It may not have been a fixture in the calendar for long now, but Italy’s epic Strade-Bianche has already established itself as one of the most exhilarating races in spring’s classics calendar. The white gravel roads which trace their way around Siena and back again for 176km having already formed the foundation for unforgettable wins from the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Zdeněk Štybar. The weather may emerge as the greatest protagonist in 2016’s edition of Strade-Bianche however, and should the strong possibility of rain come to fruition, the increased amount of time spent tackling gravel sectors compared to last year will prove a gruelling affair for all riders. Multiple uphill segments will drain the legs throughout the day and contribute towards the formation of an anticipated elite group which should duke it out ahead upon the final kick up to the finish line.
Greg Van Avermaet arrives here off the back of his Het Nieuwsblad victory and already possesses four top ten finishes at this race; including his second place behind Zdeněk Štybar last year. The Belgian BMC rider is evidently riding well right now and seems to be resolving his usual ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; it would be dangerous to let any move including Avermaet vanish up the road given his potent uphill finishing ability.
Last year’s victor Zdeněk Štybar returns to defend his title and arrives in Italy with the strongest squad present in the race at his disposal; aiming to secure the former Czech road road race champion consecutive wins. Given his immense abilities which call upon his astounding Cyclocross skills, Stybar is certain to benefit from any adverse weather conditions which force his rivals to worry more about staying upright than following his wheel.
Tiesj Benoot is an exciting prospect to watch during this race and could secure his first significant one day race at Strade Bianche, as the Belgian rider is sure to relish a wet and windy ride through Siena’s surrounding countryside. Strong and powerful for the cobbles of Northern Europe, Benoot still retains a great ability to climb and could benefit from the bigger names here watching one another in order to slip off the front solo.
Peter Sagan chalked up another second place finish in the rainbow bands when finishing behind Greg Van Avermaet at Het Nieuwsblad and has already produced impressive showings in this race during the last five years or so. Sagan does not always perform at his best during long and arduous races, but 2016 looks to be a return to the sort of condition which secured him so many wins early in his career; it would be foolish to tow Sagan to the line in Siena without a doubt.
A man who could impact greatly upon the day’s racing is Alejandro Valverde, the Spaniard appearing here after having earned himself consecutive third place finishes in the last two years and will be eager to make the most of sparkling early season form in 2016. Valverde is a difficult man to drop and will be the favourite to beat the majority of riders in any head-to-head sprint for the win, but the possibility of wet weather diminishes the chances of a rider who would otherwise seem certain to win this race on any other day.
Finally, the last of the major names who are bound to throw their hat into the ring for today’s win is Fabian Cancellara, the indomitable Swiss rider hoping to add victory here to what is bound to be his 2016 swansong. The sheer engine power which Cancellara possesses makes any solo move a huge task to pull back for any combination of chasing riders and will be the most likely way in which he will win on a course featuring a great deal of climbing that fails to play to his strengths.
For wildcards worth looking out for; Jakob Fuglsang, Peter Vakoc, Jasper Stuyven and Daniel Oss could all prove threats to the hopes of any of the bigger name riders with an eye on the win here.
1st Greg Van Avermaet 2nd Tiesj Benoot 3rd Fabian Cancellara