Despite being a relative newcomer to the UCI Racing Calendar, the Strade Bianche is surely a new classic – or even a Monument – with greatappeal to many cyclists.
While on vacation in Italy, I just had to ride these famous white gravel roads of the Crete Senesiregion of Tuscany.
The route begins and finishes in the city of Siennaand stretches 190 kilometers across hilly terrainincluding 11 sections of gravel totaling 70 kilometers of dirt roads. The finish is in Sienna’s illustriousPiazza del Campo after a steep and narrow climbon the roughly-paved Via Santa Caterina leadinginto the center of the medieval city.
We’ve probably all seen Matthieu van der Poel’sfinal jump on the Via Santa Caterina leading up tohis 2021 road race victory.
In preparation, I mounted special Challenge StradeBianca tires on my fairly cheap Merida Cross cyclocross bike and downloaded Van der Poel’sGPX-file from Strava.
I left early on the day of my ride and after a 90 minute drive I reached a parking lot near the center of Sienna. I filled up my water bottles, checked the bike and started pedaling around 7.30 am. Aroundthat time, the traffic was heavy with commutersentering the city but after ten kilometers the roadwas clear and I was surrounded by the beautifulTuscan landscape and its characteristic hills.
After 17 kilometers I reached the first section of gravel. It was pretty flat and in fairly good shapeand I was able to maintain a decent pace. The second section was quite different—uphill and full of traffic! All local traffic was being diverted from the regular road to the gravel section because of maintenance. Dust everywhere! In a couple of minutes my bike had turned completely gray andmy nose and eyes were caked with it. Aside fromthat, this uphill section was in poor condition andwashboarded. This corrugated-like conditionproved to be much the same in the subsequentgravel sections, making it not only difficult to climb, but even harder to descend.
After passing the village of Buonoconvento for the second time and more than a hundred kilometers, itwas time for lunch. Pasta, of course! I took mytime eating and organizing the photos I had taken along the way, and after 50 minutes I was back on the saddle. As it was after noon, it was gettinghotter and hotter and with the sun high overhead itwas hard to find any shade during this part of the ride. Luckily there were a lot of cemeteries alongthe way where I could fill my two water bottles – I must have stopped at five of them, there’s always a watertap present at cemeteries!
At this stage of my journey I encountered a lot of steep gravel sections close together which made itdifficult to maintain a steady pace, and by the time I reached the last two I was forced to dismount.
Because of the heat, the difficult gravel sections, and the bad road conditions, the last twentykilometers proved to be tough and I was very happy to finally enter Sienna’s city limits.
Via Santa Caterina is the final climb with a grade of 18 % and I wanted to give all the strength I had leftto reach the top. However, after three quarters of the way up I developed a cramp in my upper leg and was forced to complete the rest of the ascenton foot. Fortunately, this turned out not to be a problem because at this point the course enters a pedestrian zone and cycling is prohibited.
Entering the Piazza del Campo after 190 kilometers with my dusty bike and sweat stained jersey was magical and worth all the effort!.
See my ride on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/5664354413
Follow my Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/jacco.de.vries