Mathieu van der Poel became the first Dutchman to win Strade Bianche on Saturday just hours after compatriot Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and her SD Worx team-mates pulled off their own masterclass on the white Tuscan roads.
Having arrived as favourite, few will have been surprised to see Van der Poel roll into Piazza del Campo with his arms aloft in celebration. The nature in which he dispatched his rivals, not once but twice, however, will have sent shockwaves through the men's peloton.
After riding a relatively conservative race, by his standards at least, the Alpecin-Fenix rider blew the race apart around 12 kilometres from the finish of the 184km race around Siena. As a strong seven-man group neared the end of the final sector of white gravel roads — strade bianche — that give the race its name, Van der Poel rose out of his saddle before putting in an almighty show of strength. With barely a turn of his pedals, the powerful Dutchman had dropped his great rival Wout van Aert, while reigning Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar and the young Briton Tom Pidcock were unable to respond. Only Julian Alaphilippe, the winner here in 2019, and Egan Bernal, the 2019 Tour de France winner, could hang onto his wheel.
As the fallout from Van der Poel's explosive effort was being felt from Tusany to Flanders — where next month the 26-year-old will be hoping to win a second successive Tour of Flanders title — the trio rolled towards Siena, the chasing group of defending champion Van Aert floundering, as the seconds ticked down to round two.
It was on the steepest section of the paved Via Santa Caterina, the road leading up to the central square in the medieval walled city of Siena, where Van der Poel landed a second, decisive, blow.
Yet again, the Dutchman was too strong for his rivals and this time, despite the white roads being behind them, Alaphilippe and Bernal appeared to crumble into dust when Van der Poel attacked. Such was his demonstration of strength, that Alaphilippe, one of the best puncheurs in the world, looked simply ordinary. In just 150 metres Van der Poel blew the pair away, before rolling into the Piazza del Campo, resplendent as it was bathed in sunshine, and over the line 5sec ahead Alaphilippe, while Bernal took third at 20sec.
“This is an iconic race and I really wanted to win it,” Van der Poel said afterwards. “I think Strade Bianche is one of the most difficult races to win because there are so many good riders, including strong climbers like Pogacar and Bernal. It does not happen often to find so many champions, including GC [general classification] riders, fighting for the victory of a one-day race.
“Today I rode with confidence, I felt pretty good, and tried to save some energy for the finale and wait for the right moment,” he added. “As a team, today we showed how good we are. I have lots of confidence in my team-mates; I trust that they are able to bring me to the right place in the key moments of the race.
“Next week I’ll be at Tirreno-Adriatico; I might try to go for the stages while I’ll try to get in the best shape for Milan-Sanremo.”
Van den Broek-Blaak, the 2017 world champion, won the women's race following some canny tactics from the Dutchwoman and her SD Worx team-mates. Benefiting from having numbers in what was a frenetic finale, the 31-year-old was able to sit on the wheel of Elisa Longo Borghini in the final run-in before making her move.
"My team told me to sit back in Elisa’s wheels,” she explained. "I knew she would have continued pushing because she had less chance than me, and of my team-mates, to win in case of a small group sprint. I was feeling good, while Elisa was spending energy.”
Like Van der Poel later in the day, Van den Broek-Blaak landed the killer blow on the steepest part of the Via Santa Caterina before rolling down into Piazza del Campo where she was able to celebrate the first win of her final season. Longo Borghini finished seven seconds later, with Anna van der Breggen, the reigning world champion and another SD Worx rider, taking third spot.
"I managed to stay with her and eventually drop her on the last climb,” Van den Broek-Blaak added. "I am very happy. This is unexpected. Wins like this one are the best ones in cycling.”
Mathieu van der Poel : 'It's really cool to win it today'
Having given his compatriots double reason to celebrate after Chantal van den Broek-Blaak won the women's race earlier in the day, the Dutchman later said: "Strade Bianche is one of the races I really wanted to win. It's really cool to win it today. I felt pretty good so I launched an attack in the last gravelled section.
"Then we had a strong ride with [Egan] Bernal and [Julian] Alaphilippe. I had enough left in the legs to go solo in the last climb. It's amazing to finish it off this way.”
Van der Poel wins Strade Bianche!
Mathieu van der Poel becomes the first Dutchman to win Strade Bianche after he attacked on the steepest section of road, leaving world champion Julian Alaphilippe trailing in his wake. Egan Bernal could do little but watch in awe — along with the rest of the cycling world — as Van der Poel vanished over the brow, sweeping into Piazza del Campo where he was able to punch the air in celebration.
Defending champion Wout van Aert rolls over the line in fourth place, while Tom Pidcock, making his debut here today, is fifth, becoming the best British finisher in the race's short history.
