Strade Bianche is without doubt one of the most exciting and memorable races on the calendar. A race born from the iconic L’Eroica, both the Pro race and the Gran Fondo see riders experiencing similar territory across the spectacular Tuscan landscape, just from very differing perspectives.
Following both the women’s and mens races across different locations last weekend, was superb. We secured our spot at the end of gravel sector 5 for the women’s race, which also happened to be a hairpin laden climb, with the long white road visible in the distance. The steady stream of bikes and cars flagged the race was close but it wasn’t until sighting the helicopter, that we knew their arrival was imminent……and then a first lone rider popped into view, with the chasing groups shortly following. To see this all unfold before us across such a magnificent vista, was just brilliant.
As the last rider and the final car of the race convoy passed by, it was back up the hill and onwards to the next spot, which also happened to be sector 5 at around the 80km mark of the mens race. This is a spot that we’ve ridden a few times during L’Eroica and so when we first saw the course for the race in 2022, we instantly chose it as our location – it’s one of those quintessentially beautiful Tuscan scenes of a road running along a ridge, before dropping into a small valley. Then the climb out, with Monte Amiata in the background and of course the mandatory cypress pines dotted throughout, makes it one of those vistas that takes your breath away every time – and no photo every really does it justice.
We enjoyed our ‘roadside’ lunch of a panino con proscuitto crudo and our short wait for the race, along with the other tifosi, before the arrival of the grand parade and the whirlwind of excitement, action and noise. With so much happening, it’s just an awesome overload of athleticism, speed, power, technology and beautiful bikes.
As the final official race car passed us, we tucked in behind a press car for the 5km trip off the gravel and then made our way to Siena for the finale. Team cars were stopping to pick up riders who’d popped off the back and officials were collecting race route signs before the “collectors” could get to them.
Arriving into the Campo of Siena, it was beautiful to once again see it full of people and activity. We made our way to a spot in the Campo which we know gives you a beautiful photo and which also happened to be just 70 meters from the finish. It was a relatively short wait before Pogacar sped around the final corner, passed us in the straight and looked back to ensure he was alone, before sitting up to savour his win. A steady stream of riders followed, bouncing along the cobbles, crossing the line and then proceeding to roll straight out of the piazza and on towards their team buses.
It was a really great day and so good to see the race close up from multiple settings – all spectacular in their own way.
However, even with the race complete, the great feeling was that this weekend of the Strade Bianche was not over yet….
It’s Gran Fondo Time
Most Gran Fondo’s require an earlier than usual start time and last Sunday was no different as we had to ensure that we arrived into Siena, parked and were on the grid, ready for an 8am start.
After clearing the windshield from the overnight frost, the car was registering an outside temperature of -5. This dropped a further degree, before slowly climbing to 0 as we parked and prepared to roll on to the start line. Yes, it was a little cool!
With over 6000 riders, the set up was well staged with the grid broken into different locations. The clock ticked down and our grid filled up. Next, we were away, and like every Gran Fondo start, it was “controlled disorder”. After a very fast 10kms, the first climb started, which seemed to temper the enthusiasm of some riders a little.
While the day was cold and did not get above 7 degrees, it was clear and bright, and with only a slight breeze.
The first gravel sector saw a few guys changing flats, and this increased with each km of gravel. After stopping to take a few photos, it was amazing to see the long line of riders continually flowing down the white roads. It was a grand procession of lycra through the Tuscan countryside. Spectacular!
While the course of the GF Strade Bianche takes in some of the same roads as L’Eroica, they are mostly ridden in reverse, which was great as we were able to see the same landscape we know and love, just from a different perspective. Riding in this part of Tuscany really is a visual feast…. stone houses lit by the soft sunlight, the hills of the Crete Senesi covered in new growth, dusty cipressi-lined roads, olive groves and leafless vineyards……. the list goes on.
And then there is the gravel, the Strade Bianche, the white roads.
Whatever you call it, for Damian riding on gravel is a passion, and It has been for many years. He says ‘there is an unexplainable sensation and level of joy with taking the road bike across gravel, but particularly the white roads of Tuscany. There is always a feeling of adventure and this feeling is even further heightened when there are new roads, new vistas and new gravel climbs’. Afterall, it’s what drew us to settle here in Tuscany, and specifically in Gaiole in Chianti, the home of L’Eroica.
After 50kms, the concentration of riders had thinned out, everyone had found their own rhythm and were now focused on navigating around the loose gravel, weaving their way up and flying down the undulating hills.
The kilometres seemed to click by easily and as we arrived at the final sector of gravel, a beautiful 1100m stretch that starts with a great descent and then concludes with a 14% climb to a church, we knew this was the final challenge and we were on the home stretch….. albeit still with plenty of twists, turns and undulation as we made our way into Siena, following the exact route as the Pro’s which included the 16% pinch of Via Santa Caterina.
The finish of this Gran Fondo is truly unique. With all the professional race infrastructure still in place, the spectators cheer you up the final climb before you take the turn into the centro storico, and also bounce along the cobbles before crossing the line in beautiful Piazza del Campo. It’s just magic to finish a beautiful day on the bike this way.
Ciao from Tuscany.