Strade Bianchi. Who will be the King of the Gravel?

 

Fabian. Strade. Watch out.

 

Strade Bianchi. Who doesn’t love the sexy Italian version of the Northern Classics? Swap the cobbles for white gravel roads of Tuscany. The draw: Italy, wine, stunning countryside the best bike racers in the world and seventy kilometers of¬†sterrati.

The race was created only five years ago by former Giro Impresario Angelo Zomegnan. Crazy Z always had a vision and said of Strade Bianchi:¬†“Cycling needed something new and the riders need a motivation.”

The Italian got himself fired last year after his insane and brutal Giro route but there’s no arguing with the stroke of genius in Tuscany. The race became an instant favorite with fans and riders alike. Fabian Cancellara won the 2008 edition and all-universe Philippe Gilbert was victorious last year.

The list of top teams and riders taking part this Sunday is a who’s who of pro racing. BMC brings Gilbert, Ballan, Van Avermaet and Big George Hincapie and Tour de France champion Cadel Evans. That’s a monster squad and perhaps the red & black will score their first big win of the year.

Then there’s Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan Trek) getting himself tuned up for battle on the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix. If the Swiss star sees an opening, better grab his wheel before he is gone. He’ll blast into the famous Piazza del Compo before you can say “slice of fennel sausage and a glass of chianti.”

The white gravel always favors the former mountain bikers like Evans and Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedahl. He’s got Dan Martin and Roubaix winner Van Summeren for serious back-up. Garmin opened the season red hot with a fabulous win by Sep Vanmarcke in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Will the Canadian keep the win streak going on the sterrati?

Liquigas-Cannondale brings Vincenzo Nibali to the white roads but perhaps the real danger man is Slovakian Peter Sagan, a guy who is capable of winning any race. Both he and Nibali are on form and that makes for a powerful one-two smack-down.

For the second year in a row, Team Sky skips the race but there is a Movistar in the form of Giovanni Visconti. It’s Italy, he’s Italian, he must ride fast or be lashed by the tifosi.

Special mention goes out to hard luck Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini). After breaking his right clavicle in Oman, he jumped back on the trainer immediately, raced at the Omloop and now throws himself onto the white gravel, broken bone be damned. Pippo is an easy target for jokes but you have to be impressed with his desire to keep his classics build-up on schedule for Flanders and Roubaix.

And finally, watch out for the highly motivated Acqua & Sapone squad. They’re not bringing their A game — they’re bring their O team. Paolo, Claudio, Massimo, Alessandro and not one or two but three Francescos are raring to tackle the gravel. Only Simone Masciarelli is missing the crucial end letter O and obviously he is the weak link

Twisted Spoke takes the not-so-bold guess that it will be Gilbert again in the Strade Bianchi. The man likes to win and this Sunday is the perfect race.

 

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