Meanwhile, another young Briton, Simon Carr (EF Education-Nippo), finishes just outside the top 10 in 11th place.
500 metres to go: Van der Poel in control
Mathieu van der Poel leads the way beneath the Fontebranda Gate, Julian Alaphilippe glued to his wheel while Egan Bernal follows.
Men's race: 1km to go
Here we go . . .
Men's race: 2.5km to go
Julian Alaphilippe stretches out his legs as he freewheels down a slight descent, preparing for the final bit of action. But can Egan Bernal upset the favourites? Probably not as he ordinarily lacks the explosivity needed on these steep ramps, something that is not a problem for the likes of Alaphilippe and Mathieu van der Poel.
Men's race: 4km to go
Mathieu van der Poel goes solo! The flying Dutchman attacks . . . but he is closed down swiftly by Julian Alaphilippe and Egan Bernal.
Men's race: 5km to go
Mathieu van der Poel gets rid of a water bottle, losing any unwanted ballast as he prepares for the day's final climb up Via Santa Caterina that tops out at 16 per cent. The chasers remain 20secs off the pace.
Men's race: 6km to go
Wout van Aert has not given up the chase, and why would he? However, the leading trio are working together in an effort to keep their lead before, they will hope, challenging for the honours.
Men's race: 8km to go
Mathieu van der Poel, Julian Alaphilippe and Egan Bernal now lead by 14secs, but what does the finale to today's race look like?
Final 3km of the route
On entering the city beneath the Fontebranda Gate, Van der Poel, Alaphilippe and Bernal will hit the large paving slabs that are seen all across the city of Siena. Now within the city walls, riding along the narrow streets and under a kilometre from the finishing line in the famous old Piazza del Campo — where the medieval Palio di Siena horse race traditionally takes place each July and August when there are no global pandemics — the road rises one last vicious time.
Twisting finale into Piazza del Campo
At around 500 metres from the line the steepest stretch of road along Via Santa Caterina cruelly tops out at 16 per cent — it was here that did for Wout van Aert in 2018 when the young Belgian cramped up — before the road takes a sharp right. A left-hand turn is followed by another right hander before the riders arrive in Piazza del Campo.
Providing they have any horse-power left, once they have navigated a short descent the riders can gallop for the line on one of the few flat stretches of the entire course, clocking in at a measly 30 metres.
Men's race: 10km to go
Egan Bernal has bridged over to leaders and two of the pre-race favourites Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe. There are no details of the time gaps right now, so not sure how far behind Wout van Aert, Tom Pidcock, Tadej Pogacar and Michael Gogl are.
Men's race: 12km to go — Van der Poel explodes into life!
As the road reaches its steepest part Mathieu van der Poel rolls to the front before putting an insane number of watts through his cranks. Only Julian Alaphilippe is able to respond, the world champion darts beyond Egan Bernal who, until Van der Poel's attack, was leading.
Men's race: 13km to go
Wout van Aert leads the way onto the final sector. It's downhill before they hit a very steep stretch that pitches up to a gradient of 18%.
Men's race: 13.5km to go
Barring any disasters, the winner today will be coming from this seven-man group. Just 1.1km of the 63km in today's race remain and the chasing group trails by a shade over one minute.
Men's race: 17km to go
Tom Pidcock has managed to move up towards the front of this very select group of riders. The 21-year-old briefly rides at third wheel behind Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe. Just three kilometres to go until the riders hit the day's final gravel sector.
Men's race: 18km to go
Wout van Aert has done it. The defending champion has bridged over to the race leaders, while Tom Pidcock is hanging at the back. But will those huge efforts cost once the race reaches the final sector of the day, and more pertinently the finale in Via Santa Caterina?
Men's race: 19km to go
Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock are within touching distance of the leading five-man group, but as Julian Alaphilippe senses they are edging closer the Frenchman presses down harder on those pedals.
Men's race: 20km to go
Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock trail by 7secs, the group containing Jakob Fuglsang is another 40secs or so down to road. With the race very much on one would guess that they will not be contesting for the honours today. Next up, sector 10 . . .
Men's race: 22km to go
Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock are chasing hard, trailing a five-man group of Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel, Egan Bernal, Tadej Pogacar and Michael Gogl by 12secs.
Men's race: 23.5km to go
Mathieu van der Poel shifts to the front as the leading group this short but very sharp sector. Howevere, once the road ramps up Julian Alaphilippe puts in a huge effort, while Wout van Aert appears to struggle and Tom Pidcock loses the wheels.
