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This weekend's Strade Bianche in words and pictures (+ gallery)

Phil Gale took his camera to Chiantishire - and came back with a report and some cracking pics

The hard-packed white roads or ‘Strade Bianche’ of Chianti this weekend provided confirmation, if any were needed, that RadioShack-Nissan’s Fabian Cancellara will be one of the favourites for the upcoming Spring Classics campaign. Over the 190-kilometre race he dispatched the rest of the leading group to ride alone to victory in the historic city of Siena, the second time he has won the event. Cancellara pointed to the sky as he crossed the line in the Piazza del Campo, dedicating the ride to his uncle, who recently passed away.

Cancellara and his team rode a perfect race, their hard work allowing him to take the top step on the podium in front of Astana’s Maxim Iglinksy in second, and Italian Oscar Gatto of Farnese Vini-Selle Italia in third. Super team BMC Racing, including defending champion Philippe Gilbert, just missed out on a podium with Alessandro Ballan and Greg Van Avermaet finish fourth and fifth respectively after being at the front of the race all day.

Often described as Italy’s version of Paris-Roubaix, the Strade Bianche is a new and very different race which follows the recent trend of including non-paved sections of road – known in Italy as sterrato – to a race. First held in 2007, it now marks the start of a block of racing in Italy, followed by Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo – both, like the Strade Bianche, owned by Giro d’Italia organisers RCS Sport – allowing those targeting the spring classics to prepare in good weather.

Though relatively new to the calendar, the race is steeped in history, taking place to protect the Chianti wine-growing area’s white roads, and building on the success of the mass-participation historic bike event, L’Eroica. These were also the roads that local hero Gino Bartali, who lived in nearby Florence, used to ride and race on, making them very close to the heart of Tuscan bike fans.

The 2012 edition saw a small but select field take the start, with Garmin-Barracuda, BMC, Liquigas-Cannondale, Movistar, Lampre, RadioShack-Nissan and Astana some of the larger teams fielding a squad. With the event limited to only 14 teams, due to the very narrow nature of the roads, the race saw a fast paced start, with all riders and teams wanting to be well placed to avoid trouble.

An early break of 16 riders formed, which was ridden down by Team Type 1 and BMC, which had both missed the move. With a maximum advantage of no more than 1 minute 30 seconds, the group never presented a major threat to the race and was finally brought in at the fifth section of Strade Bianche.

As with other races with non-paved sections, the sections of Strade Bianche were where the selection took place, with those dry, dusty and rutted, gravel-covered roads posing a huge challenge to the peloton.

Unlike Paris-Roubaix, say, Chianti is not flat, with many of the sections having climbs and descents on the Strade Bianche up to 18 per cent. All this helps make the event so popular and respected, adding up to a total of 60 kilometres of Strade Bianche and 3,000 metres of climbing for the race.

The fifth section of Strade Bianche, climbing Monte Sante Marie, was where the first major selection took place. Director Sportive of winning team Radio Shack-Nissan, Luca Guercilena explained. “The plan for the day was for us to ride very hard, very deep on the fifth section of Strade Bianche. We wanted to make it very hard for everyone else. Fabian and Daniele (Bennati) were at the front and very strong. When the group went with all the teams represented, we knew this was the time to ride.

“Daniele rode well, being in the original group of 16 he stayed with leaders to protect Fabian who then attacked on the final section, with its 18 per cent climb, for the win," continued Guercilena.

"As a team we are very happy, all our riders are in good condition and we rode well today. With the Classics coming up we head to Tirreno and San Remo to prepare.”

The only two British riders in the race were BMC’s Adam Blythe and Garmin-Barracuda’s David Millar. Speaking to Millar before the race, he was excited by the prospect of riding in it. “This is my first time at this event. I have ridden the Strade Bianche during the Giro but never in this one-day race. It is always fun to ride, but also very hard with the steep climbs and descents here.”

Both Millar and Blythe were behind the peloton on the fifth section of Strade Bianche, with Adam calling it a day at the end of that stretch of sterrato. Dusty, smiling and sporting a very nice pair of custom Nike shoes, he explained. “We missed the break so I was riding for Gilbert. He won here last year so was a protected rider for us.

“When we hit the fifth section I was burnt so will save my legs for training! I head back to Monaco then off to Belgium for some more racing, though nothing the same as the fun of riding the Strade.”

Millar climbed off soon after having worked for team mate Johan Van Summeren, who finished tenth.

Montepaschi Strade Bianche 2012 result

1.  CANCELLARA Fabian   RADIOSHACK-NISSAN          4.44'59" 
2.  IGLINSKIY Maxim     ASTANA PRO TEAM            at 0'42"
3.  GATTO Oscar         FARNESE VINI-SELLE ITALIA     0'42"
4.  BALLAN Alessandro   BMC RACING TEAM               0'46"
5.  VAN AVERMAET Greg   BMC RACING TEAM               0'48"
6.  KREUZIGER Roman     ASTANA PRO TEAM               1'03"
7.  REDA Francesco      ACQUA & SAPONE                1'45"
8.  GINANNI Francesco   ACQUA & SAPONE                1'47"
10. VAN SUMMEREN Johan  GARMIN-BARRACUDA              1'57"

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