One of the most beautiful races of the year is without a doubt the Strade Bianche on the now mythical white gravel roads. Following the race and capturing all the action and beauty of the 2015 race roadside for PEZ was our experienced race chaser Alessandro who had a perfect day out in the Tuscan countryside.
*** Hopefully (covid-19 allowing) Ale will be ‘Roadside’ at the 2021 Strade Bianche, keep it PEZ for his white roads adventure. ***
This was my sixth edition of Strade Bianche and I have never enjoyed the race so much before. A windy day, a fantastic double race seeing the women there too, and the opportunity to spend time with friends; these were the ingredients of a day I will not forget for a while!
That’s Cool… Cold
It is two days that a strong wind from north east has been blowing across central Italy. There were damages, several trees slaughtered and also injuries. The forecast was good however for Saturday with no wind expected but as soon as we arrived in San Gimigniano, we understood that it will be again a cold, windy day. If the wind blows strong at 07:30AM it is not a good sign. Why so early at departure? Because this year the ladies ran their first edition of the Strade Bianche and we have still to grab our credentials. There’s me and Salvatore, my driver (now with a long experience in race chasing), but we meet also Angelo and Paolo (photographers) and Francesco will join us for a few passages too.
As soon as we have the credentials we leave to meet the ladies on the second sector of strada bianca, the name of this segment is “San Martino in Grania” and I cannot understand the reason why it is not included in the elite men’s route.
It would be fantastic to have it before Monte Sante Marie, we could assist to a very dramatic finale (even more than what we already have). But the girls are coming and now they are already very selected, at more than 40km to the finish; we bet that just a few of them will complete the competition. The reason is easy: there’s a big gap between the top and the others. Several are really struggling and you can see that they are facing something really far from their possibilities.
The Chase Begins
We are four in the car: Salvo drives, I’m beside him, behind there is Angelo and Paolo. Salvo is an expert in driving and the gravel doesn’t give him any problems – “Salvo, hurry up” – I’m the navigator, the most experienced at this race and race chasing in general. I have a plan in mind and failure is not an option. Luckily all my friends have a good character and they will bear with me and my agitation all day long. So, the chase begins and we have to catch the men on their fifth sector, named Buonconsiglio. This is a flat anonymous one, but it’s a good way to take confidence with the race. However, this year they re-paved the road and now it’s full of gravel. Not just in the center but all over the road.
All Kind of Mechanicals
There’s an early break, ahead by six minutes. They are nine and the bunch is led by Movistar.
No matter for the nine ahead, they pass this sector quietly, but in the bunch things go a bit differently. There are a lot of punctures and mechanical damages. This gravel when passed in the group makes for a lot of problems. It’s even possible to feel the noise of the wheels on the ground. Riders are all over requiring assistance or waiting for it. There are several small groups split all over and when we come out of the dirty road we also see a few riders abandoning. One of them is Betancur.
That’s A Gust!
The next spot is in Lucignano d’Asso, another sector, a long one. This isn’t flat but most of it is in descent; this race makes selection not only on climbs but especially on descents where it’s very difficult to ride. More expert you are in maneuvering on these surfaces, the more you can save in energy. It isn’t by accident that Sagan arrives every year ahead here.
This road is fully exposed to the wind: not one tree but only grain fields all over. There are some parts of the road more exposed than others where you have strong gusts of wind blowing from the side. It’s difficult to walk, I’m glad I’m not riding!
The race comes and the break is split. There are four riders ahead and all the others are suffering behind against the road and the wind.
The group is now close and there are some attacks at the front. I can recognize Rosa and Sagan. But there’s also a bad incident in the group and few riders abandon the race. Some in the “broom car” and, unfortunately, a couple of them in the ambulance. Really not a good way to finish this race. We all hope that it wasn’t too bad but at least for one we have seen him too long time on the ground.
The Long Chase
From Lucignano to the next one it’s a long way but normally we should have time. Because of the incident to the riders the road remains closed for twenty minutes after the race and this shortens a lot our “margin”. Salvo knows what to do: full gas when possible and carefulness when necessary. But on the way we find two train passages and one bus stopping every five hundred meters. Salvo looks at the road, pushes and passes the bus safely but determined: he is the hero, he saves the last spot on the road. We are in the big finale, Oss is on the attack and the best riders are all together looking at each other. Orica and Cancellara are too far behind, out of the game.
The Old Town
As it happens every year the last effort is the walk to the top of Santa Caterina.
This narrow way inside the old town of Siena is a very special place where you can watch the race. The screams of the people are so loud, in such narrow place, that you can’t feel anything around you. Everything is confused and the racers disappear too fast.
Same as it happened with my day out; it was so short, at the end, despite the alarm clock ringed at 03:30am. We all were in tension the whole day, but excited, at the end we were exhausted. We closed in a bar, enjoying a coffee and talking about next opportunities. Tirreno Adriatico; who’s going? Sanremo? Maybe.
Another Bitter End
“This race is so beautiful that when you look at what you shot you can’t be happy” – that’s what I said yesterday to my friends and what I would say even stronger today. No matter how good your pictures are, what we saw with our eyes was ten times better. What we smell and what we felt are that kind of experience we want to have, and when we get it, we want more. Any end, actually is bitter, but tonight I can’t sleep well. I have that feeling that I can’t explain. Maybe just the consciousness I won’t be able to transfer them nor in words, nor in pictures.
# The 2021 PEZ Strade Bianche preview HERE. The full race report on Saturday and up-date in EUROTRASH on Monday. Alessandro will try to be ‘Roadside’ this Saturday, covid-19 allowing.#