Men's race: 25km to go
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech) is riding at the back of the chasing group, 21secs off the front of the race. Tom Pidcock shares a world and a smile with Julian Alaphilippe, a rider he told Telegraph Sport recently that he idolises. Not too far from sector nine of gravel:
Men's race: 27km to go
Egan Bernal take a short turn on the front, this leading group riding through-and-off with nobody wanting to spend too much time with their noses into the wind. Their advantage has dropped slightly to 15sec. Just three sectors of gravel remain, the next in about 3km. It's only 800 metres long but is very steep.
Men's race: 32km to go
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ) and Michael Gogl (Qhubeka-Assos) have managed to eke out a few more seconds on the chasing group. A number of riders appear unhappy with each other, nobody wanting to take responsibility to take up the chase. As a result, the septet of leaders has seen their advantage grow to 17secs.
Men's race: 35km to go
Tom Pidcock has just done his first turn of the day, though it was only around 10secs long after his team-mate Egan Bernal took over. Smrt that from the young Yorkshireman who is saving each and every ounce of energy. Quinn Simmons, meanwhile, has made contact with the chasing group that trails the leaders by just 15sec now.
Men's race: 40km to go
Nightmare for Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) who had had a mechanical issue and was forced get some assistance from neutral service which, unfortunately for him, was not the fastest.
Men's race: 42km to go
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech) are pulling on the front of the chasing group which trails by around just 15secs now. Both groups have completed the tough eighth sector and are onto a stretch of asphalt.
Men's race: 45km to go
Has the selection been made? It would appear so and there is one almighty strong group leading the race: Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ) and Michael Gogl (Qhubeka-Assos) are out in front and one imagine the winner will be coming from here. There are two Tour de France winners in here, two cyclo-cross world champions, the current world road race champion, one of the most exciting young riders in the world in Pidcock and, possibly, a future Paris-Roubaix winner in Simmons who is also a junior road world champion.
Men's race: 50km to go
Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are watching each other through the clouds of dust that are kicking up around them. Julian Alaphilippe is now riding fourth wheel in what has just become the leading group, just behind the talented young American Quinn Simmons. Greg Van Avermaet, meanwhile, is cooked.
Men's race: 52km to go — Alaphilippe attacks!
Julian Alaphilippe puts in an attack, sending shockwaves through the group of favourites. Up the road, however, his Deceuninck-Quick Step team-mate Kasper Asgreen is riding hard in the group that is leading the race by around 20secs now.
Men's race: 54km to go
Kasper Asgreen, a strong time triallist and two time danish nation champion, is riding on the front of the breakaway group that also features last year's runner-up Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates). Jumbo-Visma continue to ride on the front for Wout van Aert, just ahead of world champion Julian Alaphilippe while Mathieu van der Poel is sitting a few wheels back, just ahead of Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), the young British debutant.
Men's race: 60km to go
Tadej Pogacar has managed to get back on following that earlier issue. Sector seven is done and the riders are onto another smooth stretch of asphalt. Gonzalo Serrano gestures to his co-breakaway counterparts asking them to rotate on the front. Back in the bunch Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) attacks, taking with him Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), Owain Doull (Ineos Grenadiers), Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and a handful of other, as yet, unidentified riders.
Men's race: 64km
Having a few techical issue here today, but a few minutes ago Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix) attacked off the front bridging over to Loïc Vliegen who has subsequently been dropped. Gonzalo Serrano (Movistar) was the only rider to go with Vermeersch , but Andreas Kron (Lotto-Soudal) has joined up with them now. The trio lead by 14sec.
Mathieu van der Poel briefly lost a few metres on his great rival Wout van Aert as the Jumbo-Visma rider pressed on. It's early days though.
Men's race: 69km to go
The peloton is stretched out in one long single line. Loïc Vliegen is the lone leader, though it looks like he will be getting reined back in very soon.
Men's race: 70km to go
The breakaway is shipping time, their lead down to under 20secs. Jumbo-Visma continue to ride on the front on behalf of defending champion Wout van Aert, while further back a number of rider have punctured — including a UAE Team Emirates' Tadej Pogacar!
Men's race: Sector seven
There was a big fight for position on the approach to this key section of gravel. Julian Alaphilippe's team-mate Davide Ballerini appears to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Robert Stannard (BikeExchange).
Men's race: 73km to go
Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) and Loïc Vliegen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) have bridged over to the lead group, their advantage on the main group containing all of the main protagonists by a shade below one minute.
Men's race: 84km to go
As the main bunch approaches sector seven, one of the most important stretches of road in today's race, UAE Team Emirates are on the front. They have a couple of riders that may fancy their chances today, Davide Formolo who was runner-up in 2020 and reigning Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar who is making third appearance at Strade Bianche.
