The Women’s WorldTour kicks off on white roads

It’s March 3, 2017. In less than 24 hours, the second edition of the Women’s WorldTour will start in Italy: it’s time for the Strade Bianche, the race that already feels like a classic even though it’s one of the most recent additions to the cycling calendar. But how was the first edition of the WWT? Well, that’s another story. Let’s hope some of the less positive aspects of it will improve this time. Yes, I know many of you may be thinking about TV coverage right now. We might be luckier this time. But more of that later. Here’s to a great 2017 for women’s cycling!

Everybody loves the Strade Bianche. It features almost everything that makes cycling great: a hard parcours surrounded by a stunning scenery, and it’s pretty unique due to the ‘white roads’ that give the race its name and its character akin to a timeless classic, regardless of its short history.

The parcours

There are two main defining features of the Strade Bianche: the gravel sections and the relatively short but steep climbs. And there’s good news for those who appreciate the beauty of the ‘white roads’: there’s 30 km of them in 2017. That’s considerably more than what we saw in previous years. The race is also slightly longer, up to 127 km this time.

It takes a balanced combination of rouleur skills, decent climbing ability and a good sense of timing to win this race. This is one for the versatile, smart riders who love to race hard.

The favourites

Some of the biggest names of the peloton haven’t raced this year yet, so they will make their debut here. That makes any prediction particularly hard. On paper, the riders who got some competition already may have a little bit of the extra punch needed to win this race, but that’s always a bit of a wild guess.

Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling), Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon//SRAM) are among those who will race for the first time on the road in 2017. All of them have what’s needed to win Strade Bianche, but are they on form?

It’s perhaps safer to consider the chances of those who performed well in Belgium last week.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) didn’t get impressive results, but she was arguably the strongest rider in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland. She’ll find a fitting parcours in Strade Bianche that may play better to her strengths. The uphill finish in Siena benefits the strongest rather than the fastest, and that’s good for her.

Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) knows what’s to be on the podium here. One year older, one year wiser… one year stronger? She’s a climber with enough punch for those short, sharp hills, and she’s an attacker.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) is having a fine start of the season. She won the Cadel Evans Road Race in Australia and got a 3rd place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Her biggest goals are in April so she may feel stronger in every race. Strade Bianche is for those who love to race hard. She certainly does.

There are more riders to watch. Of course there’s Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans). She didn’t get a good result in Het Nieuwsblad and crashed in Hageland, but she seems made for this race. First in 2015, sixth in 2016. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) is also suited for this course.

Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) and Sheyla Gutiérrez (Cylance Pro Cycling) are very strong at the moment. However, they may lack the climbing skills required to be among the best on the white roads. Other interesting outsiders are Leah Kirchmann (Team Sunweb) and Canyon//SRAM’s Elena Cecchini, Alena Amialiusik and Tiffany Cromwell.

How to follow Strade Bianche

Here’s the big question. What about live TV? Well, apparently it will be broadcasted on Eurosport Player from 12:25 to 13:25 CET, and that is great news, but of course you’ll need to subscribe. Those who have Eurosport on TV may be able to watch some 30 min highlights of the women’s race after the men’s, but that does vary from one country to another, apparently. RAI in Italy will show one full hour of the race after the men’s one.

As usual, Twitter will be the best source for updates. Pay attention to the hashtags #StradeBianche and #StradeBiancheWE.