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Strade Bianche will be the first big one-day race back after the COVID-19 break and the top cycling stars are itching to show themselves. There are many to choose from — Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) to Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling), who is coming back from a broken leg.
The race covers 184 kilometers, 63 kilometers on gravel roads south of Siena in the hot Tuscan hills. The WorldTour event suits classics riders with a bit of climbing punch in their legs, which is why we went with the following five.
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
The Dutchman never has ridden the Italian race, but clearly has technical skills with multiple mountain bike and cyclo-cross titles. He can also climb, just this week he was recording Strava KOMs in the Alps while training with his team. Like many, this will be his first race back and he is eager to make his mark immediately.
2. Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling)
Like everyone else, the Canadian has been siting out since mid-March but unlike the others, he has been recovering from a broken leg suffered from a crash in Paris-Nice. Woods is back to top shape, he won a stage of the virtual Tour de France and has been putting in the miles on the gravel roads around his base in Girona, Spain. Now, Strade Bianche will offer Woods a chance to see if he is not only virtually back at the top but in reality, and on some of the toughest roads in WorldTour racing.
3. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step)
It is hard not to select the Frenchman, who will be defending his title and backed by the strongest classics team over the last two decades: Deceuninck-Quick Step. The team will include 2015 winner Zdenek Stybar and workhorses of the pedigree you would see on the roads to Roubaix. Alaphilippe has raced around 2600km before the COVID stop, but had not won yet. Could Saturday be his first of 2020?
4. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team)
Isn't it about time the Belgian wins Strade Bianche? He finished second twice and sixth to Alaphilippe last year. Expect good things from Golden Greg because the pressure is on with CCC needing a sponsor and AG2R is waiting in the wings to sign the Olympic star. He will bring the hard-man Belgian spirit that is required for Strade Bianche that could finally net him a win.
5. Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
Like Woods, Van Aert is still coming back from a leg injury. He suffered a deep cut in last year's Tour de France and has only raced once since, the 200km Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before COVID took hold. Based on his ride and recent conversations, it appears that he already made his full recovery. So will the third time be the charm for Van Aert? The last two editions, he finished third. With his cyclo-cross skills and now with experience,, he could top the podium in 2020.