A sentimental sport, Cycling’s most prestigious events are, in general, built on lore and legacy. Few accelerated to iconic status like Strade Bianche (White Roads), named for its 65 km of loose gravel sectors. Revered by its competitors and their fans for the images, drama, and gritty brutal racing it produces, this race has been on my bucket list since the first edition. My parents live down a 3 km gravel road, so I grew up riding it every day. Not only that, but Siena is an hour away from our Euro home base, Lucca, Italy, so Jenna and some friends could be there. Staying upright and on the rough road requires a balance of letting the bike do what it wants and a delicate and ever fluctuating sense of how much force to guide it with. I enjoyed our course preview ride, but the climbs were steeper and the gravel was looser than I expected. I wondered what it would be like to charge down those beautiful roads with 150 other riders fighting for position. Our team: Roman, Gino, Rasmus, Michael, Reinhardt, Jaco, and I.
Strade Bianche: 184 km
Our directors told me to go for the breakaway. I wanted it and made a few too many foolish attacks spending energy like the race was 40 km long. On the second gravel sector when three riders attacked near the top of a 3 km gravel climb I was right at the front but I couldn’t push any harder than we were going (5 minutes at 460 watts). Those efforts dulled my punch for surging into position. In an agonising dark moment I had to remind myself, “it’s hard for everyone. You like this, and the mechanics are going to wash your bike! Don’t you dare feel sorry for yourself, enjoy it! Get in it!” Pounding, grinding, sliding, chattering down those roads in a cloud of dust felt exhilarating.
At the critical point we’d begun our recon, Roman flatted. Rasmus stayed back with him. A crash blocked the road. POW! PSSSSHH… In various sections rider's tires punctured and either hissed or exploded. All of this chaos created small gaps in the long line of riders. It all came back together, but the subsequent sector shelled about 50 riders. Fighting into decent position for the next hot point, I tried not a brake on the 80 kph downhill into a 90 degree left turn on gravel. I took the inside of the turn, but Reinhardt crashed to the left. I had to stop, reset, and chase through dropping riders. I could see three groups, three clouds of dust ahead. I caught the third with Michael. Roman made the second. The first two groups had fifteen riders in them. We still had 40 km left to race, but the groups never came back together. After five hours of 348 normalised power we climbed into Siena. Roman finished 20th, and I finished 36th, not the results we had hoped for but Strade Bianche met all of my expectations and was more fun than I’d hoped. I loved it.
Jenna found me filthy and weary at the finish and we joined our friends for a juicy steak dinner on the way home. We have three recovery days before starting Tirreno-Adriatico. Stay tuned!