We are back for the annual gravel race in Tuscany. And the ever going discussion whether it should be a monument or not. Let’s talk about the route.
It is the same as last year. A breakaway gets up the road and the teams with the favorites will control the stage. Usually, the finale starts around sector 7.
They head south and race counter-clockwise.
Sector 7 – San Martino in Grania
It was not a very important sector in 2022 as most of the favorites crashed shortly before the sector. In 2021, we had a group of satellite riders attack over the top here. It is a good spot for teams with multiple options to try and get a rider out in front.
Sector 8 – Monte San Marie
Here, we have 54.5 km left of the race. This is the sector where Pogacar attacked (sneaked away) last year, never to be seen again.
The last 25 km – Monteaperti, Colle Pinzuto, Le Tolfe and the finish in Siena.
I have decided to do this as one sector. This is usually when the favorites for the win has been found and now we just need to find the winner.
Monteaparti (500m at 10.4%) is very difficult near the top. We are approximately 23.5 km from the finish here. Wout van Aert and Pidcock was dropped here in 2021. In 2022, a group of favorites got clear of a larger group with Pogacar still being out in front.
Colle Pinzuto is the the next sector. It is the longest inside the finale but it is the start of the sector that is most difficult with 400m at 12.8%. We are 19 km from Siena by now.
Le Tolfe is next up on the menu. Once again, a gravel sector with a steep incline. This is a very easy sector to remember, as the come down from a descent before 350m at 12.9%. We are just 12.5 km from the line by now. Mathieu van der Poel attacked here in 2021 putting Bernal in red while Alaphilippe closed over the top.
The finale in Siena is a finale hard to dislike. The hardest part is 200m at 14.3%. Usually, the first over the climb is the first to cross the line too.
In the past two seasons, there has been more wind than on Saturday. The wind will likely not make an impact at all. We will have 2-3 m/s winds, temperatures all the way up to 13 C and no rain on the forecast.
How will the race unfold?
Mathieu van der Poel starts as the big favorite. The team is strong enough to keep everything together until Mathieu van der Poel feel comfortable attacking. The only worry I currently have is he will attack too early, meaning he will be in a group of favorites where he is outnumbered.
Other strong teams comes in the form of Bahrain-Victorious with two very good options in Bilbao and Mohoric. The same can very much be said for INEOS with Pidcock and Rodriguez, Intermarché with Costa and Rota and Quick-Step brings Alaphilippe, Bagioli and Vansevenant and last but not least UAE with Wellens, Formolo and Ulissi.
These teams need to be on the move as early as sector 7. I doubt anyone besides Alaphilippe stands a chance head-to-head with MvdP on the climb in Siena. The way to beat the Dutch rider is to have the numerical advantage and trust your co-leaders can finish off the race.
Therefore, I hope teams with multiple strong options can attack. It is easy to PCM this in your head, but they must have the legs to attack and hope the right group of riders follow them. Then, they will just have to play it cool and let the other teams do the dirty work. You could call in JV tactics – attack and always have dynamic race plan.
Mathieu van der Poel – as mentioned, he has a strong team. The plan must be to keep it all together and not to panic when the other teams attack. Just keep the pace high and steady. Usually, there will always be a few riders up the road either not willing or simply not able to take turns, destroying the cohesion in the group. On sector 8 is where he could start to run thin in terms of domestiques, here he will attack. Bring them all out to the MvdP-show and simply attack-is-the-best-type-of-defence. Despite this being his first race day, I expect him to be near 100%.
Quick-Step – Alaphilippe must start as the leader, with Bagioli and Vansevenant being the two best options to attack further out. I’ve seen cycling Twitter being all over Vansevenant and the sniper’s worst nightmare has had a brilliant start to the season. I will be honest, the only scenario he and Bagioli can win is from attacking early and the right group goes, they all work together and then take the sprint in Siena. I don’t think that ever has happened. Alaphilippe crashed out last year, either due to crosswinds or a helicopter, I’m unsure we ever got the answer to it. He starts as a podium contender.
INEOS – Pidcock and Rodriguez are the two persons I will be keen to look at. Pidcock is in good form but I still insists he is not the cobbled-classics rider everyone thinks he is. He is a fantastic rider, and Strade -Bianche is a race that suits him to the bone. He was 5th here in 2021 and he is a stronger rider now. Rodriguez is showing some early season form. The Italian classic is the last race for him in some times, I expect him to get a strong result. He already showed he can handle gravel in Valencianna 2022. They have a strong team overall, Pidcock should be glued to MvdP’s wheel while the others should be allowed to attack.
UAE – I must say, I think Wellens will compete for the win. What I saw in the opening weekend was fantastic. I dare saying he was the strongest in OHN and KBK but the result doesn’t always show the strength of the rider. It is a team with multiple strong options and they rarely race very structured without Pogacar. I think McNulty and Formolo would do well as co-leaders for Wellens, trying to provide the extra depth in the squad.
Bahrain – Victorious – they bring two options who could well be the strongest duo in the race. Bilbao has done Strade – Bianche twice, finishing 10th and 5th. Mohoric has never really got everything to click here, but in my book, he was one of the strongest in the opening weekend and it should be a brilliant race for him.
Jumbo Visma – now they are not the favorites. They have shown how it is supposed to be done when you have the best team. They still bring two very good options. Valter was 4th here in 2022 and he recently did a superb race in Galicia. Benoot, a former winner, recently took a win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Looking at the two of them, they could be a dangerous duo.
Rota – I hope to see him challenging for the top-10. He is in very good form at the moment. The team does have depth but I think Rota is the best option. Costa is in fantastic form, but he with a DNF yesterday I’m unsure if form is running out.
Vlasov – he had a brilliant 2022 and he looks to keep the momentum in the new season. I think he will be challenging for the top-10.
Quinn Simons – he did very well here in 2022. He has already showed promising form early this season but there is still a step or two more to climb before I see him challenging MvdP.
Who will win?
As a pessimist, I doubt the teams will attack on sector 7. That means everything is together at sector 8 where we will see the contenders (hopefully) getting away.
With the question regarding MvdP current form, I will go for a rider that has impressed this season – a win for Tim Wellens.