Strade Bianche will be the first Women’s WorldTour race of the 2021 season. After 2020’s rescheduled race was held in the scorching heat, this year’s race is a return to normal. The current forecast is for an acceptable 11 degrees but also with some rain and showers about during the race. We’ve had a wet Strade Bianche not too long ago, in 2018 where Anna van der Breggen was the victor. With the gravel turned into a wet crunchy sludge, it’ll swing the race advantage to the strongest riders and potentially split the race up even more.
The relentless nature of the gravel sectors takes its toll on the energy of the riders. In 2021, there are 8 gravel sectors which total 31.4km of the 136km race. The last sector is just 12km from the finish and could see a late attack as in 2019’s race. Mixed in with the energy-sapping gravel is a constant series of short but very steep climbs. This tends to give climbers or puncheurs more of an advantage over other more traditional classics specialists. The final climb into Siena is perfect for a last-ditch effort with the first to reach the top of the road into the city often the first to swoop down to the finishing line in the Piazza del Campo.
2020 saw Annemiek van Vleuten complete a heroic comeback from minutes behind. Mavi Garcia had escaped from a lead group, which in itself was over a minute ahead of the peloton. Van Vleuten set off, unseen by the cameras, to reel in the chasing group first and then Garcia. As Van Vleuten and Garcia hit the slopes of the final climb to Siena, Garcia was distance and the race was decided. The year before saw Van Vleuten attack on the final gravel sector and simply burn off the 8 chasers. Despite the efforts of Van der Breggen to close the gap down, Van Vleuten was able to stay away for a solo victory.
2020 – Annemiek van Vleuten
2019 – Annemiek van Vleuten
2018 – Anna van der Breggen
2017 – Elisa Longo Borghini
2016 – Elizabeth Deignan
Saturday 6th March
11:30 – 12:25 (GMT) – Eurosport 1, Eurosport Player & GCN
Strade Bianche 2021 Profile
Strade Bianche 2021 Favourites
The best place to start is with the two-time reigning champion of Strade Bianche, Annemiek van Vleuten. The switch to Movistar didn’t get off to the best start at Omloop het Nieuwsblad last weekend. Van Vleuten missed the key move and despite a couple of attempts to close the gap to the front group, was unable to do it. That may be opening night jitters or it might be an indicator that she’s not in the same form that saw her make an epic comeback in last year’s race here. Van Vleuten can never be ruled out though. She’ll have last year’s 3rd place rider supporting her in Leah Thomas. Thomas was unlucky to have a mechanical just as Van Vleuten powered through her group. She was looking strong and might’ve been able to bridge over to Garcia as well.
The form rider here has to be SD Worx’s Anna van der Breggen after her Omloop het Nieuwsblad victory. Her attack on the Bosberg eeked out just enough of a gap on the climb to make the key difference in the race. She’s won here before back in 2018 but has been 9th and 4th in the two years since. She’ll have a tonne of team support and fans would love to see a Van der Breggen vs Van Vleuten uphill sprint in the final stages of Strade Bianche. Best placed will be Ashleigh Moolman who has 3 top-10 finishes at Strade Bianche. She’ll be an elite domestique in her first race of the 2021 season. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak is a late addition to the start list. She has a pair of top-10 finishes herself in 2018 and 2019.
It’s also impossible to ignore teammates Demi Vollering and Niamh Fisher-Black here.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig finished 17th at Omloop last weekend. For a brief while, it looked like she might be able to close Van der Breggen’s attack. Uttrup Ludwig loves an uphill finish, as seen in last year’s Fleche Wallonne and Giro dell’Emilia. She’s never finished outside the top-10 at Strade Bianche after 4 editions but also never been higher than 5th. This could be the year that sees her on the podium for the first time. Lotte Kopecky has started the season in great form for Liv Racing. Finishes of 4th at Omloop het Nieuwsblad and 1st at Le Samyn have meant 2021 is already a success. She’s never raced Strade Bianche before and it feels like the parcours would suit other riders more. However, in this form, she’s tough to rule out.
Trek have the usual pair leading their team. Lizzie Deignan won this race way back in 2016 during probably her strongest career year. She’s finished on each step of the podium here previously but struggled in last year’s heat and was only 37th in that race. Like Van Vleuten, she missed the key move at Omloop het Nieuwsblad and it remains to be seen if that was down to poor form or poor positioning this early in the season. Her teammate Elisa Longo Borghini did make the front group last weekend. She animated the race late on, aware of her lack of sprint compared to other riders and finished 10th. She’s also a former winner, in 2017, and has never finished lower than 5th in this race in 5 previous editions. World Cyclocross Champion Lucinda Brand is now also on the startlist, replacing Lizzie Deignan due to illness. With Ellen van Dijk also supporting, Trek have their usual stacked team.
Marianne Vos would’ve won this race comfortably in her heyday during the early 2010s. Instead, last year’s result of 6th place is her best result at Strade Bianche. She didn’t race in the opening weekend but instead used the end of the cyclocross season to get into some form. As a result, we’re not sure about her current form. She shouldn’t have problems finishing in the top-10 but the podium might be too far in this race. This will be Lauren Stephen‘s first race of 2021. If she’s able to carry her 2020 form into the new season, she’ll be a contender here. Her best result at Strade Bianche is 19th back in 2017. However, after top-10s at the Tour of Flanders and Gent Wevelgem to finish her 2020 season, she may be ready to improve on that.
