Howard McAlpine, Sports Tours International tour guide and top wrench tells us about his recent weekend at the Strade Bianche.
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As I landed in Pisa my anticipation for this event started to build; I had been looking forward to this event for months. I’m going to come clean and admit I love Italy! For me every trip there is a good one! I love the people, the landscape, the food, the coffee and their rich history and cycle culture. I’ve previously visited Italy for the Giro and have ridden in the Nove Colli and Marco Pantani Gran Fondos, but I’d never been to the Strada Bianche before so I was super excited about experiencing this legendary event with its short, sharp dramatic climbs and iconic white gravel sections.
First job, after collecting my luggage, was to get the hire car and then of course an espresso; even at the airport the coffee is good in Italy! Then it was time to hit the road and rendezvous with my colleague, Ed Beckman, at our overnight stop on the outskirts of Pisa, to make the final preparations for our clients’ arrival the next day.
After a good breakfast, Ed headed off in the minibus to collect some of our clients from the airport and I drove to Siena to meet and greet the remainder of our clients who were arriving from the UK and USA throughout the day. Our two hotels for this trip were both ideally located for the town and the race. Both were just what I expect from a good Italian hotel: clean, comfortable, friendly, charming and very cycle friendly.
In between arrivals, I visited the race control media centre, situated next to the finish at Il Campo, to collect our client’s VIP passes for Men’s Pro Race and Women’s Elite Race the following day. I then headed to the race start to collect our rider’s race entry packs for the Strada Bianche Gran Fondo on Sunday. This saved our riders from having to wait in the enormous queues the following day and freed them up to just relax and enjoy the spectacle of the race on Saturday.
As the afternoon drew to a close, the town was starting to buzz with excitement and anticipation for the drama that was sure to unfold on the ‘Sterrati’ the next day.
As the final touches were made to the finish line at Il Campo and the barriers put up in the steep, narrow streets approaching it, the Polizia’s Lamborghini Huracan police car arrived… only in Italy!
As part of our service, we provide airport transfers from Pisa airport. Unfortunately as the week ahead of the event went on, it appeared that a national general strike was planned in Italy on 8 March which meant that air travel was disrupted. On the schedule today was a collection from Pisa airport and collect all our customers. We knew that today we’d be in a bit of bother as some of our customers were struggling to get their flights re-scheduled. Some quick thinking and liaising with our office meant that we re-routed our minibus and we collected 3 of our customers from Rome airport.
In the evening all of our group were in Siena and on arrival we distributed everyone’s entries plus we helped all our riders with getting their bikes ready and with fitting rental bikes that were available on arrival for those who had pre-booked them. Ed and Howard are both qualified bike mechanics and experienced bike guides so everyone was in good hands!
We provided a guided ride in the area before watching the finale in the streets of Siena. After an early breakfast, Ed and our group headed out on their bikes to watch the pro race and get a close-up view of the challenge that awaited them the next day. After watching the men roll out from the start at the Fortezza Medicia, it was an enjoyable spin through the stunning Tuscan countryside to intercept the race at a couple of points along the course before heading back to Siena to see Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphillipe, finally break Jakob Fugslang on the punishing final climb; the Via Santa Caterina, which summits just 500m before the finish.
Julian Alaphilippe of Deceunick-Quick Step became the first Frenchman to win the Strade Bianche in 13 editions of the race partly contested on gravel roads in Tuscany. He outclassed his last breakaway companion Jakob Fuglsang from Astana Pro Team in the narrow, uphill San Caterina street before reaching the magnificent Piazza del Campo in Siena. Just like one year ago, cyclo-cross star Wout van Aert, now racing for Team Jumbo-Visma, took third place.
Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton – Scott) went solo to win the fifth edition of Strade Bianche Women Elite NamedSport. The race, the first in the 2019 UCI Women’s WorldTour calendar, covered 136km from Siena (Fortezza Medicea) to Siena (Piazza del Campo). Van Vleuten crossed the finish line in the historic square ahead of Annika Langvad (Boels Dolmans Cycling Team) and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon // SRAM Racing).
As official tour operator for the Strade Bianche we provide a great programme of exclusive VIP access and hospitality options. Our full programme is available here
The Gran Fondo Starde Bianche allows amateur riders to ride the same roads as the riders of the Pro peloton the day before. The route of the long Gran Fondo is the exact same as the women’s route. A team Sky delegation started the Gran Fondo together with all the other amateurs and unlike in 2018, we had very nice weather to tackle the ‘Sterrati’ or white gravel roads/ strade bianche.
After an early breakfast, Ed and I were on hand to make any final mechanical tweaks to our clients bikes and ensure everyone got away okay. Once everyone was safely underway, Ed and I headed out on our bikes and rode the medio (short) version of the course. Not only did this give us a deeper understanding of the course and the event, it also meant we could share our clients post-race buzz over a beer that evening.
The Strade Bianche Gran Fondo represents a unique challenge, to me it combines the short, sharp climbs of the Tour of Flanders with the dust and the drama of Paris Roubaix and the beauty of Tuscany. I loved the challenge and excitement of flying across the white gravel, and having now ridden it, all I can say is WOW!
After finishing the dramatic and challenging final section of the course, Ed and I headed back to the hotel to await the arrival of our riders. Although tired, everyone had a big smile on their face, and with the memory of the pain of some of the tougher climbs already beginning to fade, were already vowing to return next year!
With bikes packed, we all headed off to various airports with just one final task left before departure….
As the Gran Fondo Strade Bianche sells out quicker every year, we are now on sale early with an excellent travel package with lots of improvements, making it even better. This weekend trip offers you the opportunity to ride your bike with us on the Saturday to watch the 2020 Strade Bianche and to then cycle the 2020 Gran Fondo Strade Bianche on the Sunday. We offer a hotel in Siena centre and we have guided rides and mechanic available. Also available are:
More of this to come this weekend @GoZwift @letapedutour. We can't wait 😀 Don't forget you can still ride the real thing with us in September sportstoursinternational.co.u… #LEtapeduTour twitter.com/letapedutour/s…