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Strade Bianche: tales from Tuscany

Whether Strade Bianche becomes the sixth Monument in the near future or not, no one can deny that last Saturday was a big day for any cycling fan. Most of the best riders in the world lined up at the start in Siena for a loop around Tuscany, and the region delighted us with its special treat: white roads.

Several discussions ran in parallel during the weekend, some expressing their opinion about the possible addition of the Strade Bianche to the current five Monuments in cycling, and others saying that one should simply say gravel instead of sterrato.

A beautiful addition to the cycling calendar

Based on facts, the short history of the race is residual in comparison with the legacy of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and others. Nonetheless, in the past handful of years, we have seen the race taking place both under the boiling sun and in mud conditions, while we are still waiting for a wet Paris-Roubaix.

Another undeniable fact is the difference in mileage between the 184 km of the current Strade Bianche men’s route and the 300 km that riders taking part in Milano – Sanremo end up doing on race day. Forgetting about the dissimilar tactics induced by the difference in the number of hours spent in the saddle, do you consider more exciting a cruise along the Italian Riviera or an intense race including 63 km of dirt roads?

The 2020 edition of the race couldn’t take place on its planned date, but we have been lucky to watch the race twice in seven months. We turned on our screens in time to witness the final few kilometers of the women’s race and enjoyed every minute of the coverage until we had to go back to our normal lives after the men’s podium ceremony.

The race from within

In addition to the race convoy, only a few photographers and some press journalists were allowed to be there in the first person. Laura Fletcher from Peloton Brief was also involved in the race, reporting what was happening through her PR and photography roles.

In order to finish around 1 pm, the women’s event had to start at 9.40 am, which precipitated the usual pre-race routines like having breakfast or getting to the start line.

“We left the hotel at 7:15 am so most of the riders were up and having breakfast between 6:00 and 6:30, which is pretty impressive if you are about to do an almost 150 km race. Personally, I think that it is better when they start after the men, which is how it is done in Belgium. It boosts viewership numbers as well on TV, and makes everyone’s day flow a bit better”

Having to do several things at once, she wasn’t able to fully plan what photos to take in which particular spot, as there were other priorities to fulfill. “The limitation doesn’t bother me though, I think every challenge can open up other doors, and maybe gives me a different way of seeing things, or a particular challenge” – she says.

When we think about Strade Bianche, there is a picture that always comes to our minds, showing the landscape of Tuscany and one of its dirt road sectors from the top of a hill. There are some spots of the course that photographers have always their eyes set on, and Laura smiles when remembering the situation in which a few of them were all standing in more or less the same place, taking very similar photos.

The day before, Peloton Brief joined BORA-hansgrohe for their recon ride, which gave her a fresh idea about some potential locations, although, in a race like Strade Bianche, every kilometer of the course can be the source of high-quality content.

“The race is easy to shoot, to be fair. Every corner is simply beautiful, and even a camera mistake could turn out awesome. The white roads reflect shadows away, and the dust fades the background. It’s hard to have a bad photo day here”

During the women’s race, Laura was in the FDJ NAquitaine Futuroscope’s car with the soigneurs of the team handing bidons or helping with wheel changes. The riders of the team, including the always smiling Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Marta Cavalli, or Brodie Chapman, showed their combativity during the last part of the race, ending with two of them in the top 10.

“The vibe is always good with the FDJ team. They truly gel as a team and work well together. It’s great to see how much they trust each other and can play off one another in the race. Everyone was happy with the result”

Keep it rolling

The exciting outcome of the first race of the day was followed by another show in the men’s event. At a particular point in the race, the group in front was formed by the past two winners of the Tour de France, the current World Champion, and Monument winners and cyclocross dominators Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert. Every kind of rider wants to take part in this race, and as a result, we got to see another exciting edition of this beautiful event.

Two Dutch riders came victorious in Italy, showing the success of the Netherlands irrespective of discipline, location, or terrain. The exact same two riders won last year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen.

The way in which they surfed the sterrato has few things in common with the spirit of the Eroica events typical from the area, but both options are valid alternatives to make the most of what Tuscany has to offer.

The hype for Strade Bianche is more than justified, and now that the classics engine has started running, there is nothing that we want more than the next battle.