Marta Bastianelli was 6th at Omloop and has a bit of a mixed record at Strade Bianche. She was 4th in 2019 and 10th in last year’s race but has finished as low as 43rd previously. If the race sticks together, it will suit Bastianelli more but there are others who can finish into Siena stronger than her. As a result, she should finish in a similar spot as Vos. Her teammate Mavi Garcia really announced herself in last year’s race with a stunning attack and she was unlucky that Van Vleuten was in the mood to hunt her down. She raced Omloop het Nieuwsblad as a warm-up but didn’t get a result of note. You’d imagine she’s been looking forward to repeating this race ever since she finished the last edition.
Canyon SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma has said she’s all in on Strade Bianche this year. It’s been a big goal for a few years but the win has continued to just elude her. She finished 2nd in 2016, 2017, 2018 and also finished 3rd in 2019. Last year’s DNF was affected by the team crash in the recon ride just before the event. She was 18th at Omloop, in the front group but out of it near the end whilst setting up Hannah Barnes. I can see Niewiadoma finishing on the podium once more but not quite winning Strade Bianche. She’ll be supported by Mikayla Harvey in her first race for the team. She was 12th in last year’s race and 7th on the Giro Rosa gravel too. The Kiwi is certainly in with a chance but breaking into the top-10 will be an ideal result this season.
Team DSM had a race to forget at Omloop het Nieuwsblad. The much-vaunted team missed all the key moves and had the best finish of only 29th by Juliette Labous. Labous was the only rider to not finish more than 7 minutes behind Van der Breggen’s winning ride. Liane Lippert has to remain a contender though after her 2020 season. A rider with her punchy finish has the possibility of being useful at the business end of the race. Lippert will want to improve on her 16th place last year. Floortje Mackaij was way down in 72nd at the weekend and was suppose to race Le Samyn but was taken off the startlist late to prepare for Strade Bianche. It feels like the race would suit her toughness but her best result is only 23rd back in 2017. Team DSM will want to bounce back this weekend.
With no Van Vleuten this year, Team BikeExchange will be fully behind Amanda Spratt as their leader. She has a pair of top-10s here in previous years. Plus, she finished 13th last season whilst Van Vleuten went on a charge. The big question surrounding Spratt in 2021 is whether she can deliver without another superstar rider in place and we’ll get our first opportunity to find out this weekend. Her teammate Ane Santesteban was 15th in 2020’s Strade Bianche and just outside the top-10 in the Giro Rosa gravel stage. There’s a chance she could break into the top-10 if the race situation allows it.
Ceratizit’s Lizzy Banks loves racing in Italy, with a pair of Giro Rosa stage wins to her name. She was 32nd in Omloop, ultimately falling backwards in the latter stages after working hard. Her one and only result at Strade Bianche was 40th last year as she struggled in the heat. Her teammate Lisa Brennauer might be the better shout. She was 8th last year and found herself 7th in Omloop het Nieuwsblad. She should be tough to shift but might get dropped by other riders in the uphill sprint for Siena.
Strade Bianche 2021 Outsiders
Anoushka Koster will probably find herself doing a job for Marianne Vos on the new Jumbo Visma team. She’s got decent results here in previous years with 23rd and 31st. A late scratch from the Le Samyn startlist to prepare for this race, we might see her in the break. Katia Ragusa moved to A.R. Monex over the winter. She was 21st in last year’s race and went onto have a great Giro Rosa, finishing 15th overall. She might get the opportunity to race her own race with the team’s star Arlenis Sierra not having the best record at Strade Bianche.
Soraya Paladin might get the chance to strike out for herself if Lotte Kopecky begins to struggle. She has a best Strade Bianche finish of 14th place in 2019 and was 16th in Omloop this year. Paladin was very visible on the front of the race doing work for Kopecky and clearly is in some decent form. She is an outside bet for the top-10 here. Aside from Niewiadoma and Harvey, Canyon also has Elise Chabbey who could do well. She was 26th in last year’s race and also 11th on the gravelly Giro Rosa stage in 2020. She kicked off the 2021 season with 24th at Omloop het Nieuwsblad having to work for Hannah Barnes and Kasia Niewiadoma. That probably tells us where she is in the pecking order but she’s got the ability to crack the top-20 or higher.
Ceratizit have a great 3rd option in Erica Magnaldi who famously returned to work as a doctor during the first COVID lockdown. She was a DNF in the 2020 edition of Strade Bianche but is solid outsider after finishing 9th in the gravel stage of the Giro Rosa. She’s perfectly suited to getting over the Tuscan climbs and clearly the gravel doesn’t phase her much. She could sneak into the top-10. Aromitalia’s Rasa Leleivyte scored her best finish at Strade Bianche last season in the heat. She was 11th place. The Lithuanian loves an uphill finish, in particular the final climb of the Giro dell’Emilia. Previous Strade Bianche results have been in the 20th-30th bracket but she may be able to repeat last year’s good result.
Annemiek van Vleuten
Anna van der Breggen