The snow that has fallen on the Tuscan hills and covered the Strade Bianche gravel roads in recent days has begun to melt as temperatures rise, but rain is forecast for Saturday's races, setting up an epic edition of the sport's newest one-day Classic.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) won the women's race in the rain, while Kwiatkowski out-powered Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) on the final climb to the finish in Siena in the men's race.
Many riders and teams arrived in Tuscany on Thursday in time for a final Friday morning recon ride. Snow remained along the side of the roads but the gravel was clear. However, the usually compact surface has become covered in brown mud as temperatures warmed up. Forecasts for Saturday predict rain and temperatures of 11 degrees Celsius.
The UCI introduced the Extreme Weather Protocol to protect riders' health and safety but few want to avoid racing on the gravel roads of Tuscany.
"The snow is turning to rain and the temperatures are rising, so there shouldn't be any problems for the race," race director Mauro Vegni told Italian television on Thursday night.
"However, it could be an epic edition of the race just like when the Giro d'Italia raced on the Strade Bianche in 2010."
Indeed, the current muddy conditions reminded many of the 2010 Giro stage that covered several sections of dirt road before finishing in Montalcino. Former mountain biker and then world champion Cadel Evans won the stage after Vincenzo Nibali crashed and lost the leader's pink jersey. Nibali will ride this year's Strade Bianche and is down as an excellent bike handler, but it remains to be seen if he will risk his early season campaign for a chance of success in Tuscany.
Strade Bianche covers a 184km route south of Siena with 63km of the now famous white gravel roads divided across 11 sectors, some of them up to 11km long. The route profile is like a shark's tooth, creating the combination of the rough roads of a cobbled Classic with the climbs of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Despite a lack of a long, glorious history, some have suggested that Strade Bianche should be considered the sport's sixth Monument Classic alongside Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia.
Riders genuinely love to race Strade Bianche, with Team Sky's Tao Geoghegan Hart tweeting he was "gutted not to be riding this, best race of the season."
His Sky teammate Gianni Moscon suggested that Strade Bianche is unique. "Let's stop putting Strade Bianche with the Classics of the north, we are in central Italy and this is a unique race, it has its own personality, it shines on its own. To love it is the easiest thing in the world," Moscon told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"We race here once a year in some breath-taking countryside and the finish in Piazza del Campo is the most scenic of all the Classics. On the last climb up to the line there are always crowds lining both sides and that gives you an extra kick of adrenaline to fight for victory."
Moscon has completed several recon rides in the snow and cold with his Sky teammates including 2017 winner Kwiatkowski. The Polish rider will be team leader, but Moscon is still ambitious and hopes Team Sky can use its strength in depth.