The 2022 Women’s WorldTour season is fast approaching with Strade Bianche kicking it off on Saturday. The one-day Italian event hasn’t been around for long, but it’s quickly become popular, with its challenging white gravel roads and scenic landscapes.
Starting and ending in Siena, with the steep climb to the city center of Piazza del Campo as the backdrop for the final, Strade Bianche is the favorite event for many women in the peloton. This season is the first in a historic 71 WorldTour race days for women, nearly double the number of WWT race days in 2021.
This race was won solo, it is close to a two-man sprint to the line, with tactics playing a major role in the final kilometers and the strongest teams in the women’s peloton battling for that first step. Riders like Canyon-SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma have been chasing victory in Piazza del Campo since the race was added to the calendar in 2015.
An added bonus to this year’s event is the extensive live coverage which offers two hours of phenomenal racing through the Italian countryside. Who will win Strade in 2022? Here’s what you need to know.
The now familiar route matches the three previous editions, with 31.6km of traditional white gravel roads divided into eight gravel sectors and scattered over the 136km course.
The first taste of gravel comes just 17km from the start and covers 2.1km. From here the next three gravel sections are 5.8km, 4.4km and 5.5km before the longer stretch of white roads San Martino in Grania is 9.5km. Not only is the San Martino in Grania section the longest gravel section of the race, but it is also particularly difficult. With maximum climbs at 17% in places, the race could be won or lost at this point, even if it is halfway through the race. A strong team will make the difference if one of the race favorites suffers an accident or a mechanic in this section.
The women then run the 0.8 km Monteaperti sector which includes a very small climb, before the last two dirt sections Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe. Colle Pinzuto is the longer of the two at 2.4km and is entirely uphill. This climb culminates 17 km from the finish and there are only 4 km to regain before the last 1.1 km gravel section.
From the end of the final Le Tolfe section, which descends and then rebounds mercilessly, there are only 12 km to go before a woman can raise her arms in Piazza del Campo.
Based on its dominant performance already in 2022, it is likely Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) will win their third Strade Bianche title on Saturday. Van Vleuten won back-to-back editions in 2019 and 2020. The 2019 victory was particularly memorable. She seemingly teleported out of the peloton at the break and then pulled away from everyone else with over 12km to go to win solo.
With a win fresh on his mind from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a week before Van Vleuten will step onto the Strade Bianche starting line as the rider to beat.
A rider that everyone would be delighted to see win this edition of the Strade Bianche is Kasia Niewiadoma. The Canyon-SRAM rider has been on the podium four times. In three of those podiums, from 2016 to 2018, Niewiadoma finished second to Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini and Anna van der Breggen. In 2019 she finished third behind Van Vleuten and Annika Langvad.
Niewiadoma’s attacking and aggressive style is well suited to the rolling hills of Italy. She also drove relatively well at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. As for support, her new teammate Soraya Paladin has finished 14th in Strade Bianche twice and can hopefully help Niewiadoma get rid of the monkey.
The Futuroscope FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine will line up its three possible team leaders. Grace Brown, who competed in all three Belgian one-day races during the week, is not currently on the unfinished start list, but did post an Instagram Story of a “gravel” race. Brown had a strong start to the season but spent most of Le Samyn on Tuesday testing his legs rather than chasing victory. She was part of an impressive selection in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before Van Vleuten parted ways with the group.
Brown’s teammates Marta Cavalli and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig opted out of the opening weekend in Belgium and instead focused on this first WorldTour event. Cavalli was climbing very well at Setmana Valenciana in February, as was Uttrup Ludwig. The two finished second and third overall behind Van Vleuten.
What remains to be seen is the ability of Futuroscope FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine to harness the strength of these three incredible riders for a team victory, and as the first WWT race of the year, Saturday will be the first glimpse of whether their three-way approach succeed or fail.
Two cyclocross legends return to (sort of) the road this weekend, perhaps because the inclusion of dirt makes the transition easier. New cyclo-cross world champion Marianne Vos and his runner-up Brand Lucinda are at their lowest since the cyclo-cross world championships at the end of January.
Vos has regularly finished around 6th or 7th in the last three editions of the Strade Bianche. She has never finished on the podium and is unlikely to win on Saturday, but she remains one of the strongest in the race and could play a role in the final composition of the field. Vos is Jumbo-Visma’s leader in almost every racing scenario and his return to the starting line will be important for the Dutch team.
Brand, on the other hand, will likely ride in support of his Trek-Segafredo teammate Elisa Longo Borghini who won the race in 2017, finished third in 2018 and was passed last year by Chantal van den Broek-Blaak. As the Italian national champion running at home, winning Strade Bianche is a big deal for Longo Borghini, so while her form didn’t look 100% on the opening weekend in Belgium, she can’t be overlooked. to get out of it kind of an amazing ride.
Once again, the strongest team on the starting line will be SD Worx. When it comes to riders to watch from the Dutch team, it’s not so much about which one as it is about the team as a whole. In 2021 Anna van der Breggen was their best rider to watch, but the race was won by Van den Broek Blaak. SD Worx had the numbers in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland, but failed on both days. On Saturday, they will line up their best riders, with Demi Vollering as their best driver to watch.
Vollering was the only rider from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to hang on to Van Vleuten’s searing final attack but couldn’t edge the former world champion to the finish, a telling finish. It was his first race back, and his form is almost there, but will it be enough to beat Van Vleuten on the final climb to the finish in Siena?
SD Worx have proven time and time again that any of their riders can win, and Saturday was no exception. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio will hit the road again after focusing on the virtual racing circuit during the winter. It remains to be seen if this style of running can turn into a longer run with longer efforts. Although not the standard driver type for this style of finish, Lotte Kopecky can never be updated. His presence has already proven beneficial, or at least impactful, for SD Worx.
Update: Marta Cavalli from FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope and Lucinda Brand from Trek-Segafredo are not on the official start list.
CyclingTips star rating
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Van Vleuten
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Niewiadoma, Longo Borghini, Vollering
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Uttrup Ludwig, Vos, Van den Broek-Blaak
⭐️⭐️: Mavi Garcia, Brown, Moolman Pasio,
⭐️: Floortje Mackaij, Elise Chabbey, Liane Lippert
The star rating will be updated when the final start list is available before the race.
How to watch
With the men’s race on the same day and many of the same routes, the women start just after 9:00 am CET. GCN+ will offer live coverage from 11:30 CET for viewers in North America, Europe and the UK. The two hours of action-packed viewing will be the biggest TV coverage of Strade Bianche the world has ever seen.
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