Deceuninck-Quick Step have numbers surrounding the rainbow jersey of Julian Alaphilippe, the 2019 winner here protected by Joao Almeida, Kasper Asgreen and another former winner here Zdenek Stybar. The breakaway, meanwhile, is holding at around a minute.
Men's race: 92km to go
Heartbreak for Samuele Rivi (Eolo-Kometa) who has had a mechanical issue. The 22-year-old Italian is forced to dismount and is spotted walking along to road while the peloton sweeps on past him. Further up the road and another Italian, Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), has rolled off the front.
We are starting to see a number of riders slip and slide in the gravel, with some hitting the deck. Similarly to the northern European classics , Strade Bianche is raced on treacherous roads that are incredibly narrow which means team cars cannot get to riders too quickly. Have a puncture or mechanical issue at the wrong time — is there a right time? — and it could be curtains for a riders' ambitions.
Men's race: 98km to go
Filippo Tagliani has fallen off the back of the leading group, now trailing by around 20sec. Their advantage of the main peloton is just over one minute now after stretching out to over four minutes a short while ago. Jumbo-Visma have a number of riders on the front of the main group, shepherding their leader and the defending champion Wout van Aert who has, as you will know, finished on the podium in each of the three editions of Strade Bianche he has started.
Meanwhile, back in the men's race . . .
A five-man group managed to slip off the front a short while back, though that quintet of Simone Bevilacqua (Vini Zabu), Kévin Ledanois (Arkéa-Samsic), Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Philipp Walsleben (Alpecin-Fenix) and Samuele Zoccarato (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) havebeen joined by another three riders — Samuele Rivi (Eolo-Kometa), Filippo Tagliani (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) and Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal). That eight-man group currently lead by 30sec with 114km of the race to go as they approach the fifth sector of gravel — the longest in today's race.
Van den Broek-Blaak wins women's Strade Bianche
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, the 2017 world champion who is retiring at the end of the season, timed her move to perfection before rolling into Piazza del Campo all alone to add Strade Bianche to her mightily impressive palmarès. The 31-year-old Dutchwoman beat Elisa Longo Borghini by 7sec while Van den Broek-Blaak's SD Worx team-mate Anna van der Breggen was third another 2secs back.
That was a great finale in which the numbers SD Worx were able to play with paid dividends. Defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), meanwhile, missed out on the podium in fourth.
Speaking afterwards, an den Broek-Blaak said: “I'm surprised and extremely happy. This was not the plan but my win is due to team work. I had the instruction from the team to not ride at the front. I didn't think I'd drop Elisa Longo Borghini in the final climb but I did. This is a very big day in my cycling career.”
Women's race: Into the final kilometre
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak jumps Elisa Longo Borghini on the steeper section of Via Santa Caterina. Oh my, that was cheeky. Having sat on the Italian's wheel all the way in the run-in to Siena the former world champion appears to have mugged Borghini right off.
Women's race: 2km to go
Italian national champion Elisa Longo Borghini is on the front, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak on her wheel. Marta Cavalli is chasing, but remember we have a very steep climb up Via Santa Caterina incoming where if riders have no energy left they can lose aeons of time, or alternatively if a rider is feeling strong then they can do serious damage here.
Women's race: 3km to go
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) rises out of her saddle, forcing Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) to follow. Up the road Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Elisa Longo Borghini are riding a two-up time trial and have 15secs on the chasers.
Women's race: 5km to go
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak is the next SD Worx to roll off the front, taking Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) with her. Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram) pulls briefly, before there is a lull in the chase.
Women's race: 7km to go
SD Worx arec using their numbers, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio going off the front alongside two others forcing Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram) to chase and burn up some vital energy in the process. As it stands, however, this group of around 10 riders are all as one.
Women's race: 9km to go
Annemiek van Vleuten and Marianne Vos are caught, but the group is strung out. Van Vleuten is riding on the front, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram) is in there, as is Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and a posse of SD Worx riders.
Women's race: 12km to go
Once on the final steep stretch of gravel in women's race, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) moves to the front of the race for the first time today. Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) jumped onto her wheel and was the only one able to hold on. Further back, a number of riders appear to blow. Onto some nice smooth asphalt and these two Dutchwomen are almost shoulder-to-shoulder. Can van Vleuten win a third successive Strade Bianche title, will Vos win her first or are the chasers going to close the pair down and take the honours in Piazza del Campo following the final vertiginous little kicker up Via Santa Caterina?
Women's race: 15km to go
A decent-sized group has now formed on the front containing some big hitters. Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) in there, as is world champion Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx), Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx) and Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) along with a stack of others.
Women's race: 18km to go
Hello, what's this? The quite wonderful Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) has bridged over to the race leaders. Though not her first appearance on the white roads, this is one of the few races the Dutchwoman has never won.
