Megan Guarnier and current world champion Lizzie Armitstead dominated the first-ever edition of the women’s Strade Bianche in 2015 and they will be back this year, again riding for Boels Dolmans team, as the race kicks off the first-ever Women’s WorldTour.
The UCI announced the Women's WorldTour series last fall and the season-long competition includes the best one-day and best stage races on the women’s calendar. Strade Bianche will mark a new era on women’s cycling.
Race organizers announced the 23 participating teams of six riders in January, and Guarnier and Armitstead will wear number one and number two bibs. While Peter Sagan is struggling to win in his rainbow jersey, Armitstead has already taken her first big win of 2016 with a lone victory at last week’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Women. She must be a favourite again this weekend as she has worked on her climbing ability in view of the tough Olympic road race circuit.
As part of the Women’s WorldTour, the best teams in the women’s peloton will be in action at Strade Bianche. Wiggle High5 will field Elisa Longo Borghini, Rabo Liv will send powerhouse duo Anna van der Breggen and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, while Cervelo Bigla’s Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio will also be in action.
Tiffany Cromwell is part of the Canyon-SRAM team that also includes Lisa Brennauer and Alena Amialiusik. Emma Johansson will be part of the strong Wiggle High5 team and showed her form by finishing third at Omloop.
Amongst the Italian riders looking for success on home roads are Rossella Ratto, Eva Lechner and Valentina Scandolara (Cylance Pro Cycling).
The Strade Bianche race is arguably one of the toughest races on the 2016 Women’s WorldTour. The route is 121km long and includes seven sectors of dirt roads. That is only two less then the men, with the race finishing with the same tough climb to Siena and then the dive down to the line in Piazza il Campo.
Last year, Guarnier won after a powerful solo attack, with teammate Lizzie Armitstead taking second ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda).
Armitstead and Guarnier used their strength in numbers to combine and attack their rivals. First Armitstead made a move on a steep section of the second to last sector of gravel. When she was pulled back, Guarnier went hard as the gradient eased, she created a gap and managed to open a lead of 40 seconds. The final kilometres dipped and rose in the suburbs of Siena but Guarnier had the strength to stay away and even extended her lead. She tackled the final climb up to the city centre calmly and was able to celebrate her solo victory.
Rain is forecast for Saturday with a strong south-easterly wind also likely to play a factor in the race and making Strade Bianche’s debut in the Women’s WorldTour even more spectacular but even more difficult to win.
Cyclingnews will be in Siena on Saturday for both the men’s and women’s editions of Strade Bianche with a full race report, photo galleries and news from the race.