Compared to all of the other races in this series, Strade Bianche is the new kid. It started life as an amateur Gran Fondo in 1997 with the first pro edition in 2007. The following year it moved from October to March and quickly gained a cult following.
2009 saw the race called Strade Bianche for the first time Strade Bianche gets its name from the many sections of white gravel roads of the Chianti region of Italy. It often feels like there’s no straight bit of road as they wind up, down and around the hills of the area. There’s now around 60km of these gravel roads in the race.
Obviously with that sort of parcours, bike handling is more important than usual and it’s no surprise to see the cobbled specialists like Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert on the winner’s board and also a World cyclo-cross champion in Zdeněk Štybar too.
Strade Bianche finishes in the main square of Siena – the Piazza del Campo. The iconic finish sees riders climb the Via Santa Caterina before the TV cameras briefly lose sight of the riders and the winner swoops down the descent into the square.
The toughness of the hills and gravel means that winners often arrive at the finish on their own or in a very small select group. Only in 2011 has a large group finished Strade Bianche together.
Snow hit Italy the weekend before the race and started to melt during the week leaving the gravel sections flooded. There was lots of hype surrounding World cyclo-cross champion Wout Van Aert who would be doing only his 3rd WorldTour level race.
The conditions seemed perfect for him, with a couple of gravel sections left he, was ahead with Romain Bardet. Tiesj Benoot then caught them both and attacked on the final section, breaking clear and arriving in Siena alone.
The final climb was too much for Van Aert who cramped up whilst riding against Bardet for 2nd place. He needed help to get back on his bike but still finished ahead of the chasers.
The Via Santa Caterina is the final climb of the race and often decides the winner. The Via Santa Caterina is 0.6 km long at an average of 9%, getting up to a max close to 20%.
The rough surface of centuries-old paving doesn’t help riders. Wout Van Aert suffered cramp near the top in 2018 and fell off his bike backwards. He still managed to finish in 3rd.