Women's race: 20km to go
There has been a split in this leading group, leaving just four riders out in front now. Mavi García (Ale), Sabrina Stultiens (Liv Racing), Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx) and Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) lad bu=y a shade below 20sec. Further back and the chasing groups are starting to splinter, though defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) is up near the front of the chasing pack.
Women's race: 22km to go
Having crashed earlier today, the talented Briton Lizzy Banks (Ceratizit-WNT) has got herself into the leading group alongside Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-Sram), Brodie Chapman (FDJ), Jelena Erić (Movistar), Mavi García (Ale), Sabrina Stultiens (Liv Racing), Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx) and Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo).
Women's race: 30km to go
The leading group of around 40 riders have regained contact with the two-rider break of Niamh Fisher Black and Lotte Kopecky. A number of riders put in little attacks, but none were able to stick.
However, a few minutes later a group of eight riders managed to put some daylight between themselves and the bunch. This could be interesting. It would probably be more interesting if the race organisers were broadcasting all the action live, but they are not. Just like they are not paying the women nearly enough prize money for their efforts today. I'd argue the lack of television coverage is more important than the prize money — how can the sport grow if people cannot watch it? — but then I'm not a minimum-wage female cyclist in the Women's WorldTour.
Over in the men's race, the race is in one long peloton and has passed through the first sector of the day, before — you guessed it — sector two:
How long is each sector in the men's race and where are they?
After setting out from Siena, the riders will be treated to 18km of smooth asphalt before reaching the race's first sector of gravel which is relatively benign at just over 2.1km long. This dead straight road which is slightly downhill should not test the riders too much, but will give the debutants at this race their first taste of the white roads in racing conditions.
Following a brief return to the asphalt, a slightly tougher stretch of gravel awaits the peloton. At just below 6km — 5.8km, to be precise — section two will provide the riders their first challenge as the road ramps up towards Ville di Corsano at gradients that go above 10 per cent.
Two further sections follow at 36.9.km and 47.6km respectively, clocking in at 4.4km (section three) and section four that is named La Piana (5.5km long). Neither feature any climbs that appear too tricky, but will play their part in softening up anybody that has not brought their best legs to the party as the race heads towards Buonconvento for the first time.
The second climb of the day, the Montalcino — 4km long at five per cent average gradient — precedes section five which is 11.9km in length. A short 1,000-metre stretch of asphalt punctuates the course, before section six which is slightly shorter at 8km. Both are relatively tough, though neither are expected to cause too many issues for the key riders.
By this point in the race, it is widely expected that if they have not already done so the main protagonists will start to position themselves in preparation for what follows beyond the feed zone in Ponte d’Arbia at the 102.6km mark having passed through Buonconvento for the second time.
Section seven, which begins in San Martino in Grania and is 9.5km in length is where the race, traditionally, starts to take shape. With numerous little kickers there are plenty of opportunities for those feeling strong to press hard and apply the pressure. Towards the end of the long stretch of gravel there is a twisty climb before a descent, on asphalt, towards section eight. Positioning here may be key, and while amateurs would take advantage of the smooth surface and freewheel for a couple of kilometres, the stronger riders will do nothing of the kind. Similarly to Paris-Roubaix, attacks often follow immediately after gravel sections.
Next up is the most famous, and feared, section of the race. With 130km of racing in the legs, section eight which is 11.5km begins in Ponte del Garbo before heading towards Monte Sante Marie. It may look beguiling in photographs and on television, but trust me this rolling stretch of road is really hard to ride. With numerous short and steep climbs — and descents — this is widely regarded as the hardest gravel section of the race.
The following 20km may all be on asphalt, but the road undulates, just as riders’ ambitions may do as their exertions start to take their toll. There’s a further 300 metres of gravel, though not long or decisive enough to be considered an official ‘section’. Next up is a horrible 800-metre stretch — section nine — that will feel like riding up a wall as the road’s gradient goes well into double digits. With just 24km of the race remaining, the selection will either have been made, or is very much in the post.
The penultimate sector of gravel — section 10 — may only be 2.4km long, but the Colle Pinzuto climb tops out at 15 per cent in gradient, before the final gravel section of the day follows a few kilometres later. Again, it is a short one but section 11 features a vicious climb at 18 per cent. That’s going to hurt, but the race is far from over yet.
And what does the finale of the race look like for the men and women?
With 12km remaining, those still in with a chance of winning Strade Bianche will have to keep their cool. Numerous short climbs pepper the run-in back towards Siena before they arrive at the old walled city.
Final 3km of the route
On entering the city beneath the Fontebranda Gate, the leading riders will hit the large paving slabs that are seen all across the city of Siena. Now within the city walls, riding along the narrow streets and under a kilometre from the finishing line in the famous old Piazza del Campo — where the medieval Palio di Siena horse race traditionally takes place each July and August — the road rises one last vicious time.
