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The Strade Bianche peloton in 2023.

Strade Bianche is harder than ever. Who can challenge Pogačar?

The Italian Classic is longer and has more gravel in 2024. Can Tom Pidcock – or anyone else – beat Tadej Pogačar in Siena?

The Strade Bianche peloton in 2023.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 29.02.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon and Gruber Images
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With Opening Weekend in the rearview mirror, the Classics specialists are shifting their focus from the pavé of Flanders in Belgium to the gravel of Tuscany in Italy. The Strade Bianche peloton will roll out from Siena on Saturday for a 215 km jaunt (yes, that’s longer than we’re used to – more on that in a bit) through rolling hills and vineyards.

The scenery, the dust (or mud), the unique challenges of the terrain, and the iconic final climb into Siena have made this race one of the sport’s most beloved despite its relative youth. Then again, if you’re a cycling fan, you probably knew that already unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two decades. Here’s what you need to know about this year’s edition of the men’s race (and here’s Abby Mickey’s preview of the women’s event).

The route

Strade Bianche was already pretty darn hard already, but organizers decided to ratchet up the difficulty ahead of the 2024 edition of the race, which now features 71.5 km of gravel across 15 sectors and a total distance of well over 200 km.

The profile of the 2024 Strade Bianche, showing a lumpy parcours of 215 km distance with 15 sectors of white gravel roads.

After the start in Siena, the men’s peloton will follow a meandering road southeast to Montalcino in a wide, roughly counterclockwise loop back in the direction of Siena. Riders will traverse six gravel sectors before the midway point of the race, and then the challenging, uphill San Martino in Grania sector will put some fatigue into the legs before the undulating (and also very challenging) Monte Sante Marie sector. This has been a key point in the race in years past, and Tom Pidcock made his winning attack on the descent off the sector last year, though this year’s race features greater challenges (including six more gravel sectors) to follow.

Riders will cover paved but hilly roads after the Monte Sante Marie for 16 km before htting the short Monteaperti sector, and then it’s onto the first of what will be two visits to the Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe sectors, as organizers have added a lap on a short loop to the north of Siena for 2024. After the first trip on Le Tolfe are the Strada del Castagno (that is the “Road of the Chestnut,” in case you’re curious) and the Montechiaro sectors before riders take on the Colle Pinzuto and Le Tolfe for the final time.

That’s it for the gravel that riders will traverse in the race, but the daunting challenge of riding into the Piazza del Campo remains as one last test for anyone hoping to take the win. The road kicks up sharply with 2 km to go, and just inside the last kilometer through to the last 500 meters, riders will climb on a narrow cobbled street at gradients reaching 16% in spots. Things even out and then angle downward for the final few hundred meters as riders turn into the Piazza at the heart of Siena, where the finish line awaits.

The weather forecast for Saturday looks relatively promising, with partly cloudy skies, temperates rising to around 15°C/60°F, and light to moderate west winds and a chance for showers. But the course may not be entirely dry; there’s a much stronger chance (80%) of rain on Friday afternoon and evening, with up to a half inch (11 mm) of precipitation expected. It’s been dry all week, but that could produce some mud and pooling water in low spots.

The stars and the storylines

Here’s what you need to know about the contenders – some of them big names, and others who could surprise – and the questions around them heading into the race.

Star ratings

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Tadej Pogačar
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Tom Pidcock
⭐⭐⭐: Tim Wellens
⭐⭐: Marc Hirschi, Attila Valter, Romain Gregoire, Ben Healy, Sepp Kuss, Christophe Laporte, Matej Mohorič, Bastien Tronchon
⭐: Neilson Powless, Richard Carapaz, Egan Bernal, Michał Kwiatkowski, Julian Alaphilippe, Lennert Van Eetvelt, Valentin Madouas, Lenny Martinez, Quinn Simmons, Toms Skujins, Andrea Bagioli

What kind of form is Tadej Pogačar taking into his season debut?

The 2022 Strade Bianche winner skipped the race last year, but it marks the first race of his 2024 campaign, and he will start as the favorite to take the victory. Considering the fact that he was already good enough to win the event two years ago, it seems likely that he’ll be as dangerous or even more on a harder course in 2024. Rough terrain and added kilometers probably just make Pogačar – who includes a Tour of Flanders among his five career Monument wins – even more of a favorite.

Tadej Pogačar at Strade Bianche in 2022.
Tadej Pogačar was imperious en route to victory in 2022.

The main question is probably his form in his first race of the season. We don’t know for certain how well he is going at this point in the season, so there is at least some reason to question his status as the heavy favorite. Then again, Pogačar has kicked off his seasons with either a GC win or a one-day win every year since 2020, so don’t bet on him coming in out of shape. He is the rider to beat and everyone knows it, and he has the team to face the challenge too: Tim Wellens and Marc Hirschi both look extremely strong right now and will be legitimate cards for UAE Team Emirates to play.

What does Tom Pidcock have planned for his encore?

Pidcock’s win at Strade Bianche last year was the biggest one-day result of his young road racing career. He took the win in dominant fashion, showing off his versatile skillset with a long-range attack that saw him hold on over lumpy terrain all the way into Siena. As the defending champion, he might expect to get a bit more love from the oddsmakers, but he is not all that close to Pogačar, the odds-on favorite, at least as far as the bookies are concerned.

Tom Pidcock at Strade Bianche.
Tom Pidcock won Strade Bianche with a long-range solo move last year.

