Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team lines up with the only two former winners of Strade Bianche when the second edition of the UCI Women’s WorldTour begins on Saturday. Lizzie Deignan, 2016 Strade Bianche champion, makes her season debut in Siena alongside 2016 Women’s WorldTour winner Megan Guarnier, who won the inaugural Strade Bianche in 2015.
The pair will be joined by Olympic road champion Anna van der Breggen, who has selected Strade Bianche as her first road race of 2017, reigning world champion Amalie Dideriksen, Luxembourgish champion Christine Majerus and Karol-Ann Canuel.
“I am starting a week later than normal as I am hoping to peak a little later in the spring compared to when I normally do,” said Deignan. “Normally I hit the ground running and hold onto my form as long as possible. I'm taking a gamble and hoping to build form throughout the spring.
“Everyone in the team knows what her role is,” said sport director Danny Stam. “The riders are not yet in their peak shape, which is planned for later in the spring. We will work as a team to get the best possible result.”
Strade Bianche became an instantly embraced classic upon launch 10 years ago. A women’s race was added to what had been a men’s only event two years ago. The one-day Italian race is best known for the white gravel sectors that unfold over the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Two new gravel sectors have been added to the third edition of the women’s race, bumping up the count to eight sectors totaling 30 kilometres. The 127-kilometre women’s course largely borrows from the men’s route and features an identical finale: a short steep climb up Via Santa Caterina with a maximum gradient of 16%. The climb tops out 300 metres from the finish line in Piazza del Campo in Siena.
“Strade was already a tough race and then they've added two gravel road sections,” said Stam. “The profile of the race will make it an elimination race, in which only the strongest survive until the finish line.”
“I don't know the new sections of dirt yet,” added Deignan. “We are doing a recon on Friday, and it will be an advantage to see them. I view technical or challenging sections as opportunities, another point for an individual attack or a place to manipulate the game with our strong team.”
A LOOK BACK
Deignan outfoxed Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Cycling) and Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) to the top step of the podium in Piazza del Campo in 2016. The trio broke away from a reduced peloton on the fifth of seven gravel sectors. Niewiadoma picked up the pace up the final climb but was unable to dislodge Deignan who attacked 100 metres before the archway entrance into the Piazza.
“Last year in Strade, I was flying,” said Deignan. “Typically at the time you don't understand how strong you are but looking back at my training in the weeks prior to Strade, I was incredibly strong, and the key factor in winning that race was how 'on form' I was.
“There was a critical moment going into one of the gravel sections where Christine took me out of a shocking position into first position,” added Deignan. “Without teammates being in top shape can be pointless.”
Deignan’s win gave Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team back-to-back victories in Siena. Guarnier had soloed to victory the year previous, notching what was then her career best result.
A LOOK AHEAD
The first two editions of Strade Bianche delivered stunning scenery, brilliant team tactics and a fierce fight for glory. Year three should be no different. With Deignan and Van der Breggen added into the mix for Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, the Dutch-registered squad’s greatest strength lies in the options its roster offers.
“The best way to use our strength is to have as many leaders feeling as fresh as possible as close to the finish as we can manage,” said Deignan. “Anything can happen and change the whole dynamic of a race very quickly. With three strong cards, we can be flexible and adapt quickly without having put all our eggs in one basket.”
While Deignan clearly recognises that she’s one of the cards her team could choose to play, she doesn’t expect to assume a leadership role. The 2016 road world champion hopes to back one of her teammates on Saturday.
“I am not in the same shape that I was last year going so rather than putting my hand up to lead the team I would aim to come away from the race having ridden strongly for a teammate,” she said. “I am a little short on intensity due to a few set backs this winter, therefore I am realistic about my chances of repeating victory. The team have opened the classics with great results. Being in this team you can always be confident that you will be one of the strongest units on the start line.
Strade Bianche served as the Women’s WorldTour opener last year and will again open the the highest-ranked race series for the women’s peloton in 2017. The inclusion of Strade Bianche in the highest-ranked race series for women only adds to the prestige of the one-day race. Deignan was the first wearer of the Women’s WorldTour jersey last year, and Boels-Dolmans passed the jersey from Deignan to Chantal Blaak to Guarnier, the eventual inaugural series winner.
“The Women’s WorldTour is a nice series, with a good organisation and great exposure,” said Stam. “In saying that, I rarely take a classification as a goal, instead I'm focusing on the races that lie ahead. We want to peak in the Ardennes week.”
We got some great news on Friday via a series of tweets from the UCI Women’s WorldTour account (UCI_WWT). According to these tweets, will be a live stream and live broadcast of the final hour of Strade Bianche. Eurosport Player will be the main option in Europe (except for France, where the final hour will air on Tuesday rather than live).
Eurosport Benelux will have 30 minutes of highlights following the race, and Rai Italia has a one-hour broadcast immediately following the men’s race. Eurosport Asia, SuperSport TV and Kwese Sports and Watch ESPN (Brasil) will all also show the final hour live on TV.
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team for Strade Bianche:
Anna van der Breggen
Editor's note: Van der Breggen will be a non-starter on Saturday due to illness. We will start one rider short without a replacement for Van der Breggen.