Twisting finale into Piazza del Campo
At around 500 metres from the line the steepest stretch of road along Via Santa Caterina cruelly tops out at 16 per cent — it was here that did for Wout van Aert in 2018 when the young Belgian cramped up (see below) — before the road takes a sharp right. A left-hand turn is followed by another right hander before the riders, finally, arrive in Piazza del Campo.
Providing they have any horse-power left, once they have navigated a short descent the riders can gallop for the line on one of the few pan-flat stretches of the entire course, which clocks in at a measly 30 metres long.
Women's race: 45km to go
The leading duo may be working well together, but their lead has dropped slightly to just 34sec. All of the main favourites for the win today — Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram), Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) etc — are safely in that main bunch, waiting for the perfect moment to attack.
And they're off!
The men have starting rolling ahead of this, the most beautiful one-day race on the calendar. Perfect conditions for a bike race today in Tuscany, partly cloudy with a nice temperature of around 9°C and a moderate 18kmh wind blowing in an east/north-east direction — so a nice little bit of an assistance on the final run-in to Siena. Handy for any lone breakaways!
Back in the women's race, Niamh Fisher Black and Lotte Kopecky, the Belgian national road race champion, have gained around 44secs on the chasing pack. Kopecky, by the way, won Le Samyn midweek and took fourth at last weekend's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad so arrived in fine form
But who else could win in Siena?
While Van der Poel, Van Aert and Alaphilippe may be the outstanding favourites, Strade Bianche is a race that can also suit another type of rider. A rider that ordinarily is seen excelling in the high mountains and so do not be surprised if Tadej Pogacar or his UAE Team Emirates team-mate Davide Formolo, who was runner-up here in 2020, threaten to get on the podium. Equally Romain Bardet, who was second in 2018, may also fancy his chances with his new DSM team. Trek-Segafredo rider Bauke Mollema arrives in good form having won Trofeo Laigueglia midweek and is an outside bet to finish on the podium, while the same could be said for 2019 runner-up Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech). Alberto Bettiol, from Poggibonsi under 30km from the start line, may also fancy his chances on his seventh appearance at the race after the EF Education-Nippo rider managed his best result yet at here in 2020 with fourth place.
With arguably the strongest team of all, Deceuninck-Quick Step have a number of riders that could take the win should Alaphilippe falter, either with a mechanical issue or if he just does not have the legs. Former winner Zdenek Stybar is the obvious candidate to step up, though the in-form Kasper Asgreen could also do something, while their young Portuguese climber Joao Almeida will be making his debut at the race, though appears to enjoy competing in Italy. If for whatever reason, a small group goes off the front and is not closed down by what most are assuming will contest the win then Dries Devenyns, Pieter Serry or man-of-the-moment Davide Ballerini spring off for a surprise victory.
And who are the favourites in the men's race?
It will surprise few to discover that the bookmakers have made the cyclo-cross specialists — as former France national champion we are including Julian Alaphilippe in here — favourites, and not without good reason.
With the shortest odds Mathieu van der Poel (15/4), the four-time world cyclo-cross world champion, is the favourite and will arrive in Tuscany in fine form. Won his first race of the season, stage one at the UAE Tour, before returning to Europe where he animated Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with a huge effort. Just days later the big Dutchman appeared poised to win Le Samyn before his handlebars snapped. Raced Strade Bianche just once in 2020, though suffered a series of mechanical issues and was 15th.
Alaphilippe, meanwhile, is joint second favourite with the bookmakers (9/2). The world champion, however, has form — both current and historical — and won here in 2019 so may just edge it over Van der Poel. The Frenchman has looked lively in both races he has started this year: attacking on a rolling first stage of the Tour de la Provence before later challenging on Mont Ventoux then a fortnight later went solo at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Barring disasters will be involved at the business end.
Defending champion Wout van Aert is on the same odds as Alaphilippe and although the Belgian has not raced on the road this year, a heavy block of racing through the sand and mud of northern Europe, where he clinched the cyclo-cross World Cup, should ensure he arrives in good enough nick to once again finish on the podium. The 26-year-old has started three times, each time finishing on the podium and knows what it takes to win. Will be desperate to beat rival and nemesis Van der Poel.
Making his debut and competing in only the second WorldTour race of his career, with odds of 12/1 young British rider Tom Pidcock is the bookmakers's fourth favourite. Though just 21, the Yorkshireman is a phenomena. Following a largely anonymous debut for Ineos Grenadiers at the Tour du Haut Var, made an instant impression at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad where he rode aggressively. The next day at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne he was third. In both races showed no fear while racing against seasoned professionals and may just do something very special.
