With its iconic white roads and beautiful Tuscan landscape, the Strade Bianche race has managed to cement itself as a modern classic in a very short space of time.
I visited the race (and rode the accompanying sportive) in 2017 and took the opportunity to check out the bikes and equipment the pros were racing, and the photos below show the bikes before and after the race. It's a hugely demanding race on the bikes and equipment, especially when it rains and the dust turns to a grinding paste.
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It's a race where wider tyres for more comfort and grip on the rough gravel roads would appear to be a good idea, and while disc brakes do offer better braking in bad weather, back in 2017 very few pros were using discs. With more of the peloton making the switch to disc brakes this season expect to see a lot of disc-equipped bikes in this year's edition of the race.
It's a race where you'd expect regular race bikes to make way for endurance bikes, but I was surprised when I visited the race that most were using regular bikes with maybe a slightly wider tyre fitted. There's certainly no special changes made like we regularly see at Paris-Roubaix, and is closer to Tour of Flanders preparation in that regard.
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So what can we expect this year? Lots more disc brakes probably, regular race bikes and a good smattering of aero bikes (especially as the latest gen aero bikes will take 28-30mm tyres) and maybe some tubeless tyres? Probably not, most will stick with tried-and-tested tubulars for the main reason that you can continue riding on a flat tub until a spare wheel/bike arrives.
So, let's rewind the clock to 2017...
Michal Kwiatkowski won the race the year I visited. It was a tough race, made more challenging by heavy rain and strong winds. At 175km it might not be as long as the more established classics and monuments but it’s an action-packed race right from the beginning, and the unpaved roads that crisscross the rolling Italian hills provide an unpredictable element that contributes to the drama.
With 62km of the race conducted on the white gravel roads there was some expectation that special modifications would be made to the bikes and equipment, as we normally find at the cobbled classics, but after scouting around the team buses before and after the race and speaking to several team mechanics, we discovered most were on regular bikes.
The white roads aren’t actually all that rough. Yes, they are bumpy and lumpy in places and there’s quite a lot of washboard rippling on the descents, but regular race bikes were used with 25 and 26mm tyres the most popular sizes we spotted, though a few had opted for 28mm tyres.
There were no endurance bikes on display, and only one team chose disc brakes, but then it was only two riders and not the entire team, despite the forecast for heavy rain. That'll change this year, as we saw the opening weekend spring classic races both won by disc-equipped bikes and we don't expect the teams to have a sudden change of mind.
Here then is a look at the bikes and equipment used in the race, before and after.
The bikes before the race, all nice and clean
Team Sky stuck with the F10, its regular race bike used in the Tour de France. We spotted the K10, a more endurance focused version of this F10, being used last weekend so that might be pushed into use this year. It has more relaxed geometry for better stability over rough roads and is designed to provide more comfort.
This is the race where we first got a sight of the new Cervelo R5. It's a regular race bike but does have wider clearance than the previous model. The company has since launched the S5 Disc aero bike which might be used.
Greg Van Avermaet finished second in the race and here’s the BMC TeamMachine SLR 01 he used. He's of course now riding Giant bikes with the change of his team to CCC. But this is still a darn pretty bike, red and gold just works don't you think?
To mark his Olympic success the down tube logo is gold.
He’s using old Dura-Ace but with the brand new wheels in the shallowest C40 depth.
Team Sunweb was using the Giant TCR Advanced SL race bikes with the older Dura-Ace Di2 groupset and C50 carbon tubular wheels.
Lotto-Jumbo wasn’t using Bianchi’s Infinito CV endurance bike, but its latest Oltre XR4 race bike.
Katusha had a mix of Aeroad and Ultimate race bikes. Here’s the former, with SRAM eTap and Zipp 303 wheels with 25mm wide Continental Competition tyres.
The Aeroad uses direct mount brakes, but SRAM doesn't make a direct mount brakes, so the team uses Shimano Dura-Ace brakes with the logos removed.
French team AG2R has switched from Focus to Factor bikes this year, this is the O2 model equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace groupset and Mavic Cosmic wheels.
