The Women's WorldTour will once again begin along the white gravel roads of Strade Bianche in the Tuscan region of Italy. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) will line up with bib number one as she took one of the most prestigious wins of her career at Strade Bianche in 2017, where she captured the series' first leader's jersey on home soil.
Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) took five victories and the overall title for the Women's WorldTour in 2017. She finished with 1016 points, ahead of compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten on 989 points and Katarzyna Niewiadoma 856 points in third place. She will start her road season at Strade Bianche after recently winning the Cyprus Sunshine Cup mountainbike solo event.
This year there are 23 events that are part of the Women's WorldTour with three new additions; Trois Jours de La Panne, Tour of Guangxi and Emakumeen Bira. Organisers are obliged to invite the top 15 teams in the world, based on the UCI Women's Team world ranking that was published in January - So expect the best of the best on the start line in Siena.
Those top 15 teams and their leading riders are 2015 winner Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans), Santos Women's Tour winner Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), Lucinda Brand and Omloop van het Hageland winner Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo Bigla) and twice runner-up Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM).
Also in the mix are Riejanne Markus (Waowdeals Pro Cycling), two-time world champion Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance Pro Cycling), Le Samyn des Dames winner Janneke Ensing (Ale Cipollini), Shara Gillow (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futurescope), Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana), former world champion Tatiana Guderzo (Hitec Products), Sofia Beggin (Astana Women's Team), recent Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Christina Siggaard (Team Virtu Cycling) and Silvia Persico (Valcar PBM).
Organisers are also permitted to invite two national teams (one from the country hosting the event and one invitation to a foreign national team), and the remaining teams must be UCI Women's Teams.
A longer race with more gravel in 2018 edition
This year, the race is nine kilometres longer at 136km. It includes none of the long ascents or iconic mountains that are so well known in Italy, instead it is challenging because of its punchy terrain and the eight gravel sectors, one sector more than last year, for a total of 30km of gravel.
The first two sectors of gravel are new this year. At the 18km mark, sector 1 takes the riders over gravel on a slightly downhill road. Sector 2, at the 25km mark, is more challenging at 5.8km long with a descent followed by a 10%- grade climb. The race then hits parts of the original route with a more familiar sector 3, at the 35km mark, in Radi that is 4.4km long, which heads straight into sector 4 that is 5.5km in La Piana at 50km into the race.
The peloton will race through the feedzone area in Buonconvento and toward sector 5, San Martino in Grania, at 9.5km is the longest gravel section, featuring technical twists and turns along undulating terrain and ends at the 73km mark.
Sector 6, 111km mark, may only be 800 metres long but it takes the riders into double digit gradient before landing up on the pavement in Vico d'Arbia.
The last two sectors are arguably the most challenging. Penultimate sector 7, at roughly 115km, is 2.4km but held on a climb with pitches as steep as 15% and the finale sector 8, at roughly 124km, is only 1.1km but on an a climb that maxes out at 18%.
There are only 12 kilometres from the last sector to the finish line and the route doesn't get easier on tarmac. There are steep sections of roughly 16% uphill followed by a 7% descent into a flat finish at Siena's Piazza del Campo.