• The peloton pass through the Tuscan countryside during the 2015 Strade Bianche (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
It may only be the 10th edition of Strade Bianche, but the race has already built a reputation matching the best of the Classics.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Source:
Cycling Central
4 Mar 2016 - 11:43 AM  UPDATED 5 Mar 2016 - 10:06 AM

The Italian race regularly throws up some of the best racing and iconic cycling images as the peloton tackle the white roads of Tuscany.

This year’s edition looks set to be no exception, with a line up of worthy of a Milan-San Remo or Paris-Roubaix.

The course serves up 53.1 kilometres of loose gravel for the riders to race over, with the longest section lasting a gruelling 11.9 kilometres.

SBS will broadcast and stream the Strade Bianche LIVE on Saturday 5 March from 2345 - 0145 AEDT.

These sections, with their shifting surfaces, are significant for the attrition factor and mechanical problems they cause.

Traditionally, the peleton is thinned down throughout the race to a select group of the riders most capable in handling the changing terrain. From there, tactics and strength come into play, with attacking opportunities on the hills into the finish in Siena.

The final climb up into the Piazza del Campo is often where the race is decided, with Michał Kwiatkowski and defending champion Zednek Stybar using it as a launching pad for their respective victories in the past two editions.

Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) is back to defend his crown, and he will be one of the favourites. His background in Cyclo-cross gives him the bike-handling skills and accelerations needed to handle the gravel.

His form isn’t quite at the level at this time last year, but he will have the backing of a very strong team, which boasts other potential winners in youngsters Petr Vakoc and Bob Jungels.

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) will be another the peloton watching, as he has finished second twice in the race and wants to emerge victorious here.

The 2015 world champion is yet to lift the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ with a victory, and with the massive target on his back, he will find it difficult to get much cooperation heading into the finish.

One rider that won’t minding riding with Sagan is Greg van Avermaet (BMC). The Belgian star has started the season in superb touch, taking a string of top finishes in the Middle East before winning Omloop het Nieuwsblad in style, outsprinting Sagan for the win. The sharp climb into the finish suits his capabilities, and he’ll be looking to go one better than last year where he finished second to Stybar.

Veterans Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) enter the race off commanding climbing performances in the Ruta del Sol and the Tour of Oman respectively.

Both are perennial top contenders for the one-day classics as well, but Nibali has never been in contention for the win here, whereas Valverde has placed third in the last two editions.

The peloton can never ignore valverde, who is almost guaranteed to deliver a top level performance at every race he starts. The same can’t be said of Nibali, whose performances seem vary according to his mood, but he too looks in top form for a race almost in his back yard.

Looking to the next generation, there’s no brighter star than 21-year old Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal). The Belgian jumped to prominence with his Tour of Flanders performance last season, and then continued to show his versatility with top 10's in a wide variety of races. He’s yet to win at the top level, and while Strade Bianche is a race that demands experience, he remains a rider to watch.

Throw Kwiatkowski (Sky), Fabian Cancellara, Jasper Stuyven (both Trek-Segafredo), Jan Bakelants (AG2R), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Taylor Phinney (BMC), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) into the mix and it will be a fight between the best in the world to decide who takes this race out.

Of the Australians, Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff), who is riding his first Strade Bianche in service of Sagan, will be one to watch. But perhaps the man who will be the most interesting is Alexander Edmondson.

After winning the under 23 Tour of Flanders last season, the Orica-GreenEDGE rider has raised the hopes within the Australian cycling community that it has a genuine contender for the spring Classics.

Indicating his intent, Edmondson has opted to do this race instead of the UCI World Track Championships, so he’ll be keen to show his future potential.

Strade Bianche is worth watching for the scenery alone as the peleton carves out a rising cloud of dust through the winding roads in the Tuscan hills. Add a stacked field, and it becomes one of the most interesting and enjoyable races of the season.

Teams lineup named for Strade Bianche
Organisers today announced the 18 teams that will participate at the Strade Bianche 2016 on Saturday 5 March, starting and finishing in Siena