10 riders to watch at Strade Bianche

From Tadej Pogačar to Neve Bradbury, here are ten riders we are tipping for success this weekend in Italy

Clock21:34, Thursday 29th February 2024
Tadej Pogačar stormed to victory last time he lined up at Strade Bianche. Can he do it again?

© Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar stormed to victory last time he lined up at Strade Bianche. Can he do it again?

Strade Bianche might not be a monument, as our own Dan Lloyd argued on the site, but the race is nonetheless one of the most important dates on the road cycling calendar. In anticipation of the race this weekend, we have put together 10 riders you should watch this weekend in the men’s and women’s races. From the out-and-out favourites to some exciting dark horses, we have included these 10 to consider all the separate storylines that will converge in Italy this weekend as the men’s and women’s pelotons will crown the next winners of cycling’s gravel Classic.

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Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)

Age: 25

Strade Bianche pedigree: 1st in 2022

2024 so far: Not yet made his debut

If his spring calendar is anything to go by, Tadej Pogačar cares a lot about Strade Bianche. Sure, it does fit nicely with his training schedule and it does give him more racing experience on gravel before the Tour de France this summer, so it makes sense for a GC rider to race here. But, if you were to take a look at his record at the race, it's easy to see that it is not by accident that Strade Bianche is where Pogačar is starting his 2024 season. The Slovenian is here to win.

What makes Pogačar even more imposing this time at Strade Bianche is that his team here is filled with other potential winners of the race. Tim Wellens, first and foremost, would be a strong contender to win in his own right, even if Pogačar wasn’t here, after his powerful display in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne last weekend. That form paired with solid experience in Strade and decent climbing prowess could make Wellens the perfect foil for Pogačar. With a deep team that also includes the likes of Marc Hirschi, Isaac del Toro and Jan Christen, Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates squad seem to be sitting as firmly in the driver's seat as a team could be.

Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious)

Age: 29

Strade Bianche pedigree: 6th in 2023

2024 so far: Stage win in Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana

Matej Mohorič will have a point to prove on Saturday, even if the humble rider might be hard-pressed to admit it. The Slovenian Classics specialist is coming into the gravel-speckled road race as the reigning gravel world champion. While he won’t be in his rainbow bands, Mohorič might feel a certain degree of duty in defending his crown of the king of gravel on the white roads of Siena.

Even if the gravel World Championships is, in reality, a much different proposition to a WorldTour road race, Mohorič’s gravel crown did reaffirm the Slovenian’s ability to win a race like Strade Bianche. First and foremost, Mohorič is a master tactician. In aggressive one-day racing, he has a knack for getting himself ahead and staying there when he is on his day. Additionally, his ability to push the limits of his skill and traction to devastating effects is a valuable tool in any challenging race.

Whether it is Milan-San Remo, the UCI Gravel Worlds, or the Volta a Valenciana, Mohorič has a knack for attacking when everyone expects him to but still getting a gap when those behind can’t find the skills to follow. With the challenges associated with Strade Bianche, there is no reason why it can’t be the next title added to his growing palmarès.

Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ)

Age: 21

Strade Bianche pedigree: 8th in 2023

2024 so far: 2nd in the Faun-Ardèche Classic

Whilst Pogačar and Mohorič are proven Classics winners, it seems like only a matter of time before Romain Grégoire adds his name to that list. The young, explosive Frenchman has got off to a hot start in 2024, finishing second to Juan Ayuso in the Faun-Ardèche Classic as well as snagging a couple of additional top 10s along the way. Last year, a similar run of strong results in France preceded an eighth-place finish at Strade Bianche. With those results in mind, this year Grégoire will have his sights set even higher.

Like so many others on the list, Grégoire will be aided by a strong team. Valentin Madouas, in particular, was third last year. Lenny Martinez will also be a rider to watch as he has been on a tear this season, winning as recently as Wednesday at the Trofeo Laigueglia. While Martinez has not raced Strade Bianche yet, having those three riders in one team could mean Groupama-FDJ has numbers at the finale that are only matched by the likes of UAE Team Emirates, Visma-Lease a Bike and Ineos Grenadiers. Grégoire, who is the most explosive of the three, could benefit the most from that advantage.

