Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) believes she might be a little bit crazy for loving a race like Strade Bianche. The event opens the Women's WorldTour on March 9 and is famed for being held along the white gravel roads and steep pitches in Tuscany.
"Maybe I am a little crazy," Moolman-Pasio told Cyclingnews. "But I love a challenging race like Strade Bianche, and I'm looking forward to testing my form this weekend."
It's easy to understand why Moolman-Pasio might question her sanity after a glimpse back to last year's rain-soaked and unseasonably cold Strade Bianche. Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) won the race after a long-range solo attack in the unimaginable conditions. It was surely an unforgettable victory for the current world champion.
Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) finished second, and Elisa Longo Borghini (now Trek-Segafredo) finished third. Moolman-Pasio finished eighth. Almost all of the riders were bundled up in layer upon layer to try and stay warm during the race, but more than half of the peloton finished either out of the time limit or not at all.
The peloton is two days away from this year's edition, and conditions are expected to be dry, which might make for an entirely different race compared to last year. The women will begin their race in Siena and race for 136 kilometres that includes 31.5 kilometres on gravel roads and a climb to the finish at the Piazza del Campo in Siena.
"The race suits so many different kinds of riders," said Moolman-Pasio, who will line up with her CCC-Liv teammate Marianne Vos, also a favourite for the win. "It can be won by a pure climber, but it can also be won by the Classics specialists, and of course the gravel sections add a really cool element.
"The unpredictable weather conditions of spring in Tuscany means that you have an incredibly exciting and unpredictable race. I love the race for this very reason; it is beautiful, raw, unpredictable and just damn right exciting."
Strade Bianche is the opening race of the Women's WorldTour, a 23-event series that runs from March through October and will take place in 10 countries on three continents.
"I'm really looking forward to the first race of the Women's WorldTour starting with Strade this weekend," Moolman-Pasio said. "Strade is such an iconic and special race in so many ways. The scenery is just absolutely spectacular for the people watching the race.
"This is not only a thrill for those watching, but also for us racing."