What does the men's startlist look like?
Before the men's race gets under way, here's the full list of riders in action today.
Ag2r-Citroën (Fra): Lilian Calmejane (Fra), Nans Peters (Fra), Michael Schär (Swi), Greg Van Avermaet (Bel), Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel), Andrea Vendrame (Ita), Clément Venturini (Fra).
Astana-Premier Tech (Kaz): Alex Aranburu (Spa), Manuele Boaro (Ita), Fabio Felline (Ita), Jakob Fuglsang (Den), Jonas Gregaard (Den), Hugo Houle (Can), Gorka Izagirre (Spa).
Bahrain Victorious (Brn): Pello Bilbao (Spa), Eros Capecchi (Ita), Matej Mohoric (Slo), Domen Novak (Slo), Mark Padun (Ukr), Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut), Jan Tratnik (Slo).
BikeExchange (Aus): Jack Bauer (NZ), Brent Bookwalter (US), Christopher Juul-Jensen (Den), Barnabas Peak (Hun, neo-pro), Nick Schultz (Aus), Robert Stannard (Aus), Simon Yates (GB).
Bora-Hansgrohe (Ger): Giovanni Aleotti (Ita, neo-pro), Emanuel Buchmann (Ger), Marcus Burghardt (Ger), Patrick Gamper (Aut, neo-pro), Patrick Konrad (Aut), Daniel Oss (Ita), Ben Zwiehoff (Ger).
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits (Fra): Natnael Berhane (Eri), Tom Bohli (Swi), Andre Carvalho (Por), Thomas Champion (Fra, neo-pro), Nicolas Edet (Fra), Nathan Haas (Aus), Fabio Sabatini (Ita).
Deceuninck-Quick Step (Bel): Julian Alaphilippe (Fra), Joao Almeida (Por), Kasper Asgreen (Den), Davide Ballerini (Ita), Dries Devenyns (Bel), Pieter Serry (Bel), Zdenek Stybar (Cze).
DSM (Ger): Thymen Arensman (Hol, neo-pro), Romain Bardet (Fra), Romain Combaud (Fra), Chris Hamilton (Aus), JJoris Nieuwenhuis (Hol), Martijn Tusveld (Hol), Kevin Vermaerke (US).
EF Education-Nippo (US): Alberto Bettiol (Ita), Simon Carr (GB, neo-pro), Lawson Craddock (US), Mitchell Docker (Aus), Alex Howes (US), Sebastian Langeveld (Hol), Julius van den Berg (Hol).
Groupama-FDJ (Fra): Kevin Geniets (Hol), Simon Guglielmi (Fra), Stefan Küng (Swi), Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe), Valentin Madouas (Fra), Rudy Molard (Fra), Romain Seigle (Fra).
Ineos Grenadiers (GB): Leonardo Basso (Ita), Egan Bernal (Col), Owain Doull (GB), Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol), Tom Pidcock (GB, neo-pro), Salvatore Puccio (Ita), Pavel Sivakov (Rus).
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux (Bel): Jan Bakelants (Bel), Theo Delacroix (Fra, neo-pro), Tom Devriendt (Bel), Andrea Pasqualon (Ita), Simone Petilli (Ita), Lorenzo Rota (Ita), Loïc Vliegen (Bel).
Israel Start-up Nation (Isr): Jenthe Biermans (Bel), Guillaume Boivin (Can), Alessandro De Marchi (Ita), Reto Hollenstein (Swi), Alexis Renard (Fra, neo-pro), Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Den), Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel).
Jumbo-Visma (Hol): Tobias Foss (Nor, neo-pro), Robert Gesink (Hol), Chris Harper (Aus), Paul Martens (Ger), Timo Roosen (Hol), Wout van Aert (Bel), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bel).
Lotto-Soudal (Bel): Filippo Conca (Ita, neo-pro), Frederik Frison (Bel), Andreas Kron (Den), Tomasz Marczynski (Pol), Tosh Van der Sande (Bel), Brent Van Moer (Bel), Tim Wellens (Bel).
Movistar (Spa): Héctor Carretero (Spa), Iván García Cortina (Spa), Abner González (Pur, neo-pro), Lluís Mas (Spa), Sergio Samitier (Spa), Gonzalo Serrano (Spa), Alejandro Valverde (Spa).
Qhubeka-Assos (SA): Simon Clarke (Aus), Michael Gogl (Aut), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Hol), Robert Power (Aus), Mauro Schmid (Swi, neo-pro), Karel Vacek (Cze), Emil Vinjebo (Den).