Toms Skujiņš (Lidl-Trek)

Age: 32

Strade Bianche pedigree: 9th in 2019

2024 so far: 17th at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, attacking ride at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

For years Toms Skujiņš has seemed capable of a big result in a one-day race. Last Saturday that prospect was as clear as ever with the Latvian making the major selection of the day at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. What’s more, Skujiņš looked like he might have been the strongest individual rider on the day, attacking the breakaway on the Berendries in a move that temporarily distanced the rest of the five elite riders. Ultimately, there was only so much Skujiņš could do as a lone rider facing the buzz-saw that was Visma-Lease a Bike’s line-up, but he should take a boatload of confidence from his performance.

Skujiņš should also take confidence from the added strength of the Lidl-Trek Strade Bianche team. Skujiņš, who has a solid track record at Strade with a couple of top-10 finishes to his name, will have a solid partner in crime with Quinn Simmons, who has also finished in the top 10 at the race. Andrea Bagioli will also be in the line-up, and while the Italian has not shown much so far this season with the Lidl-Trek outfit, his ability to finish second at Il Lombardia should translate well to Strade Bianche, even if it's in a supporting role for Skujiņš and Simmons.

Sepp Kuss (Visma-Lease a Bike)

Age: 29

Strade Bianche pedigree: 31st in 2022

2024 so far: 8th overall at Volta ao Algarve, sixth at Clásica Jaén

Sepp Kuss has seemed to operate on a different level between stage races and one-day racing. In stage racing, Kuss is steadfast and reliably in the thick of the action. In one-day races, even those on the hillier end of the spectrum, Kuss has seemed to lack that same sparkle. So far in 2024, there have been signs of that changing.

In the Clásica Jaén, the race on the calendar with the most similarities to Strade Bianche, Kuss was arguably the second strongest rider behind the winner, Oier Lazkano. On almost every climb towards the back half of the race, Kuss was ready to up the pace and distance lesser climbers from the chase group as they tried to reel in the flying Lazkano. While Kuss came up short in the end, he showed an explosive quality that we have yet to see from the American in one-day racing. That explosivity was further confirmed the next week with two standout performances at the Volta ao Algarve on climbs that traditionally have not suited the American.

Historically, the Strade Bianche course could be seen as a bridge too far for Kuss. In its past construction it could have been too punchy even for the Kuss we saw at Jaén to manage. But this isn’t a classic Strade Bianche course. It is longer and has more climbing, which could tilt the scales in favour of Grand Tour riders like Kuss more than ever. Of course, those changes also help the likes of Tadej Pogačar, which will not help any rider vying for victory. But Kuss will nonetheless be a rider to watch as he continues to grow into more of a leader following his 2023 Vuelta a España victory.

Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime)

Age: 27

Strade Bianche pedigree: 1st in 2023

2024 so far: 6th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Defending Strade Bianche champion Demi Vollering played a pivotal team role last week at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Instead of trying for her own result, the Dutch woman drove the peloton along the crucial section before the Muur van Geraardsbergen which brought the lone escapee Elisa Longo Borghini in range of the peloton. Lotte Kopecky, Vollering’s teammate, dutifully closed the gap to Longo Borghini and looked set to deliver the win to SD Worx-Protime. However, she was foiled in the end by one Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) who trounced her in the sprint, with Kopecky unable to use the numerical advantage SD Worx typically has to her advantage.

In Strade Bianche the plan should be much different as the team will want to keep Vollering deep into the race as the hillier parcours suit her strengths better than the punchy climbs of Omloop. What’s more, Strade Bianche was also the site of the infamous sprint à deux between Vollering and Kopecky last season. With all of that history in mind, and her contract still up in the air, the ingredients are there for Vollering to come into the race all guns blazing with the hopes of riding solo into the Piazza del Campo.

Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck)

Age: 21

Strade Bianche pedigree: 5th in 2023

2024 so far: 8th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

While women’s cycling is no stranger to stars who excel in multiple cycling disciplines, Puck Pieterse still seems like a one-of-a-kind rider who brings a whole new level of talent to the women’s peloton. With a big bag of tricks, flawless technical skills and explosive strength, Pieterse seems to be spoiled by all the paths her talent could take her down. In 2024, she seems determined to try and follow all of them. This weekend, that has brought her to the start line of Strade Bianche where she will try and out-do her fifth place from 2023.

In total, Pieterse has only raced four road races in her professional career. Two of them came last year, while the other two were last weekend’s Belgian Classics. Astonishingly, she has finished top 10 in three of them. That track record shows that Pieterse has a talent for the tactical racing of road cycling as well as the technical skills to master the Classics, and her results are likely to keep creeping up the standings. Take all that into consideration and her prospects for a standout ride this weekend are sky-high.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal)

Age: 38

Strade Bianche pedigree: 3rd in 2022

2024 so far: 1st overall at the Santa Vall gravel race

One of the joys of women’s cycling is the variety of careers the stars of the peloton have. In this time of sea-change, there is room for both 21-year-olds and 38-year-olds to play starring roles in the races across the women’s calendar. While Ashleigh Moolman Pasio is in the latter category, she seems just as likely as the young guns to find success at Strade Bianche, with the South African having a podium finish on the white roads as recently as 2022.

Her case for a strong result has also been aided by her early season program which has seen her take the win in the first major race of the European gravel season at the Santa Vall stage race. Moolman Pasio has the skills on the dirt, the strength on the climbs and almost a decade of Strade Bianche experience in her back pocket.

Shirin van Anrooij (Lidl-Trek)

Age: 22

Strade Bianche pedigree: 9th in 2022

2024 so far: 4th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Shirin van Anrooij has solidly gone about building an impressive Classics resume over the past two seasons. The Dutch rider who is better known for her prominence in cyclo-cross has claimed top 10s in the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race and Strade Bianche, as well as a win last year at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Nevertheless, Van Anrooij’s performance last week at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad seemed like a step up as she matched both Kopecky and Vos almost pedal stroke for pedal stroke.

At Strade Bianche the dirt roads will only favour her more as she can use her full bag of cyclo-cross tricks to make it through the technical challenge unscathed, while her strength on punchy climbs will help her be a major contender later on in the day. What’s more, Van Anrooij will not be alone. She will be joined on Saturday by teammates Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan, two pivotal riders in last weekend’s performance, and both former winners in Siena. With the team at her back and momentum running high, Van Anrooij will be looking forward to making an even bigger splash over the white roads this weekend.

Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM)

Age: 21

Strade Bianche pedigree: Hasn't previously raced

2024 so far: 2nd UAE Tour, 3rd Tour Down Under

Neve Bradbury started in 2024 in a very strong way, showing more consistently the class that we’ve seen in flashes during her career so far. With a third place at the Tour Down Under after a gritty climb on Willunga Hill and a second place overall at the UAE Tour after a strong performance on Jabel Hafeet, it seems that whenever the road has tilted upwards, the 21-year-old Australian has been at the front of the race.

The changes to the Strade Bianche course this year will be to Bradbury’s liking as the new parcours pack more climbing into the final portion of the race. While the Australian might be better suited for the longer climbs, what she showed in Australia should translate well to the relentless punches of the Strade Bianche course and if she survives the technical challenge of the longer, technical gravel sections in good shape she will certainly be one to watch in the final.

Additionally, Bradbury has the benefit of having the gravel world champion Kasia Niewiadoma as a teammate. With both riders showing strong form and an attacking spirit so far this season, Canyon-SRAM could be a major player with multiple riders deep into the final of the day.

Who are you tipping for the men’s and women’s Strade Bianche? Will the favourites rule the day, or could some dark horses emerge? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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