Spratt has two top-10s in previous editions of the Italian white-road classic and goes into the race with the expectation of the team on her shoulders as the top rider after the departure of Annemiek van Vleuten for Movistar in the off-season.
“I’m really excited to be at the start of Strade Bianche," said Spratt. "For sure, it’s one of my favourite races on the calendar and it’s always so epic and iconic with the gravel roads. We are going there with a strong team and I will race for the first time with Ane Santesteban.
“My shape is good, and I think it was good to start with such a tough race as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and I’m happy to have that in the legs before Strade."
The gravel and rolling hills provide the major challenge of the Tuscan countryside, with the tough finish into Siena ensuring that the strongest rider at the front of the race will be crowned the final victor.
“If I have to point out some tricky sections I would say the San Martino in Grania sector with 9,5km of gravel, which is often wind and dangerous," said Spratt. "Of course, the weather at the time can affect the race a lot”.
The six-rider team boasts diverse talent with Clasica San Sebastian winner Lucy Kennedy and newly crowned New Zealand Champion Georgia Williams, both making their first appearance of the season in Europe, whilst Dutch compatriots Janneke Ensing and Moniek Tenniglo bring some classics horsepower.
A twisty and undulating 136km course features 8 sectors, adding up to a total of 31.4km of gravel roads (comprising 23.1% of the course). There are no particularly long climbs to speak of, but with an abundance of punchy hills, most significantly on the unpaved parts, it is one of the harder women’s one-day races on the WorldTour calendar.
Team BikeExchange women at Strade Bianche:
Janneke Ensing (NED)
Lucy Kennedy (AUS)
Ane Santesteban (ESP)
Amanda Spratt (AUS)
Moniek Tenniglo (NED)
Georgia Williams (NZL)
In the men's race, Team BikeExchange line-up with a mixed squad providing different options for the finale of the race with the likes of last year’s seventh place finisher Brent Bookwalter, 22-year-old Australian Robert Stannard and the 2018 Vuelta a España champion Simon Yates heading the talented roster.
Stannard comes into the 2021 season in his third year as a professional rider, with his personal expectation that he'll start stepping up and winning bike races this season.
“I’ve already raced Strade two times and it’s a race I am really looking forward to and it’s definitely one of my best races of the season," said Stannard. "This year, I’m going to Siena with the best form I’ve ever had for the race and my goal is to be with the best in the final and try to reach a good result in Piazza del Campo."
“For me, the weather we get is what it is and that doesn’t affect how I’m racing. It’s one of the most difficult races on the calendar and it will be more important how the race tactics will evolve after each gravel sector”.
For the 15th edition of the Italian classic, the peloton will cover 184km which includes 11 sectors accumulating to a total of 63km on gravel roads. Yates will make his season and racing debut on the white roads of Tuscany, looking to gain experiences as part of his preparation for this year’s Giro d’Italia, which features an important stage on gravel.
Gene Bates is in the sports director position for the race and drew attention to the reports of rain in the region for the race.
“Strade it’s a fantastic race with a very, very strong field which will make the 2021 edition even more difficult," said Bates. "Weather conditions will play an important role and now the forecast is for rain and could make a very long and tough race.
“Robert Stannard will be one rider to have the opportunity to go for a result and he has strong teammates to help him to be in the right position before the crucial points. At the end, Strade it’s not dissimilar to a Belgian Classic, getting ready for the different climbs and I think we need to have the same approach”
“We aren’t going in with just one leader, we have a few guys so we have some options to play in the finale. It is such a hard race that you need good legs and a little luck in the last part going back to Siena. When we will get at that point, it will be quite obvious who has the best legs to be supported for the finish.
The WorldTour race is often known as ‘Europe’s most southern northern classic’ and with this, Team BikeExchange bring in powerhouses Jack Bauer and Chris Juul-Jensen with Nick Schultz and Barnabás Peák rounding out the mixed seven-rider team.
Team BikeExchange men at Strade Bianche:
Jack Bauer (NZL)
Brent Bookwalter (USA)
Chris Juul-Jensen (DEN)
Barnabás Peák (HUN)
Nick Schultz (AUS)
Robert Stannard (AUS)
Simon Yates (GBR)