Perhaps that can be a motivating factor for the Olympic mountain bike champion. Plain and simple, this is a golden opportunity for him to prove that he does belong in the conversation as a consistent contender. For all of his incredible talents across multiple disciplines, so far in his career, he has just the one WorldTour-level win on his one-day racing palmares, but he is an excellent climber and he did not seem to mind a very long day on the bike en route to runner-up honors at Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year. He has looked good enough so far this season for his fans to be confident that he will be in the mix, but can he be the very best on the day? We’ll find out soon. If he’s not at his best, the Ineos Grenadiers do have Egan Bernal, former winner Michał Kwiatkowski, and even Geraint Thomas in their ranks …

How much does Visma’s depth matter without a top favorite leading the way?

Wout van Aert decided to head to altitude camp after Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, so while Visma has depth for this race, the squad lacks a five-star favorite as a clear leader. That’s an exceedingly rare occurrence for what has become the peloton’s dominant team lately, and it will provide an interesting case study. How well can Visma leverage depth to take big results when rivals aren’t looking as closely at them as usual?

Attila Valter at Strade Bianche.
Attila Valter has put up some strong showings in this race. Can he do even better in 2024?

Hungarian champ Attila Valter (Visma-Lease a Bike) has landed inside the top five in his two career appearances at Strade Bianche, and he is still on the hunt for a first major one-day win in his career, making him a great candidate to try to catch Pogačar and Pidcock out from afar. His teammate Sepp Kuss looked good at the Clásica Jaén on similar terrain, and he shouldn’t mind the steep stuff in this race, while Christophe Laporte will be a real threat to go long on the gravel even if the climbs on the route seem to put Strade Bianche a bit outside his wheelhouse (it’s his first start in the race). In short, Visma can still keep things interesting – and heck, they might make it even more so – with the pressure off a bit.

Can an outsider step up? Or can brand new stars emerge on the white roads of Tuscany?

Behind Pogačar and Pidcock and the Visma stable, the field suddenly opens wider to a long list of hopefuls who will see a real chance to muscle their way into the Classics star conversation. There are some very interesting names here among the next tier of favorites, and there are even some dark horses that we don’t often talk about as favorites for big races like this one but who could really be worth watching given the circumstances.

EF Education-EasyPost has a stable of its own in Richard Carapaz, Ben Healy, and Neilson Powless, all of whom who might try their luck on the climbs. Carapaz is the Olympic champ, Powless has won the Clásica San Sebastián, and Healy made his mark on the Ardennes Classics last year. If any of them can overhaul the favorites at Strade Bianche, it would be a pretty big step forward in the one-day racing department.

Bora-Hansgrohe’s Daniel Martínez and Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) are other climbing aces who have shown promise in the hillier one-days, and they are both also on great form at the moment, while Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quick Step) is a former winner who really should be capable of putting up a strong showing here.

Valentine Madouas at Strade Bianche.
Groupama-FDJ may not be known for its one-day prowess, but the team has options for Saturday.

Then there are the real dark horses, riders like Bastien Tronchon of Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale, who has had a hot start to the season and looked great on the rough terrain of the Clásica Jaén. Keeping it French, Groupama-FDJ is hoping Romain Grégoire can evolve into a bona fide star in hilly races. His under-23 results would suggest that he has big things ahead of him, and he rode to eighth place in his Strade debut last year. His teammate Valentin Madouas was runner-up here last year and will be dangerous again, while Lenny Martinez also looks great right now with a win in Wednesday’s Trofeo Laigueglia.

Speaking of multi-pronged attacks, Quinn Simmons, Andrea Bagioli, and a very in-form Toms Skujins give Lidl-Trek three strong options hunting for a result that would mark huge steps forward. Lennert Van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny) just saw a massive progression in his own career with the queen stage and overall win at the UAE Tour, but the youngster could be primed for more in his Strade Bianche debut. Last but not least in the longshots-with-a-chance-to-step-up department is recent Tour Down Under winner Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech), who will also be making his debut in the race.

When to watch

The men’s neutral start is at 11:10 am local time (5:10 am ET/10:10 am GMT/9:10 pm AEDT). Riders should hit the aforementioned San Martino in Grania sector – where things should start to heat up – at 2:15 pm local time (8:15 am ET/1:15 pm GMT/12:15 am AEDT), with an expected finish at around 4:45 pm local time (10:45 am ET/3:45 pm GMT/2:45 am AEDT).

What you didn’t know you need to know

As you watch the Strade Bianche on Saturday, you’ll hear the commentators mention wine a lot as the peloton rides through the Tuscan countryside past countless vineyards. They may talk of Tuscan reds and Chianti, and if your eyes start to glaze over at that point, here is a very quick primer on the basics.

Tuscany, the region that hosts this race, is one of the world’s most famous wine regions, and the great majority of popular red wines produced here are made either partially or entirely from the Sangiovese grape. They tend to be medium- to full-bodied with strong tannins and acidity and bold red fruit flavors. Those that are aged in oak can, unsurprisingly, take on an oaky character too. Chianti is a denomination of its own within the greater Tuscan region. Wines marketed as Chiantis must be at least 80 percent Sangiovese. The Chianti subregion around Siena is that of “Colli Senesi” (literally, the Sienese hills), while wines made near the midway point of Strade Bianche are labeled as another famous Tuscan wine denomination with a similar profile to that of Chianti: “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.”


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