2024 Strade Bianche Men

Chasing Tadej Pogacar: Contenders & Predictions For Strade Bianche 2024

Chasing Tadej Pogacar: Contenders & Predictions For Strade Bianche 2024

Preview Strade Bianche 2024: Will Tadej Pogacar dominate the gravel again? Get insights into the race, contenders, and more.

Feb 26, 2024 by Gregor Brown
Pogacar Eyes Repeat: A Strade Bianche Preview

Italy, Tuscany, Gravel – this could be the greatest cycling cocktail known to man, and it's being served up again in Siena. Can anyone stop Tadej Pogacar from winning Strade Bianche again in the famous piazza among thousands of cheering fans?

We'll get to Pogacar and the favorites I think you should keep an eye on this Saturday, March 2. First, let's talk about this race because it's taking a major step ahead in 2024 and added even more reasons why we think it could be the newest monument in cycling.

Gravel Before Gravel Was Cool

Strade Bianche gave us gravel before gravel was cool. Long before the trend of gravel bikes and Gravel World Championships, there was Strade Bianche. The organizer embraced Italy's old charm, the early years of the Giro d'Italia, and added to what the Giro was doing in later years. Remember the Cadel Evans gravel stage win in 2010?

In 2007, a star was born. Using the charm of the local Eroica granfondo in the same area and adding in top-level pros. The stars turned up, won, and loved it. Riders would often try to find a way to fit into their busy schedules with the opening weekend of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Paris-Nice, and Tirreno-Adriatico, and the classics ahead, like Milano-Sanremo.

In the process, with wins like those from Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert – Strade Bianche became a classic -- some even consider it monument-worthy... but more on that later.

Strade Bianche: More of What We Love

For 2024, Strade Bianche is giving us more of what we love: gravel. The race will now cover over 200 kilometers for the first time, that means more of a classic feel and more gravel. The race's makeover sees a final circuit repeated twice, 15 sectors in total, or 71 km of gravel in a race that stretches 215 kilometers.

The race begins at Siena's fort, heads south of town, through some of Italy's most picturesque landscapes... Think rolling hills, cypress trees, olive trees, vineyards. And riders racing on small farm roads, some of them gravel, some going through towns as old as the Renaissance. This is Strade Bianche.

And oh, did I mention the Piazza del Campo finish? The historic square in the center of Siena, where they hold the horse race twice a year, makes a natural stadium and one of the most picturesque finishes in cycling.

The Gravel Sectors

Let's get down to the nitty-gritty, the meat of this race, and that's the 15 sectors or 71km of gravel. They come early in the race and late in the race, and in the middle too. The big one, arguably the hardest, is Monte Sante Marie with gravel up a steep climb and a gravel descent. It's in the second half of the race, it's going to definitely shape the outcome.

Then we have this new finish that's going to change the race. These back-to-back sectors of Colle Pinzuto and Tolfe, which are in the circuit that is repeated twice, the final one leaving around 12 to race. This means that gravel comes much later in a race that is also longer.

All of this without mentioning the finish in Siena. To get to that famous Piazza, everyone has to race up the nasty Santa Caterina road. This is where Wout van Aert cramped in 2018. He climbed back on his bike and raced to finish third in what was a breakout performance for Van Aert.

Past Winners Of Strade Bianche

Wout van Aert would return to win two years later in 2020, joining a prestigious list of past winners over the 17 editions: Philippe Gilbert, Michał Kwiatkowski, Zdenek Stybar, Tiesj Benoot, Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel, and Tadej Pogacar. In 2023, Tom Pidcock won after a 20km solo attack.

Fabian Cancellara won three times – in 2008, 2012, and 2016 – enough that they named one of the sectors after him. That's one of the longest, and most grueling sectors, the 11.5km Monte Sante Marie sector.

On the women's side, Demi Vollering won last year in a head-to-head battle with her teammate Lotte Kopecky. They are again the favorites for team SD Worx. Their race covers 137km, a course that is just as power-packed.

Can Anyone Beat Tadej Pogacar In Strade Bianche?

Last time Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) raced here in 2022, he won, attacking 50km out and winning solo in Siena. The race Saturday marks his 2024 debut, whereas in 2022, he had first race in the UAE Tour and won he overall in the home country of the team's sponsor.

Pogacar last raced in the Lombardia Italian classic at the end of 2023 and won that with a 31km solo move. It completed a season where he had won the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and finished second the Tour de France.

His team includes Tim Wellens, who just finished second in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and new Mexican star Isaac Del Toro.

Tom Pidcock will offer the biggest competition as last year's winner and one of the most skilled riders on this sort of terrain. His Ineos team includes two-time winner Michal Kwiatkowski, Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, and American Magnus Sheffield.

Another US rider Sepp Kuss will lead the mighty Visma team. Wout Van Aert, who helped teammate Jan Tratnik win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and then won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the next day, will be skipping this year. His next goal is E3, Ghent-Wevelgem, and Tour of Flanders.

American Neilson Powless at EF Education-EasyPost with Ben Healy should be a force. Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) should ride well over all the climbs but doesn't have the one-day pedigree like Pogacar or Pidcock.

Also, keep an eye on Soudal-Quick Step, wanting to make up for last weekend with its stars Julian Alaphilippe, the 2019 race winner, and Kasper Asgreen.

Mathieu van der Poel, winner in 2021, won't be in Siena. After winning the cyclo-cross World Championships, his season debut is yet to come. His first race will be Milano-Sanremo later in March.

The Strade Bianche Weather Forecast

It's been raining all week in Tuscany. This Saturday, expect mostly cloudy skies with light rain - and a potential for a mud-fest like 2018. Temperatures will hover between 8°C (47°F) and 12°C (54°F).

Strade Bianche Reaches Monument Status?

So given all of its history, its winners, is this race a monument? Should it be included with the five one-day classics we call monuments: Milano-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Lombardia? That something for you to decide. Consider it this Saturday, when we're all glued to the screens watching the 2024 Strade Bianche.