Trek-Segafredo (US): Gianluca Brambilla (Ita), Nicola Conci (Ita), Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Eri), Bauke Mollema (Hol), Antonio Nibali (Ita), Quinn Simmons (US, neo-pro), Toms Skujins (Lat).
UAE Team Emirates (UAE): Valerio Conti (Ita), Davide Formolo (Ita), Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor), Marco Marcato (Ita), Tadej Pogacar (Slo), Jan Polanc (Slo), Alexandr Riabushenko (Blr).
UCI Professional Continental teams
Alpecin-Fenix (Bel): Xandro Meurisse (Bel), Jonas Rickaert (Bel), Petr Vakoc (Cze), Mathieu van der Poel (Hol), Otto Vergaerde (Bel), Gianni Vermeersch (Bel), Philipp Walsleben (Ger).
Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec (Ita): Mattia Bais (Ita), Jefferson Cepeda (Ecu), Simon Pellaud (Swi), Josip Rumac (Cro), Filippo Tagliani (Ita), Nicola Venchiarutti (Ita), Mattia Viel (Ita).
Bardiani-CSF-Faizane (Ita): Davide Gabburo (Ita), Fabio Mazzucco (Ita), Alessandro Tonelli (Ita), Giovanni Visconti (Ita), Filippo Zaccanti (Ita), Filippo Zana (Ita), Samuele Zoccarato (Ita).
Vini Zabu (Ita): Mattia Bevilacqua (Ita), Simone Bevilacqua (Ita), Andrea Di Renzo (Ita), Kamil Gradek (Pol), Alessandro Iacchi (Ita), Davide Orrico (Ita), Jan Petelin (Lux).
Eolo-Kometa (Ita): Davide Bais (Ita), Erik Fetter (Hun), Sergio García (Spa), Arturo Grávalos (Spa), Samuele Rivi (Ita), Diego Pablo Sevilla (Spa), Daniel Viegas (Por).
As it stands in the women's race
Italian rider Elena Pirrone (Valcar Travel & Service) attacked on sector two of the race around 100km out from the finish and spent almost an hour with her nose into the wind, though the 22-year-old was caught by the peloton a few minutes ago. No sooner had she been caught, before another youngster, the 20-year-old Niamh Fisher Black (SD Worx) clipped off the front before Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) bridged over to join her.
By the way, there are no television pictures of the women's race just yet but once they are up and running we will, hopefully, be able to give you a blow-by-blow account of what's going on out in Tuscany. As soon as the women's race is over, our focus will switch to the men's edition.
What routes do the races follow?
Both races set off from Siena and follow a circuitous route, in an anti-clockwise direction, heading south towards Buonconvento at which point the routes diverge. Once the riders reach the most southerly points of the day, they change direction and head back to Siena.
While the route for the women's race looks like this which is, essentially, the same as the men's but without the loop south of Buonconvento . . .
And what do the profiles look like?
This is the men's race . . .
. . . and here's the women's . . .
How much of each race is on strade bianche?
There are 11 sectors in the men's race, covering 63km in total — 34.2% of the course — the women's has eight (31.4km, 23.1% of the course).
Ciao, buongiorno and welcome to our live rolling blog from the 15th edition of Strade Bianche — and seventh for the women — which is only the second one-day race in the WorldTour calendar, while for the women it is their curtain-raising event.
As you are here, you probably already know a little bit about cycling and the history of Strade Bianche which for me is the most beautiful one-day race in the calendar. However, for those unfamiliar with this Italian race let us fill in a few gaps.
Strade Bianche is a unique race in the professional calendar that has earned a place in the hearts of cycling fans despite its relatively short existence. While amateurs are often found aping their heroes, the first Italian race of the WorldTour season in fact reverses the paradigm.
Taking its lead from the huge popularity of Eroica, the non-competitive amateur event that traverses the chalky white roads of Tuscany and requires riders to complete the event on retro steel bicycles, RCS Sport, organisers of the Giro d'Italia, launched Strade Bianche in 2007 — then called Monte Paschi Eroica — when Alexandr Kolobnev prevailed.
Swiss classics specialist Fabian Cancellara won the first of the three Strade Bianche titles he claimed — he remains the most successful rider on the white roads — the following year in 2008. Unsurprisingly, the race has become a particular favourite with the classics riders, particularly since its move to the earlier part of the calendar from its original October slot — other than last year's event that was switched to August as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Previous winners include Philippe Gilbert, Michal Kwiatkowski, Zdenek Stybar, Julian Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert, while Moreno Moser remains the sole Italian to have won the race.
The men's race gets under way at 10.45am (GMT), while the women's race started at 8.17am and they are, as I type, now into the second half of the race, around 65km from the finish. By the way, the men;s race 184 kilometres long, the women's 136km.