It's been five months since Liane Lippert pulled on the Women's WorldTour purple leader's jersey after winning the opening round of the top-tier series at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Australia on February 3. The Sunweb all-rounder will finally have the opportunity to wear the prestigious jersey for the first time, under strict COVID-19 safety measures, when the series officially restarts at Strade Bianche in Italy on August 1.
Many of the teams will be arriving at the race on Saturday from the Basque Country, which hosted three one-day races at the end of July, all won by world champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott). The events provided a test-run of the health measures in place to protect athletes, staff and spectators while racing resumes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Outside of social-distancing measures and the creation of protective peloton and team 'bubbles', participating athletes must undergo pre-race testing. Two separate PCR tests are administered to each athlete at six days and three days before an event. Athletes must return a negative test for COVID-19 in order to start any race. This also means that race organisers will not be able to finalise start lists until, quite possibly, hours before the start of the events.
Strade Bianche will include all eight WorldTeams: Sunweb, Mitchelton-Scott, Trek-Segafredo, Canyon-SRAM, Ale BTC Ljubljana, CCC-Liv, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope and Movistar Team Women. The organisers also announced 15 Continental teams for a total of 23 teams participating in this year's event.
Sunweb have announced that their team to support Lippert at Strade Bianche will be made up of Coryn Rivera, Leah Kirchmann, Franziska Koch, Juliette Labous and Floortje Mackaij.
"We are eager to restart the season at Strade Bianche, with Liane taking to the start as the leader in the Women's WorldTour. The parcours of Strade Bianche suits her well, so we hope and aim to keep a hold of the jersey," said the team's director, Hans Timmermans.
"Both Floortje and Juliette look to be in good shape after good training at our Keep Challenging Center in Limburg, and at altitude, so we hope to use them as cards to play in the race. With this trio of riders, we will search for opportunities in the finale of the race, with Coryn, Leah and Franziska riding strongly in support. Positioning is key in Strade Bianche, so we always need to be alert and ride as a team to cover any attacks before the finale."
Sunweb can expect strong opposition from the Mitchelton-Scott team, which arguably has the strongest roster on paper with defending champion Van Vleuten.
Van Vleuten has trained specifically for this race during the five-month hiatus, and proved her winning form with victories at all three one-day races in Spain last week. She has now won four consecutive races in the rainbow jersey after also winning the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February.
She will be supported by teammates Jessica Allen, Lucy Kennedy, Moniek Tenniglo, Georgia Williams and Amanda Spratt, who crashed at last year's event.
"For sure, I feel pressure because it's the first World Tour race [for Van Vleuten] and it's something I've targeted, so when I target a race, I always feel a bit of pressure, because you know you're good and people know that you want to perform," Van Vleuten said.
"Even more so at Strade Bianche, because it can be a really hectic race and you need to be well positioned all the time, which makes me a little bit nervous. But it's also very beautiful, and a nice challenge that I'm looking forward to. I know that I can go into the race with confidence because I know my shape is good."
Italian Elisa Longo Borghini will be on the start line with Trek-Segafredo, and aiming to win her home race for a second time after her victory in the 2017 edition.
Canyon-SRAM line up with Kasia Niewiadoma, who has been on the podium at Strade Bianche on four consecutive occasions, but has never stood on the top step. Look out for her to race for the win in Siena.
Anna van der Breggen, who won the unforgettable 2018 edition under cold and unruly weather conditions, will lead her Boels Dolmans team.
CCC-Liv are likely to line up with Marianne Vos and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who both recently participated in Durango-Durango on Sunday, where Moolman-Pasio took sixth place. Both riders finished in the top 10 at Strade Bianche last year.
Also expect Italian road race national champion Marta Bastianelli, who was fourth last year, to toe the start line with her new team Ale BTC Ljubljana. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), who finished fifth last year, is also a likely contender.
White gravel roads and steep climbs set the stage for Strade Bianche
The women's peloton will take to the start line at Siena's Fortezza Medicea and embark on a 136km race along the white gravel roads through Italy's Tuscan countryside before racing to the finish line at the Piazza del Campo back in Siena.
The route is nearly identical to last year's edition, with the key aspects revolving around the steep pitches and gravel sectors on the loop around Siena. This year there are eight sectors of strade bianche, totalling 30km, which equates to roughly 23 per cent of the route.
The gravel sections vary in length, and are unchanged from last year, beginning at the 18km-mark with the Vidritta (2.1km). The race then hits Bagnaia (5.8km), Radi (4.4km) and La Piana (5.5km) before reaching the feedzone at the 59km-mark. The gravel continues in the last half of the parcours at S.Martino in Grania (9.5km), Monteaperti (0.8km), Colle Pinzuto (2.4km) and finally Le Tolfe (1.1km).
This race is more than just gravel, however, as there are short and very steep climbs with gradients of up to 18 per cent along the route, although many of them do coincide with the gravel sectors.
The first climb is at 10 per cent, before heading into the third gravel sector at Radi (32km). At the sixth gravel sector in Monteaperti (107.7km), the climb again has gradients in the double digits, before hitting the tarmac again in Vico d'Arbia (111.3km).
There is also a climb towards Colle Pinzuto (115km) that is 15 per cent, and the climb to Tolfe (120km) ramps up to 18 per cent. It was in this section of the race, last year, where a decisive group of 11 riders forged clear from the field with 17km to go, and then where Van Vleuten made her winning move over the last steep gravel sector and soloed into the final kilometre.
As the race enters the last kilometre and approaches the centre of Siena, the riders will face a 16 per cent climb to the finish line. It begins with a nine per cent gradient with 900 metres to go, and then reaches 10 per cent with 500 metres to go, increasing up to 16 per cent along the Via Santa Caterina.
The slope eases up in the final 300 metres, and then there is a descent followed by a flat run-in to the Piazza del Campo.
Strade Bianche: The 23 teams
- Ale BTC Ljubljana (Ita)
- Canyon-SRAM Racing (Ger)
- CCC-Liv (Pol)
- FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope (Fra)
- Mitchelton-Scott (Aus)
- Movistar Team Women (Esp)
- Team Sunweb (Ger)
- Trek-Segafredo (USA)
- Aromitalia-Basso Bikes-Vaiano (Ita)
- Astana Women's Team (Kaz)
- Bepink (Ita)
- Equipe Paule Ka (Sui)
- Boels Dolmans Cycling Team (Ned)
- Ceratizit-WNT pro Cycling Team (Ger)
- Cogeas Mettler Look pro Cycling Team (Rus)
- Eurotarget-Bianchi-Vittoria (Ita)
- Lotto Soudal Ladies (Bel)
- Parkhotel Valkenburg (Ned)
- Rally Cycling (USA)
- Servetto-Piumate-Beltrami tsa (Ita)
- Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank (USA)
- Top Girls Fassa Bortolo (Ita)
- Valcar-Travel & Service (Ita)
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