The new Bahrain-Merida team was showing both Merida Scultura and Reacto bikes before the race, the former is the lightweight all-round model, the latter is an aero bike.
All bikes were kitted out with the new SRM carbon fibre crankset, the first time the German power meter specialist has produced its own crank
The Trek-Segafredo team was split between the Madone and Domane SLR race bikes. The former does utilise the
The former does utilise the IsoSpeed decoupler from the Domane so it provides some comfort.
Clearance is limited on the Trek Madone fitted with Vittoria tyres, which we presume are 25mm but there was no marking on the sidewall other than for a small brand company logo
Whilst checking out the Quickstep team bikes we happened across the UCI conducting tests for hidden motors using tablets. They were scanning the frames and wheels.
The Trek team was big on route details tape to the stem, this one usefully shows the feed zone
Slammed stems are still in evidence, this one on Johann Van Zyl’s Dimension-Data prototype Cervelo R5.
It’s useful sometimes to know when the unpaved sectors are coming up, especially if there are any team tactics to attack or go to the front at any point in the race
The white roads are bumpy in places and Team Sky took the precaution of adding grip tape to the bottle cages to prevent the bidons being ejected.
The FDJ Lapierre team bikes had the new Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 derailleurs with current SRM Dura-Ace power meter cranksets. A K-Edge chain guard to prevent the chain dropping off.
More route instructions taped to the long stem on this FDJ team bike. Also notice the optional Di2 shifter buttons to provide another option for changing gears, useful perhaps on the white roads.
This Team Sunweb Giant TCR Advanced SL had the same optional Di2 shifter unit positioned on the front of the handlebars.
Dimension-Data is using the interesting looking CeramicSpeed oversized pulley wheels. The system uses 17-tooth pulley wheels and is claimed to improve drivetrain efficiency.
Bora-hansgrohe opted for Roval CLX 50 wheels with 26mm wide Specialized S-Works Turbo tyres.
We managed to take a bit of a look at Peter Sagan’s bike atop the team car before the race, and one thing that stood out is the Zipp stem with electrical tape masking the logo, instead of the PRO stem the rest of the team is using
And the bikes after the race, dirty and a little broken in places
The mechanics were super busy after the race but a jet wash makes short work of the cleanup operation.
The new Pinarello Dogma F10 was used at this race, rather than the K8-S with its soft tail rear suspension.
Team Sky was mostly using Shimano’s current C35 and C50 wheels and mixing up rim depths front and rear.
The parking arrangements at the Strade Bianche weren’t ideal, so as space was limited many teams were just putting the dirty bikes on top of the cars or inside the buses and going back to the hotel to wash and prep them for the next race.
Cannondale-Drapac didn’t have a great race with several of the team caught up in a crash and damaging the bikes.
Wheels off and the transmission cleaned on this new Cervelo R5.
There were lots of broken components to spot after the race, so it’s an expensive race (relatively speaking) for some teams.
We spotted several mechanics walking around trying to reunite punctured wheels with their owners.
A grubby Trek Domane SLR, but the rain and wet roads kept the bikes reasonably clean between the numerous white road sectors.
Mudguard eyelets are a right sight but even the race specification Trek Domane SLR has them.
The new Trek Domane SLR has an adjustable IsoSpeed decoupler so you can tune how much the saddle deflects, but this rider chose the firmest setting.
Vincenzo Nibali rode back to the team bus on a spare bike, and interestingly with a Corima front wheel - the Bahrain-Merida team rides Fulcrum wheels, so he must have taken a spare off the Astana team which is sponsored by Corima.
The BMC team mechanics elected to give the bikes a wash and clean after the race, and had a good setup with one mechanic jet washing and cleaning the drivetrain and another drying and lubing the moving components.
The narrow streets of Siena are beautiful to explore if you’re a tourist, but a headache if you’re a professional rider trying to find your way from the finish to where the buses are parked a couple of miles away.
That was Strade Bianche in 2017 then, all eyes will be on the 2019 edition to see what bikes and equipment the riders will be using.
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