sunny skies greeted the riders last year in a race dominated by Team Cannondale with Moreno Moser taking the win and Peter Sagan second.
The winner on that October day in 2007 was Alexandr Kolobnev but he didn’t hold the title for the full year as from 2008 onwards the race has been held in March – just before the Tirreno Adriatco.
No matter what time of year the race is on, a peloton at full speed on these ancient roads truly is a beautiful thing.
It’s not such a beautiful race if you get dropped or have a mechanical though as you fight your way through the convoy’s dust storm and flying gravel chips.
Fabian Cancellara towed Alessandro Ballan around the closing kilometers of the 2008 edtion and still had enough to outsprint the Italian at the end.
In 2009 Thomas Lövkvist surprised the big favorites and himself taking his first professional one day win with a storming ride. Lövkvist will be back again at the race this Saturday leading his IAM team.
Another former champion is Philippe Gilbert but he will not be lining up this weekend. The 2011 champ’s BMC team is sending a strong squad though that includes Samuel Sanchez and Cadel Evans.
And speaking of Cadel, he may never have won the Strade Bianche but he did win one of the most epic Giro stages ever in stage 7 in 2010 that was held on the same roads as Strade Bianche in atrocious conditions. Look to the tough Aussie for a big performance on the weekend.
For big performances though all eyes will be on Fabian Cancellara. As the only man to win the Strade Bianche more than once he’ll be marked as one of the big favorites along with Peter Sagan.
It’s not just his strength that makes Cancellara the favorite though it’s also his bike handling. Many of the splits are made on the descents where a steely nerve and superb handling skills are a must.
On the descents the peloton is strung out in a long line and if somebody loses the wheel in front or crashes your race could be over.
For all things Strade Bianche keep it tuned to PEZ on Saturday for a full race report, big color PeloPics over the weekend and then Ale’s roadside report during the week.