Though a relatively new addition to the early season calendar, Italy’s Strade Bianche has already cemented itself as part of the classics landscape which builds towards the likes of Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen later in the Spring. The iconic white roads and rolling terrain are contrasting to the challenges of Belgium, Northern France and the Ardennes, attracting a unique blend of competitors seeking to add their name to the list of victors at a race growing in prestige. The course totals 175km from Siena and back, returning once again to familiar roads in the latter stages, utilising gravel tracks and persistent changes in gradient to really make this an attritional affair. Expectation is that a reduced group will contest the final kilometres in the wake of a strong selection process, often making tactical nous as crucial as brute strength as the final climb is tackled.
Peter Sagan once again appears to be riding in indomitable form at the start of the classics season and will be viewed by many as the man to beat as the race returns to Siena for the finale. His victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and second place to Greg Van Avermaet at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad have demonstrated his monstrous ability to simply surge across to anything resembling a race winning move. Sagan has previously finished second place on two occasions at Strade Bianche and will no doubt be looking to call upon his current form to convert his runner-up spots into a belated victory.
Greg Van Avermaet could return again to dampen Sagan’s hopes of victory at a minor classic, the Belgian rider having recovered well from an injury at the end of last year with great success. His history at this race is particularly encouraging, having been unlucky to miss the win here on a few occasions already. A strong support team will certainly improve his chances, hoping to shelter him from any unnecessary efforts, saving himself for what is likely to be a testing finish into town.
Zdenek Stybar really enjoys this race and has made no secret of his ambitions to produce another leading performance here. His experience in cyclo-cross has certainly played a part in his previous successes at Strade Bianche, calling upon his great bike handling abilities to navigate the gravel roads safely. He performs well on these repeated uphill accelerations, possesses great endurance and his usually capable of summoning up a blistering sprint after such a gruelling affair.
Fabio Felline should be considered a danger to the bigger name riders with eyes upon Strade Bianche, the Italian arrives at this race off the back of an encouraging performance at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad which saw him finish fourth. His endurance capabilities have grown year after year, often demonstrating real grit and determination to stay in contact with elite groups, hoping to pounce upon victory with his impressive turn of speed. If there is one rider likely to benefit from the favourites eyeballing one another too long, it could be Felline who steals the show.
Diego Rosa and Michal Kwiatkowski are bound to be the riders which Team Sky look upon as their greatest hopes in a race they are not expected to be targeting with great intent. The former caught the eye with his performance during 2015’s edition while riding for Astana and evidently performs competitively on these gravel roads when offered the chance. Former world champion Kwiatkowski won this race in 2014 and might be tempted to repeat his exploits of three years ago after a good performance at Volta ao Algarve already this season.
Other contenders who could well cause a stir are Jasper Stuyven, Ben Hermans, Nathan Haas, Daniel Oss, Gianluca Brambilla, Gianni Moscon, Moreno Moser, Giovanni Visconti and Tiesj Benoot.
1st Fabio Felline 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Zdenek Stybar