Racing onto the Strade Bianche

Our team is excited to race in front of Tuscany’s fans

February 29, 2024

On Saturday, our riders will race across the hills of Tuscany at the Strade Bianche.

Alison Jackson, Kristen Faulkner, Letizia Borghesi, Magdeleine Vallieres, Noemi Rüegg, and Coryn Labecki, will lead the charge for EF Education-Cannondale.

Alberto Bettiol, Richard Carapaz, Stefan de Bod, Ben Healy, Mikkel Honoré, Neilson Powless, and James Shaw will storm into the dust for EF Education-EasyPost.

They will race south from Siena and into the countryside, covering 215 kilometers for the men and 137 for the women, before returning to the city for the final climb up the polished slabs of the Via Santa Caterina and into the Piazza del Campo, where a roar of fans will await them.

The race is named after the white gravel roads that mark the route, which Italians call strade bianche. These chalky paths weave up and down the hills, through vineyards and olive groves and into forests, past sleepy villages and renaissance villas. Lined by cypress trees, they are mostly traveled by tractors and cyclotourists, until the last weekend in February, when thousands journey out with their picnics and flags to see the peloton rattle past in all its color and sound.

For the racers, those unpaved sectors are treacherous. Rutted and skiddy, they kick up dusty white dirt as soon as a tire touches them, which turns into a slippery clay paste if it is wet.

“I love this race,” says Letizia Borghesi. “It is one of the coolest races on the calendar and also one of the hardest, because of the gravel parts. It is beautiful to race up those steep, hard climbs and then hit the gravel sectors with a lot of speed. Riding through the dust or mud is epic.”

Letizia and her teammates will face 12 gravel sectors during their race. The men’s course includes 15 and is just over 30 kilometers longer than it was in previous years.

Mikkel Honoré thinks that will make this year’s edition even more spectacular.

“I think things are going to play out in a very similar way to the way we have raced it in the past, just with a bigger time difference at the finish line from the first to the second to the third,” he says. “It is going to be more demanding and harder racing. From Montalcino, where we have the feed zone, to the finish will just be full-on racing.”

The white gravel roads test riders’ skills as well as their legs. Letizia is excited to show off the bike handling ability she has honed racing cyclocross.

“If you are confident on the bike and can ride well though the corners and technical parts on the downhills and gravel, you can save a lot of energy,” she says. “With really good skills, you can gain a lot.”

Mikkel Honoré loves that about the event. It harks back to cycling’s origins, when the sport pitted racer against racer on these same dirt roads.

“You need to concentrate from the start to the finish,” he says. “It is a very technically demanding course. You need to have good skills and be tactically smart and you obviously need to be super, super strong to make a difference in the end. It is just so basic. You do need luck, but most of the time the strongest racer still wins. To be at the front of Strade Bianche, you need to be an amazing rider.”

The Italian fans appreciate the simplicity of the race. Mikkel and Letizia are excited to put on a show for them.

“The supporters are awesome here,” Letizia says. “Every sector is really crowded with so many people cheering and screaming. Rural Tuscany has a very traditional cycling culture and a lot of people ride. It feels special to be here and race in front of them and especially be an inspiration for the young girls who are starting to ride bikes.”

“The fans here are super passionate,” Mikkel says. “That’s what makes them so great. I feel like the attention is only increasing. The general public, and especially women, are watching cycling a lot more.”

One year, you should make the trip to Siena to join them. Better, ride the Strade Bianche gran fondo yourself during a Team EF Coaching Pro Race Camp.

In the meantime, get up Saturday and cheer for our team. We’re going to race our hearts out to get to the Piazza del Campo first.

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