Strade Bianche: A one-day cycling classic to savour and Tom Pidcock could be rider to follow
One of the most exciting racedays in the calendar, it’s served up plenty of ding-dong battles in the past on the dusty gravel tracks that make up one third of the 184km route. A notoriously hard day in the saddle, picking a winner isn’t easy either, but two former champions and a daredevil Yorkshireman could emerge as the main protagonists.
Mathieu van der Poel, Julian Alaphilippe and Tom Pidcock are among the leading contenders to top the podium in Siena’s Piazza del Campo. Alaphilippe and van der Poel triumphed in 2019 and 2021 respectively while Pidcock was fifth on debut two years ago. The trio arrive at the start line boosted by the fact Tadej Pogacar will not defend his crown.
Twelve months ago, Pogacar was untouchable, attacking with 50km to go and soloing to the finish. This year the Slovenian superstar will instead head to Paris-Nice on Sunday on the back of a dominant overall win in last month’s Vuelta a Andalucia. Given his red-hot form, the peloton will have heaved a collective sigh of relief. Likewise with 2020 winner Wout van Aert also absent another big threat is removed.
Pidcock says Strade is one of his favourite races and fresh from a decent showing at the Volta ao Algarve and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Ineos Grenadiers rider's form looks good. As a multi-faceted talent in road cycling, mountain biking and cyclo-cross, his strengths suit a hilly Tuscan terrain which demands excellent bike handling skills. Pidcock has those in spades.
Whether it's going uphill or down, little seems to faze the Leeds-born pocket rocket as he demonstrated on Bastille Day in last year's Tour de France when he descended the Col du Galibier and Col de la Croix de Fer at eyewatering speed before powering up Alpe d'Huez to win the queen stage. Last week footage emerged of Pidcock giving another hair-raising masterclass. If you like white-knuckle rides then strap yourself in and watch the YouTube clip of him tearing down Tuna Canyon in California, negotiating bends with a prowess that would make MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi proud.
No matter how good you are on a bike, Strade Bianche can bring the best of them down to earth with a bump – just ask Alaphilippe. Twelve months ago the Frenchman summersaulted over his handlebars into a field when a fierce gust of wind caused a big crash just before the halfway stage. He remounted but could only finish 58th. The two-time world road race champion endured a wretched 2022, marred by further crashes and illness, but can light up any race. A timely win in last Saturday’s Faun-Ardèche Classic suggests the man they call ‘Loulou’ is back on song.
Van der Poel, meanwhile, will be hoping to replicate his impressive 2021 success. In a blistering attack on the final Via Santa Caterina climb he hit a ridiculously high wattage, leaving Alaphilippe trailing in his wake. It was a joy to watch. If they’d plugged the flying Dutchman into the local electricity grid his race-winning surge would have probably powered half the households in Siena.Young Scottish talent Oscar Onley may not feature prominently in the betting markets but the Kelso native is another to keep an eye on. Onley, who is joined in Team DSM’s line-up by compatriot Sean Flynn, climbs well and after claiming the best young rider’s white jersey at Volta ao Algarve, he will now be hoping to impress on his debut.
Big names have tended to come to the fore in this race, however, and there is every chance the cycling-mad tifosi will be treated to another epic tussle.