The white roads of Tuscany
Like the northern classics, the Strade Bianche has that vital
mix of challenging terrain and mixed surface that creates
unpredictable racing and heroic riding. Scenes of dust and
mud-splattered bikes and faces are the defining image of the
Where pave marks out the northern classics from other road
races, Strade Bianche has its own and unique unpaved gravel roads
that crisscross the lumpy Tuscan countryside through vineyards and
Away from the race, these roads are primarily used by farmers
and local traffic are quiet but offer cyclists a largely
traffic-free way to get about the beautiful countryside.
But racing these roads is tough and challenging, with steep and
punchy climbs and unpredictable grip on the descents, with dust if
it's dry or mud if it rains adding to the challenge. Arguably not
as taxing and demanding on bodies and equipment as cobbles of
Paris-Roubaix, they're still a test of fortitude and riding
They are tricky roads to ride fast and in control, and
unpredictable weather can rapidly change the fortunes of racers and
reward the brave.
If you like riding pave, then you'll love riding the white
roads. There's something satisfying about blasting along unpaved
roads through the idyllic Tuscan countryside and there's something
even more inwardly heroic when, as it did in 2017, lashing down
with rain to make the task of completing the gran fondo even more
Clouds of dust are replaced by splashes of white and brown mud,
plastering every surface of the bike and caking exposed skin. You
can't help but smile and laugh at the sheer lunacy of it all.
Riding the white roads requires a technique not dissimilar to
riding cobbles. Flat out fast is the best approach but the gravel,
especially when dampened by rain, saps energy and slows momentum.
Care needs to be taken on descents, made dangerous by unseen holes,
braking bumps caused by motor vehicles and patches of deep gravel.
The unsuspecting cyclist can easily find a wheel snatched
unexpectedly, crashes were a common sight.
As if the riding wasn't good enough, another reason that Strade
Bianche has, in my opinion, become a modern classic is the finish
line Siena's Piazza del Campo, a UNESCO world heritage site and one
of the most beautiful finishing lines I've ever ridden across.
Whisper it, but it beats many of the finish lines used by the
northern classics, even the Roubaix velodrome!
This is somewhere you'd visit outside of the race season as a
tourist to enjoy the culture and history, taste the local food and
wine and drink the best coffee served up anywhere in Europe. Who
goes to Belgium outside of the spring classics?
For those reasons you really should add Strade Bianche to your
bucket list. The gran fondo is brilliantly organised and offers a
taste of the professional race, which is run the day before. It's
an easy race to spectate with a choice of sectors that guarantee a
large slice of the action and it's relatively easy to catch the
race a few times before hot-footing to the Piazza del Campo to see
the winner cross the line to rapturous applause by approving and