Ten months on from his sterrato stage victory at the Giro d'Italia, Mauro Schmid returns to the white gravel of Tuscany at Strade Bianche. The Swiss youngster will race in support QuickStep-AlphaVinyl leader and 2019 race winner Julian Alaphilippe on Saturday.
However, despite Schmid's aptitude on, and liking for, the gravel roads, scene of his first pro victory in Montalcino last May, the 22-year-old recently told Cyclingnews that perhaps the sterrato are best left out of Grand Tour routes.
The topic recently came up in the media after Chris Froome and Matteo Trentin questioned the inclusion of gravel roads in stage racing. Trentin told Cyclingnews, "I think we are going too far, to a spectacle we don’t need", while Froome said in a Youtube video, "It does give excitement to the race but it's just such a big risk [for GC riders] as well."
Speaking to Cyclingnews at the Tour of Oman in February, Schmid said that he understood the complaints about gravel roads in stage races and suggested that perhaps they are best left to fill out the routes of one-day races such as Strade Bianche, or Paris-Tours.
"I think I totally understand these guys," Schmid said. "If it's in a spot where you can have a puncture it can make a big difference and time gaps, so I also understand this. It makes sense that it's maybe not the best thing in a Grand Tour because it's also like with cobbles – it can change the race up.
"I think in the end when you want to win a Grand Tour you need to be a rider who is capable of doing everything. So, [in that way] it makes sense, but for me it's a bit better when you have it in one-day races because when you have a puncture or your bike breaks or you crash then you can't do anything – it's over for the day but in a Grand Tour it can destroy your whole three-week race, so that's kind of hard."
Schmid's take was a nuanced one that takes on both sides of the argument on the inclusion of gravel roads and cobbles in Grand Tours, though the discussion is unlikely to go away anytime soon with the Tour de France set to visit the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix this July.
For Schmid's part, at least, he said that he enjoys racing on the gravel, whichever race it appears in. He'll return on Saturday alongside Alaphilippe, Kasper Asgreen, Pieter Serry, Louis Vervaeke, Mikkel Honoré and Dries Devenyns as QuickStep-AlphaVinyl look to recapture the title they also won in 2014 and 2015.
"For sure, it's a really nice feeling to be back here in Strade," he told Cyclingnews this week. "It's one of my favourite races of the year. I really enjoyed it last year and also at the Giro it was similar. It's a bit of a strange feeling to be back here on these roads but I think I will really enjoy it on Saturday.
"I just like it. I think gravel is some days you will like it and some you will hate it. It keeps the race open, but until now I really enjoy it."
Strade Bianche 'will definitely be a fast race'
While a victory for world champion Alaphilippe, who was runner-up last year, is the main goal for Schmid and his teammates, he added that he could also grasp the opportunity for himself should the ever-changeable nature of the race catapult him into contention.
"I think the main goal is just to make a good result with the team," he said. "With Julian we have one of the top favourites in the team and the main goal is just to win this race and to make a very good result with Julian. For me, my main goal is to work and support him as good as possible.
"But in Strade you never know, so many things can happen – you can have a crash or flat tyre and we always need to have an option B and I think then I could have a chance to shoot my shot and give everything.
"I think if I have a really good day and luck is on my side then I think I can do a good result, but the main goal is to support Julian."
The race's 184-kilometre route will provide a number of flashpoints and sections for the contenders to leave their mark, with 11 sterrato sectors and countless hills lying between the riders and the finish line in Siena's Piazza del Campo.
Schmid identified one section in particular – the 11.5-kilometre Monte Sante Marie sterrato sector – as being one to watch.
"I think Monte Sante Marie will be the main sector where I think the biggest split and the biggest attacks will happen," he said. "I think we need to be up there in good position to cover the moves if some good guys go, we need to be there to react to it and hold it under control.
"It will definitely be a fast race – the sectors are really compact and it's quite dry. The wind can also play a big role because I think the forecast is for quite a lot of wind. It could be that it makes a split earlier in the race.
"We've had wind for the last part after Sante Marie so then it will be a bit more controlled, I guess, because it's hard to attack alone or in small groups. So it could be that the race stays together for the favourites for longer."
With the increasing inclusion of gravel in road races, we asked our members their opinion, using the @TheRidersUnion App. Whilst 16% are neutral, 43% are positive, 41% are not really a fan or would like to have it removed. #OneRiderOneVote #SafetyFirst pic.twitter.com/FhyifMo0nbFebruary 21, 2022
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