Following the cancellation of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race for the second consecutive year, Strade Bianche Women will once again be the first race of the 2022 Women’s WorldTour. It is known for its white, gravel roads, beautiful landscapes and the aggressive racing it produces.
Six steep climbs and eight gravel sectors litter the 136km route the peloton will tackle after setting out from Siena for a circuit of the Tuscan countryside.
These obstacles offer plenty of opportunities to break up the field and there are many riders who will be seeking to do just that so they can take on the final ramp into Siena in prime position to fight for victory on the finish line in the historic Piazza del Campo.
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- Team: Canyon-SRAM
- Age: 27
- Race Record: 2nd in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 3rd in 2019
Remarkably, Niewiadoma has finished in the top-ten at Strade Bianche on every occasion that she has completed the race. This run of results includes a second place in three consecutive editions, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and a third place in 2019.
One of the peloton’s most aggressive riders, Niewiadoma is likely to unleash a series of late attacks in an attempt to break away from the main field, and finally secure an elusive victory at Strade Bianche.
In this endeavour, she will be ably supported by riders such as Elise Chabbey, Tiffany Cromwell and new signing Soraya Paladin, as her team has strengthened during the off-season.
- Team: Movistar
- Age: 39
- Race Record: 1st in 2019 and 2020
Displaying her early season form, Annemiek van Vleuten took victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend, attacking so ferociously on the Bosberg that only Demi Vollering could match her acceleration, and then winning a two-person sprint with the rider from SD Worx at the finish.
Despite her professed dislike of gravel roads, van Vleuten has already won Strade Bianche twice, in 2019 and 2020. On these occasions, she took victory from long-range solo attacks, winning by 37 seconds in 2019 and, by just two seconds in 2020 after catching the lone breakaway rider, Mavi Garcia.
Although she is most well-known for her solo victories, van Vleuten’s win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad showcased her sprint, an ominous sign to her rivals that she possesses many ways to secure a third victory at Strade Bianche Donne.
- Team: Trek-Segafredo
- Age: 30
- Race Record: 1st in 2017, 2nd in 2021, 3rd in 2018 and 2015
The only Italian rider to have won Strade Bianche Donne, Longo Borghini has consistently finished amongst the top echelons of the results page in this race with podium finishes in 2015, 2018 and 2021 to complement her victory in 2017.
Longo Borghini secured this win after escaping with four other riders on the penultimate gravel sector, and beating Kasia Niewiadoma in the final sprint in Siena. This year, Longo Borghini will likely share leadership duties with her younger compatriot, the world champion Elisa Balsamo, creating additional opportunities for Trek-Segafredo.
Their team will contain many other strong riders too, though time trial world champion Ellen van Dijk, who last year finished 10th in the race, has her attention focussed elsewhere as she currently leads the Bloeizone Fryslan Tour.
- Team: SD Worx
- Age: 26
- Race Record: 17th in 2021
Earmarked by many as the favourite for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kopecky was caught out in the final split but still rode strongly within the chase group that formed behind. It was her first race for SD Worx, a team whose strength is so great that it should help propel Kopecky to further success.
An impressive season last year saw her win the Lotto Belgium Tour and finish second at Gent-Wevelgem. Her Strade Bianche, however, proved disappointing as she was thwarted by a puncture at a crucial point in the race last year. Kopecky will be hoping for better luck in her second start at the race.
- Team: Jumbo-Visma
- Age: 34
- Race Record: 6th in 2020, 7th in 2019 and 2021
The white, gravel roads for which Strade Bianche is named define the race, constituting 31.6km of the course. They present enormous bike-handling challenges and few in the peloton are as well equipped to cope with these difficulties as Marianne Vos. An eight-time cyclo-cross world champion, Vos’ ability to race on difficult surfaces is unparalleled.
Nonetheless, Strade Bianche is one of the few races that Vos has not won in her illustrious career, though she has finished in the top ten several times. This year, as it often is, Strade Bianche will be Vos’ first road race of the season but she had a phenomenal cyclo-cross season during the winter, delivering the biggest victory of them all to claim the rainbow stripes in the discipline for a staggering eighth time.
