The second season of the Women’s World Tour kicks off and what a race to start it with! Strade Bianche itself has been ran as a women’s race alongside the men’s event for the past two years, with this year being the third edition. It’s a hard race to predict (getting my excuses in nice and early) with it being the first race for many riders and form being a bit unknown. Nonetheless, Strade is always action packed with crashes, attacks and some testing conditions at times. Whoever wins is more than deserving of their crown!
Boels Dolmans are undefeated in this race, with Guarnier winning in 2015 and Deignan (then Armitstead) winning last year’s event.
Can they make it three in a row this year?
Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders…
*Word of warning, these profiles are a train wreck and none of them match up. But I’ll persevere!*
A tough day from the off as the riders face some rolling terrain as they head out on their loop from Siena.
In fact, they face their first section of dirt roads after only 11.4km!
I’m not sure if there is an issue with the profile or the route map, but the two don’t match up together, we have two extra dirt-road sections at the start of the race. Going off of Google Maps, the 4.7km and 4.4km sections are paved, normal road. So just ignore the 2nd and 3rd bits of Strade on the profile!
Typical of Italian road books and profiles, the climb just looks like a little blip. Yet, it’s 5.7km long and averages 5.3% in gradient (Strava segment can be viewed here). It’s not the toughest ascent the women’s peloton will face this year but considering it’s position so early on in the race and how aggressively the bunch rides in these types of races: I would not be surprised if some riders get spat out the back.
Once over the top we have a descent -> plateau (no gravel here either) -> descent (there is gravel here).
The most challenging section of white roads comes at 58.5km into the race and is 9.5km long. This part features several sharp, short ascents mixed in with fast descents and some false flats. Taking it as a whole, it’s 9.5km at 1.8% but that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story!
We then have a lot of undulating normal road (how boring eh?!), before reaching the final 20km. Again, the following profile does not match what’s on the map, or even the other profile above. In fact, the profile below has the race ending at 121km, whereas the other profile has it as 127km long. Eugh.
There are two short sections of strade before we get to this final 20km profile that we see above.
This part of the course is constantly up and down, and it will really sap the riders legs. A big attack can be made on the final section of gravel, with the steep gradients on offer. From there, any riders left together at the front will possibly leave it to a showdown up the final climb to the square in Siena like we saw last year.
With some ramps of 16%, it’s a real grind at the end of a tough day!
How will the race play out?
As I mentioned above, women’s racing is often very attacking from the gun and I expect that to be no different on Saturday. It’s very unlikely we’ll see a breakaway get a substantial lead, if at all! With the first climb (5.7km at 5.3%) coming after only 17km, I think we’ll see the first selection made here, with the pace of the peloton being slowly ramped up.
From there on, it will be a race of attrition and teams attentively following any moves at the head of the race, making sure to try to get someone up the road whenever there is an attack. Therefore having a strong team is very important so that you can rotate attacks and share the work.
However, the race will more than likely be won by the strongest rider on the day, who’s also had their fair share of luck! Speaking of which…
Boels Dolmans have won this race on both occasions and will be looking to make it three in a row this year. They have an incredibly talented squad with three very plausible winners in their line-up. Defending champion Lizzie Deignan will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s great performance. She was exceptionally strong that day, riding Johansson and Niewiadoma off her wheel on the final climb. However, she didn’t seem the same rider in the latter half of last year and without any racing so far this season, I’m just not sure if she’ll manage a repeat win. Oddly enough, I do think Anna van der Breggen can go well, even with no racing in her legs!
The Dutchwoman continued on from here breakthrough 2015, with an equally brilliant 2016; managing to win La Flèche, the European Road Championships and the Olympics! Win wise, it was actually a worse year, so I’m sure she’ll be motivated to get back onto the top step of the podium more this year. This race presents a great opportunity to start off on the right foot. One of the best climbers in the peloton, she’s not a rider you can give much leeway!
Finally, to finish off the trio of Boels’ riders is inaugural World Tour Winner, Megan Guarnier. Like her team-mate AVB, Guarnier is one of the best natural climbers in the peloton but she also packs a good sprint after a tough day. Already with some racing in her legs she won’t want to go much longer without a win.
Away from Boels, the most successful current rider in the peloton, Marianne Vos, returns to road racing with her new team WM3. She’s an exceptionally strong rider, yet she’s not the best climber so this race doesn’t suit her perfectly. I’m sure she’ll love the gravel sections, considering her cyclo-cross background but instead I think it will be her younger team-mate who takes the limelight. Kasia Niewiadoma is arguable the biggest climbing and one day talent in the peloton at the moment. At just 21 years old, last season she managed to finish 2nd at this race, 4th at Flèche and picked up a few GC wins to boot. Finishing in the second group at Omloop (a race that doesn’t really suit her), highlights to me that she is starting this season well and can’t be discounted!
Elisa Longo Borghini will arrive as Wiggle High5’s protected rider. The Italian has started the season in splendid form, picking up a solid 5th place at Omloop and like Niewiadoma that race doesn’t suit her characterisitcs. What I found more impressive though was her display the next day in Hageland. She seemed to be in every move that went off the front on the climbs and she still had enough energy left to attack in the final 10km, nearly holding off the bunch. Having finished 3rd and 4th here in the past and with Claudia Lichtenberg to support her, I think she’s a shoe-in for the podium again.
Those riders are the favourites but there are certainly others who can upset the apple-cart. Like with my men’s Samyn preview, I’ve written a lot more than expected already, so I’ll just briefly highlight some names to watch out for!
Canyon SRAM: Amialiusik, Cecchini (Think it’s too early for Ferrand-Prevot).
Orica-Scott: Van Vleuten, Garfoot.
I’ve had this rider in mind for this race for the past week and I’ve seen/heard nothing to convince me otherwise. Boels’ dry spell will continue and instead it will be Italian, Elisa Longo Borghini who takes the win! As I’ve said above, she looked exceptionally strong on the climbs in Hageland so she must already be in scintillating form. Having not finished outside the top 4 in this race, she knows what’s in store and now a year older and more experienced she ticks all the boxes for me.
According to the UCI website, an hour of the race is supposed to be televised…
but I haven’t seen anything on the Eurosport schedule to suggest it will be. It might be on the Player rather than the actual channel? I hope we do get something as it’s going to be a very exciting race! Furthermore, it would be a disappointment for the first WWT race not to have coverage, considering that is one of the main improvements touted for this year. If we do get something I’ll most certainly tweet it out!
Nonetheless, thanks for reading and as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? I don’t normally beg for RTs and Shares but if you could be ever so kind and help to raise the profile of the race and some discussion on social media then that would be great 👍 . Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.