Kasia Niewiadoma has made significant changes to her racing plans, and while she has dropped the Giro Rosa, there is one race that she refuses to lessen her grip on with a primary focus on winning - Strade Bianche.
"I always love to focus on the first part of the season, and that means Strade Bianche, for me," Niewiadoma told Cyclingnews.
The Canyon-SRAM rider has stood on the podium on four occasions; second in 2016, second in 2017, second in 2018, third in 2019, and she has expressed some frustration at never having won it.
The women’s 136km race is famous for its eight sectors of white gravel roads routed through the scenic Tuscany region around Siena, and its punchy terrain is so well-suited to Niewiadoma, but it’s also a race win that has continued to elude her every year.
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She has been part of, and watched, the race play out over the years with Megan Guarnier winning the inaugural edition, Lizzie Deignan’s victory in 2016, Elisa Longo Borghini’s win in 2017, Anna van der Breggen’s unforgettable solo win in cold and wet weather in 2018, and Annemiek van Vleuten’s back-to-back wins in 2019 and 2020.
"Seriously! I would love to win it. It’s been a long time that I’ve been watching different riders crossing the finish line first, and I wish this year that it were me," Niewiadoma told Cyclingnews.
Outside of Strade Bianche, Niewiadoma will focus on the Ardennes Classics, where she has also had much success with a victory at Amstel Gold Race in 2019. Although the Giro Rosa has always been a focus, too, and where she placed second overall to Van der Breggen last year, she has decided to skip the 10-day race this year.
"I will focus on the Ardennes Classics and the Olympic Games. I think I will skip the Giro Rosa this year in order to prepare for the Olympics. It was my own decision," she told Cyclingnews.
Canyon-SRAM have united at two pre-season team training camps in January and February. The team have new signings Chloe Dygert, Mikayla Harvey, Elisa Chabbey and Zwift Academy winner Neve Bradbury. Returning riders include Niewiadoma, Alena Amialiusik, Hannah and Alice Barnes, Hannah Ludwig, Lisa Klein, Omer Shapira, Alexis Ryan, Ella Harris, and Tiffany Cromwell.
"It’s really nice and we have a couple of new riders, so it feels like a fresh aspect to the team, and everyone is really motivated," Niewiadoma said. "It’s nice to feel that everyone comes from a different environment, different places and that we all want to do the same things on our bikes. It’s motivating and our new riders are very excited and that energy spreads across the group."
The team have been one of the most powerful in the peloton, but outside of Niewiadoma’s second place overall at the Giro Rosa last year, the team wasn’t as strong on paper as they normally are throughout the Women's WorldTour. It was an unusual season for everyone due to COVID-19, with most of the races truncated into a revised calendar between August and November. Niewiadoma felt that the team is motivated for stronger performances this year.
"I believe that everyone is motivated and looking forward to racing. The weird season last year made everyone care more about achieving our goals. Last year wasn’t the best year for us but I feel like we learned a lot and we are trying to move on, fix issues or problems, and train harder because there is always room to improve and so that is what we are more concentrated on what’s ahead," she said.
"We didn’t have an amazing year, but it’s not because we chose that, everyone still gave their best and everyone tried to show it in races with great form, but this is just racing, sometimes you win but most of the time you lose.
"It’s a learning process and we have grown as a team together because it’s important to know each other very well. We are in this process where we are polishing details and not losing our aim or our drive to achieve more."
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