Whether she can immediately translate this cyclo-cross form to the road and step up from the top ten to the podium in 2022 still remains to be seen.
- Team: FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
- Age: 26
- Race Record: 5th place in 2019 and 2021
A consistent finisher, Uttrup Ludwig’s palmares is peppered with top tens at prestigious races such as Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the World Championships, and, indeed, Strade Bianche Donne.
Last year, she cam second at La Course, showcasing her powerful sprint, took her first WorldTour victory, and has hinted at her early season form this year with a second place in the general classification at the Setmana Ciclista Valeniciana.
One of the most popular riders in the peloton due to her bubbly personality, Uttrup Ludwig’s riding style is equally effervescent. The multiple attacking opportunities that Strade Bianche offers should suit her as she seeks to secure victory for FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope. Unfortunately, though, they'll be without the handy gravel-savvy support rider of Brodie Chapman who has been taken off the start list after the Australian tested positive for COVID-19.
- Team: SD Worx
- Age: 32
- Race Record: the defending champion, 1st in 2021
Last year, van den Broek-Blaak won Strade Bianche after a series of attacks that eventually allowed her to drop Longo Borghini on the steepest sections of the final climb. Then, as is the case this year, van den Broek-Blaak belonged to the strongest team in the race, SD Worx, and it was upon this collective strength that her victory was built.
Within her team, there are at least three potential winners, complicating their tactics somewhat. To defend her title, van den Broek-Blaak will first have to prove that she is the strongest rider in her team, and then the strongest rider in the race.
Originally supposed to retire after the 2022 Spring Classics, van den Broek-Blaak has recently changed her plans, extending with SD Worx until 2024, suggesting that her motivation to win races remains as fierce as ever.
- Team: SD Worx
- Age: 25
- Race Record: 6th in 2021
Narrowly beaten by her compatriot, Annemiek van Vleuten, at Omloop Het Niewsblad Vollering nevertheless again proved herself as one of the peloton’s very best climbers as she matched van Vleuten’s attacks on the Belgian hills.
In her breakthrough season last year Vollering utilised these climbing abilities, along with a formidable sprint, to great effect with victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, La Course and The Women’s Tour. These attributes are well suited to Strade Bianche’s route particularly the final. often decisive, climb into Siena.
Her sixth place finish at Strade Bianche last year was the first indications of the stellar season about to unfold and if the near exponentially upward trajectory that Vollering’s career appears to be on at the moment is anything to go by, she is likely to challenge for victory this time.
- Team: UAE Team ADQ
- Age: 38
- Race Record: 2nd place in 2020
In 2020, Mavi Garcia attacked 45 kilometres from the finish line in Siena, and was only caught seven kilometres from the finish by that year’s eventual winner, Annemiek van Vleuten. She tenaciously hung on for a memorable second place, her resistance broken only by a late attack from van Vleuten in the last kilometre.
Although history is unlikely to repeat itself, Garcia forms a part of a strong UAE Team ADQ that also contains Marta Bastianelli and Sofia Bertizzolo. Already the new UAE Team ADQ have enjoyed a successful start to their season, through three victories courtesy of Bastianelli. Together, they will be hoping to continue this success and influence the outcome of the race.
- Team: Trek-Segafredo
- Age: 24
- Race Record: 33rd in 2020
The world champion will form a powerful combination with her teammate, Elisa Longo Borghini. The curse of the rainbow jersey is often whispered about but Balsamo has somewhat dispelled fears of this curse afflicting her season with a stage victory last month at the Setmana Ciclista Valeniciana. A fourth place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Opening Weekend was further indication of her solid early season form.
It remains unknown whether Balsamo, more of a sprinter by trade, will be able to remain part of the leading group throughout repeated accelerations on the climbs, but she has the team strength to help her through and is likely to feature at the sharp end of the race.
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Issy Ronald has just graduated from the London School of Economics where she studied for an undergraduate and masters degree in History and International Relations. Since doing an internship at Procycling magazine, she has written reports for races like the Tour of Britain, Bretagne Classic and World Championships, as well as news items, recaps of the general classification at the Grand Tours and some features for Cyclingnews. Away from cycling, she enjoys reading, attempting to bake, going to the theatre and watching a probably unhealthy amount of live sport.