Montepaschi Strade Bianche Pro Bike Race - has been described as a beautiful manifestation of L'Eroica...
The first Strade Bianche was run on October the 9th 2007 the race was won by Alexandr Kolobnev from Team CSC. For the first two editions the race was known as the Montepaschi Eroica. The course for professional cyclists traverses several sections of strade bianche or 'sterrati', the picturesque white gravel roads of Tuscany. This race has been described as a beautiful manifestation of L'Eroica, the Gran Fondo event run on similar roads. L'Eroica evoking the spirit of past cycle races, left it's stamp on cycle sport, influencing the foundation of the Strade Bianche race. RCS sport created the Montepaschi Strade Bianche - now a UCI-Europen Tour race.
Organisers were also inspired by classics like Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Paris Roubaix both with cobbled sections mercilessly dishing out their own brand of pain. The MontepaschiStrade Bianche of Toscana provides a similar experience for riders - eight sections of the 190km course are paved with 57.2 km of sterrati. The last section of sterrati comes with just 13.3 km left to race.
Racing into Siena requires skill to negotiate the twisting turns through the outskirts of the historic town. Inside the final kilometre and the city walls - there's a sharp climb up to the town centre, perfectly placed for a final assault to the line. Once over the hill - at two hundred metres to go, sharp left hander is followed by a tight right hander as the road drops downhill to the finish line in the famous Piazza del Campo. In the 2011 edition Philippe Gilbert and Alessandro Ballan awkwardly negotiate the final left hander, Ballan almost clipping the barriers, Gilbert hooks into the right hander and makes certain to run it wide on the exit, stifling any claim Ballan may have had to victory, the finish line just metres away Gilbert took the win.
An exciting addition to the calendar, the Montepaschi Strade Bianche is run in the spirit of a time when racing on "sterrati" was not a choice but obligatory.
Cancellara meant business when he lined up at Gaiole in Chianti for the 2012 edition- his tweet the night before the professional cycling race ended with the words - Full Gas Pain In The Legs.
Cancellara Tweet "Sleeping time in siena. @StradeBianche will be on the schedule tomorrow... There is just one think to say... #fullgaspaininthegamba"
Montepaschi Strade Bianche 2012 winner Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) said after the race, that he won today because he was mentally tough, however his form is not 100% yet. In post race interviews Cancellara was calm and composed, you would hardly believe he'd just climbed off the bike after a 190km race through the picturesque Tuscan hills surrounding Siena. A race in which he defined one important similarity shared with the Paris Roubaix - to be at the front when you reach each sector of dusty white sterrati. With that said Cancellara looks set to impress as his form improves on the run into the other spring classics. The first win of the season for Radioshack-Nissan-Trek, when interviewed - Cancellara emphasised that the win was very important.
Four years since his first Montepaschi Strade Bianche win, Cancellara crossed the finish line forty two seconds ahead of Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) and Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini – Selle Italia) - the pair fighting it out in a fast paced dash through the final right hander and down the hill in the Piazza del Campo - Iglinsky the victor at the line. The final run up the steephill inside the last kilometre split the chase group with Alessandro Balan in fourth and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) fifth at forty eightseconds.
Just 18 kilometeres from the start in Gaiole in Chianti, a break away formed which included Cancellara's team mate Ben Hermans. Ninety five kilometres into the 190km race there were nine left in the break. The whole race came together again with 132km traversed, at sector five the break brought back with BMC Racing Team and Garmin – Barracuda doing most of the chasing.
With forty kilometres left to race a 19 man break away had formed which included Radioshack-Nissan-Trek riders Cancellara and his team mate, a local familiar with the Tuscan roads - Daniele Bennati. Bennati attacked the group together with Daniel Oss (Liquigas-Cannondale), Oss eventually dropping by the wayside leaving Bennati to fight alone. At sector six with 163km covered Bennati was just 42 seconds up the road. Cancellara waited patiently as his team mate was chased down by Johan Van Summeren of Garmin - Barracuda and BMC riders Ballan and Van Avermaet, at sector eight - the final sector of sterrati Bennati was hauled back into the fold.
At twelve kilometres to go Van Avermaet attacked - Cancellara and Ballan chased, Cancellara bridging the gap - Cancellara said - “When Greg van Avermaet went, I bridged across and when I looked back there was a gap” Cancellara then just went into his familiar time trial mode all the way to the finish line to take the win. Iglinsky, Gatto, Ballan, Van Avermaet and Kreuziger arrived together at the sixteen percent climb in the final kilometre, by then it was too late for the chase group - Cancellara had already sealed his first victory of the season, as he crossed the finish line he thought of his uncle who'd passed away a couple of days before the race.
Cancellara's actions on the white roads of Tuscany will certainly bring clarity to the minds of his competitors - an ominous warning fired off as the classics get under way - and he says he's not in form yet!
RAI coverage below, 1 hour 56 min. Skip to 1.05 @ 13.3 k's to go, Alessandro Ballan attacks - followed by the Van Avermaet attack - then Cancellara makes the chase up the last hill on the last sector of sterrati - passes Van Avermaet and there is no answer - then stamps his authority as they hit the bitumen..
Video: Cancellara solo into Siena 2012 Montepaschi Strade Bianche
The original Strade Bianche here, Brad Nightingale wins the 2012 and 2013 L'Eroica
All Images and Video courtesy of RCS MediaGroup S.p.A.