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Strade Bianche 2022 preview favourites: Who’s going to win?

WorldTour racing continues this Saturday and here are the men and women who could take victory in Tuscany at the 2022 Strade Bianche

Joe Robinson
4 Mar 2022

The 16th men’s and 8th women’s Strade Bianche will take place on Saturday 5th March. The iconised semi-Classic takes place on the picturesque white gravel roads of Tuscany in early Spring and has, despite its infancy, cemented its place in cycling’s folklore to such an extent that some call for its anointment as cycling’s sixth Monument.

These arguments are considered largely redundant considering Strade’s short history in comparison to the likes of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix and the fact the men’s race does not breach the 200km threshold of extra hardness.

But, equally importantly, as long as there is still no women’s Milan-San Remo or Il Lombardia, can we truly label these set of races monumental at all? That feels like one for another day.

The point is that Strade Bianche is an excellent event, one that you should certainly experience either roadside or better yet on your bike at some point, and a professional race that has grown in stature such that that the world’s best annually assemble to vie for victory in the iconic walled town of Siena, with a variety of Classics specialists and punchy climbers having put in a shift here previously.

Lizzie Deignan, Anna van der Breggen, Fabian Cancellara and Mathieu van der Poel are just some of the high-profile names to have tasted success on the region’s strade bianche. For a plethora of reasons, none of them will be present this year but plenty of previous champions will, including women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Annemiek van Vleuten and 2019 men’s winner and last year’s runner-up Julian Alaphilippe, both of which will be expectant of a result come Saturday afternoon.

This year, like last, will see the men tackle 11 gravel sections across 184km and the women eight gravel sections across 136km.

Below, Cyclist’s digital editor Joe Robinson boils down the favourites for the men’s and women’s 2022 Strade Bianche.

Who are the favourites for Strade Bianche 2022?

Men’s race

Last year saw a real who’s who of the men’s peloton joust it out for the title.

Eventual winner Van der Poel, along with Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe, Egan Bernal, Tom Pidcock, Tadej Pogačar and good old Michael Gogl were all out front swinging haymakers at one another from 50km out before Van der Poel landed two knockout blows, first on the final gravel sector of Le Tolfe and then on the climb of Via Santa Caterina into Siena where the Dutchman launched an attack so massive it could almost be seen from space.

Unfortunately, due to injury neither defending champion Van der Poel nor third place finisher Egan Bernal will be racing in 2022. Nor will recent Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Van Aert, who is opting to focus on bigger goals this season.

Alaphilippe does return, however, having finished second 12 months ago and won the race in 2019.

By virtue of being Julian Alaphilippe, the current World Champion will be considered among the favourites, if not odds on to add a second Strade title. With a strong QuickStep Alpha Vinyl team around him that includes Kasper Asgreen and Mauro Schmid – winner of last year’s Giro d’Italia Strade Bianche stage – he has the surrounding horsepower and the experience to win. Question is, after cramping up at the recent Drôme Classic, does he have the form?

A man with undoubtable form is Pogačar. The two-time Tour de France winner has already banked the UAE Tour – and its two mountain-top finishes – into his palmarès this season and shows no signs of slowing down.

In a year where he plans to debut at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, would it be entirely implausible for the Slovenian to take another major one-day win to accompany his prior triumphs at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia? Absolutely not.

And if not Pogačar, his teammate Alessandro Covi could cause a bit of an upset considering the flying season the Italian is having so far. He is certainly one to watch as far as we are concerned.

A rider that has made it clear Strade Bianche is a target is Britain’s own Tom Pidcock. Now an Olympic gold medalist and cyclocross World Champion, Pidcock is no longer ‘one for the future’ but, in fact, one for the here and now. Unfortunately, despite targetting Strade, a stomach bug has ruled him out.

Also in attendance will be Jumbo-Visma’s newest signing and former winner Tiesj Benoot – who also rode spectacularly on Opening Weekend – and his old Lotto Soudal teammate Tim Wellens, a pair of Belgians who have undoubtably have the ability to win but may find themselves outdone by the raw power of their rivals.

AG2R-Citroën come with cards that include Benoit Cosnefroy and Greg van Avermaet while Bora-Hansgrohe’s hand of Sergio Higuita and Jai Hindley could impress – albeit not enough for the win, we predict.

One rider who could upset the odds is Simon Clarke. A late signature with Israel Premier Tech, Clarke has gone from near-retirement to five top ten results in nine race days so far this season. An eternal favourite of Carlton Kirby, a Clarke upset would be a popular win both within the peloton and beyond.

Joe’s top pick – Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
Joe’s dark horses – Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) and Simon Clarke (Israel Premier Tech)

Women’s race

So, who is beating Annemiek van Vleuten? Movistar’s golden goose won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last Saturday and Setmana Valenciana the week before that. The last time she won Omloop, 2020, she also won Strade too – albeit in its revised August date after being postponed by the pandemic.

Despite turning 40 years old later this year, Van Vleuten is showing no signs of slowing down in what is a tremendously important year for her considering the inaugural Tour de France Femmes in July.

To bet against Van Vleuten winning is like betting against wet weather in the month of April. Utterly foolish.

Where will Annemiek’s biggest challenge come from though? SD Worx, most likely.

Defending champion Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak, Lotte Kopecky, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Demi Vollering... it’s almost as if Anna van der Breggen is not being missed.

That is true firepower. Something that can only be matched by Trek-Segafredo, who bring Elisa Longo-Borghini, Lucinda Brand, Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Balsamo to the party. Or a sole Marianne Vos, who headlines Jumbo-Visma.

Kasia Niewiadoma is Strade Bianche’s most consistent finisher having never crossed the line worse than ninth – which as it happens was her result in 2021. A hat-trick of second places from 2016 to 2018 are proof enough that a win on the white gravel is not a matter of if but when.

If Niewiadoma is due a win at Strade Bianche then Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is due a win, period.

The 26-year-old Dane has been one of the best one-day riders since 2019 yet has failed to produce a big win in that time. Instead, a series of near-misses and top 10s have shaped a career in which Ludwig has seemed to lack that killer instinct at the pointy end of a race. Nevertheless, the attributes needed to win are all there and there’s no terrain like Strade for her to finally make things click.

Although if you want a proper piece of advice, look out for her teammate, 23-year-old Marta Cavalli. The Italian has top 10 finishes in pretty much every major women’s one-day race yet has only two professional wins to her name – a stage of the Giro delle Marche and the Italian National Championships.

A big win is coming for Cavalli, which makes her our dark horse. Which is funny because Cavalli is Italian for horses.

Joe’s top pick – Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
Joe’s dark horse – Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)

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