The Strade Bianche peloton composes its equipment and its strategy during the last reconnaissance hikes

The teams targeting Strade Bianche and Strade Bianche Women carried out their last vital reconnaissance on the Tuscan gravel roads ahead of Saturday’s races, getting a final feel for the single farm track and the climbs, and preparing themselves mentally for a day of suffering and spectacular race.

Jumbo-Visma, Trek-Segafredo, Movistar, Canyon-Sram, Ineos Grenadiers, Lotto Soudal, AG2R Citroën and many others covered the main dirt sections of the race course on Thursday, focusing on studying the long sections of gravel that start after Montalcino, with about 100 kilometers to go.

Some have also hiked the last short but steep sections of Montaperti, Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe, and even climbed into central Siena via the Via Santa Caterina climb and Piazza del Campo to see where the line will be. arrival Saturday, with Lotto Soudal’s Victor Campenaerts ‘celebrate’ as he finished his run.

All riders headed out for one last easy outing on Friday after a night of rain, to get a final look at gravel road conditions and finalize tire pressures and gear choices.

Most of the teams arrived in Tuscany on Wednesday, giving them plenty of time to prepare for Saturday’s races. In just 15 years, Strade Bianche has become a major target for almost every team in the men’s and women’s peloton.

A user survey carried out by a French newspaper The Team revealed that 53% of riders think Strade Bianche deserves to be named as the sport’s sixth Classic Classic alongside Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.

With the absence of recent winners Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, as well as Tom Pidcock, who was hit with a stomach ache, this year’s Strade Bianche is wide open with a host of riders possibly capable of beating great contenders. Tadej Pogacar and Julian Alaphilippe.

“Driving on gravel is a bit like driving on ice”

Bike skills play a huge role at Strade Bianche, helping to avoid crashes and punctures, take the best and fastest lines on descents and gravel corners, and hold position when the peloton is often lined up. over several hundred meters.

QuickStep-AlphaVinyl will use Roval Alpinist 33mm tubeless wheels, according to the Italian website BiciPro, with all teams opting for tire pressures of around 5-5.2 bar for the front wheel and 5.5-5.7 bar for the rear wheel, depending on rider weight. Exact tire pressure is a carefully guarded secret in the hopes of finding the balance between grip and speed.

Riders will opt for slightly different chainring sizes, while the rear gearing will go as low as a 32-tooth cog to help on the steepest section of gravel and to keep the most-used gears in the middle of the block.

“Driving on gravel is a lot like driving on ice. You can’t be afraid to let the bike slip a bit. You can’t be aggressive with your steering and you need a little luck “, explained Alberto Bettiol to The Gazzetta dello Sport. The Tuscan is frustrated that a recent COVID-19 infection means he won’t be able to compete in his local race and has left him chasing his form for the spring classics.

Greg Van Avermaet explored the final five gravel sections of Strade Bianche with his AG2R Citroën teammates on Thursday, and he knows the thrill and risk of riding Strade Bianche after taking part in the race twelve times, finishing second in 2015 and 2017 .

“I love racing here, it was one of the best recces of the year and the weather conditions weren’t too bad,” Van Avermaet told the Belgium Press Agency.

“It is useful to remember what the gravel roads are like. They look very clean this year, at the moment it looks like it will be one of the best editions. There is not too much gravel and it is well compacted.”

Alpecin-Fenix ​​rider Floris De Tier has ridden Strade Bianche five times and finished 13th in 2018 when cold rain turned Strade Bianche into a battle of survival.

“In 2018, I discovered that when it’s wet, it’s much less dangerous than when it’s very dry. The surface is the same, but there is no layer of dust on it. And it it’s that layer that makes it dangerous and makes you slip the most,” De Tier said. Het Nieuwsblad.

“The weather is good now. They are expecting some rain on Friday, but I don’t know if that will change the course much by Saturday. In some sections the gravel is really loose, and if the gravel is a little thicker, it is really dangerous in the turns and you have to be careful not to fall.

“Taking gravel corners is all about daring and driving skills. You have guys who are so nimble that they dare to enter the corners without braking, and then there are others who apply the brakes very quickly out of caution when it’s not necessary at all. So you have to take risks, but you also have to have the technique to be able to take good lines. That can really make the difference in the Strade Bianche.”

A dry but not dusty race in 2022

Since the wet and muddy 2018 edition, the gravel roads of the Strade Bianche – “stere” as they are known locally – have been dry and dusty. The rescheduled 2020 edition was held in the heat of August, while this year a change in weather will see an easterly wind bringing in cold air and pushing away the clouds that caused the downpours of Friday.

Local weather forecasts call for temperatures as low as 0°C for the start of the women’s race at 9am, but with temperatures around 10°C for the afternoon finishes.

Crosswinds could play an important role in the men’s and women’s race. East winds could blow at around 20 km/h and there could be a crosswind in the last 100 km of the race.

Wind will be a major factor on the long exposed sections of gravel roads through the treeless hills of Crete Senese, including the long gravel section of San Martino in Grania and the 11.5 kilometer section of Monte Sante Marie .

The winds could deter attacks or trigger an even earlier selection if a team decides to go on the attack.

Besides the spectacular gravel roads and rolling hills of Tuscany, uncertainty and aggressive racing are another reason why Strade Bianche has achieved near-monument status in just 15 years.

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