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Strade Bianche 2021: Who is going to win?

Joe Robinson
5 Mar 2021

WorldTour racing continues this Saturday and here are the men and women who could take victory in Tuscany at the 2021 Strade Bianche

The cycling calendar continues this weekend with Strade Bianche, the alluring semi-Classic that rumbles across the picturesque white roads of Tuscany, Italy.

One of the most beautiful races in the world, this Italian semi-Classic is still in its relative infancy debuting in just 2007, making it a full five years younger than Alejandro Valverde’s racing career.

However, the mixture of Tuscan rolling vineyards and gravel ‘strade bianche’ (white roads) has quickly secured this race's place as one of the best in the calendar, so much so that some call it the Sixth Monument. With the race under 200km, it can never be deemed one of cycling’s Monuments but it is still, nonetheless, a race that shouldn't be missed.

This year will see the 15th edition of the men’s race and 7th of the women's as they tackle 11 gravel sections across 184km and eight gravel sections across 136km respectively, with both races finishing in the hilltop town of Siena.

Previous winners are varied among the pure Classic specialists and the punchy climbers, but they all share one thing in common: they are hard as nails.

Defending champions are Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar, previously Mitchelton-Scott) who won in scorching weather conditions last August. It’ll be a little different this weekend, however.

If weather forecasts are to be believed, this edition is facing an 80% likelihood of rain meaning the chances of wet ‘strade bianche’ is almost a certainty. We last had a mud-splattered Strade in 2018 when Tiesj Benoot and Anna van der Breggen won.

Below, Cyclist takes a look at some of the men’s and women’s favourites.

Who are the favourites for Strade Bianche 2021?

The women

Let’s start with the women, shall we? So, who is going to beat Anna van der Breggen then?

The Dutchwoman won the race in 2018, in the wet by the way, had a barnstorming 2020 season and has also started 2021 with a bang. Her SD Worx team played a tactical blinder at Omloop Het Niuewblad on ‘Opening Weekend’, always having options for the attack, while Van Der Breggen was simply too good when attacking to victory on the Bosberg.

She retires at the end of the season, too, which is surely only stoking her desire to win even further. Van der Breggen is the undeniable favourite for victory at Strade Bianche. And if not her, then why not new teammate and Dutch compatriot Demi Vollering, she was super-strong at Omloop too.

Best-equipped to stop SD Worx are maybe Movistar. They come with defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten who will be looking for an opportunity to make amends for her 21st place at Omloop, a disappointing performance as far as the Dutchwoman is concerned.

Amends will be made by Van Vleuten sooner or later and with the support of last year’s third-place finisher Leah Thomas, they could form a dynamic duo.

Another fly in SD Worx’s soup will be Trek-Segafredo. They have previous winner Lizzie Deignan among their ranks but it’s another previous victor, Elisa Longo Borghini who we are tipping. What a rider the Italian is. Never says die, always taking the race by the scruff of the neck, a hard woman who knows how to win.

We tipped Team DSM for big things at Omloop last week yet their best finisher was Juliette Labous in 29th, 2 minutes 22 seconds down. We have faith that Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij will go better at Strade, however, and could both be in with a chance of a podium.

Canyon-Sram’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma has finished on the Strade Bianche podium on four occasions yet never managed a victory. Could that change this year? And how about FDJ’s Danish dynamite Cecille Uttrup Ludwig? She’s been knocking on the door of a major victory for a few years and could quite easily race to victory in Siena this weekend.

Maybe Britain’s own Lizzie Banks of Ceratizit-WNT will surprise the big names with a long-range attack and then there’s Marianne Vos racing for her new Jumbo-Visma team: never rule out Vos.

Favourite: Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx)  
Dark horse: Liane Lippert (Team DSM)

The men

Current Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar, current World Champion Julian Alaphillippe, current cyclocross World Champion Mathieu van der Poel, two-time former winner Michal Kwiatkowski, defending champion Wout van Aert, current Il Lombardia champion Jakob Fuglsang and Tom Pidcock.

There is more talent in this year’s men’s Strade Bianche peloton than you could shake a stick at.

You could make an utterly convincing argument for any of those seven riders to win on Saturday. On their day, they can all be untouchable on the terrain presenting itself at Strade Bianche.

So what makes things even more incredible is that the winner in Siena this weekend will be none of those riders mentioned. Because the winner of this year’s Strade Bianche is going to be Bauke Mollema.

I’ve never been so sure of something in my life. The Trek-Segafredo man has started the season like a cannonball. He was swashbuckling at the Tour de Haut Var and then imperious at Trofeo Laigueglia, brushing aside the likes of Egan Bernal and Mikel Landa.

Mollema is a rider who thrives when the racing is hard and it gets no harder than the gravel roads of Tuscany, perfect launchpads for a rider with such venom on steep inclines as Mollema.

While all those superstar riders – Van der Poel, Alaphilippe, Pocagar, Van Aert – becoming occupied with watching one another, Mollema will take advantage and ride off into the setting sun over Siena. And if Mollema doesn’t win, his teammate Gianluca Brambilla will anyway.

Favourite: Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), obviously  
Dark Horse: Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), mark our words!