Thursday, March 1, 2012

Favorites for Strade Bianche

On Saturday we swap out the cobblestones in Belgium with white gravel roads in Italy. Montepaschi Strade Bianche (former Eroica) is on the menu and I think that we for once will get an Italian winner. Let's take a look at the favorites:

Oscar Gatto
Gatto's stage win in the Giro last year.
This may come as a surprise for many, but in my opinion Oscar Gatto is one of the strongest riders, taking part in the race, right now. Over the years he has been going from being "just a sprinter" to being good on the small hills and also on these gravel roads. He showed that last year in the Giro d'Italia taking 5th place on the stage to Orvieto on gravel roads and winning in Tropea i front of Contador after attacking on the final steep hill. In Strade Bianche last year Gatto tried to attack with Greg Van Avermaet in the final, but got railed back in again. Despite been on the attack he still managed to take 7th after Gilbert. If you look at Oscar Gattos recently results you may not be impressed, but I think it was clear to all who watched Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne last Sunday, that the little Italian is very strong right now. He also showed that in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad being in the group sprinting for 4th place. According to Oscar Gatto himself Strade Bianche is one of his top goals this season and without Gilbert in the same shape as last year, I honestly think Gatto can pull it off!

Alessandro Ballan
Ballan on gravel roads.
I said we would get an Italian winner and that is mainly because I see Alessandro Ballan as the second favorite for the race. Ballan took second place last year after messing up the last corner giving Gilbert a two meters gap. As I said, Gilbert is not as strong this early compared to last year, and therefore I think that Ballan very well could end up being the designated leader at BMC. Ballan started his season already in Tour Down Under and has been steadily improving ever since. In Omloop Het Nieuwsblad he worked hard in the peloton to catch the break away when team mate Thor Hushovd got dropped and in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne he was one of most active guys in the big break with Tom Boonen (and Oscar Gatto). Alessandro Ballan has been 2nd in Strade Bianche twice already and I expect him to be on the podium this year as well.

Vincenzo Nibali
Nibali in the rosa working for Basso
on the muddy gravel roads in the Giro.
Another Italian rider? Indeed. Even though Liquigas have Peter Sagan and Daniel Oss on the team as well, I think this race suits Nibali the best. If you remember the epic Giro-stage in 2010 on gravel roads (won by Cadel Evans), Vincenzo Nibali was the one keeping his team leader Ivan Basso in the race, by an outstanding amount of work to minimize the gap to the front group. Nibali was flying that day and last year, on the stage to Orvieto,he took 6th place (right after Gatto). Another important factor not to forget is that Strade Bianche ends with a 300 meters downhill section with a lot of tricky corners (where Ballan lost the race last year) and that is definitely something Vincenzo Nibali masters better than anyone else.

I could actually go on with Italian riders among the candidates to the win. Giovanni Visconti and Simone Ponzi come to mind, like Enrico Gasparotto and young Enrico Battaglin. If I should point out a few foreigners though I think I would go with Ryder Hesjedal who loves this race and the Spanish veteran Patxi Vila who is aiming big at Strade Bianche this season. Talking favorites it may be shameful to not mention Fabian Cancellara, but for Cancellara the goals are coming later in the season. I think Radioshack will try with youngster Tony Gallopin and sprinter Daniele Bennati.


  1. Hei Mikkel. Hva med Cancellara?
    Hesjedal har ikke vist form. Hvorfor kjører ikke garmin for Wegman, Maaskant, Van Summeren eller Dan martin?

    Hvorfor er ikke el fares en outsider?
    Fransesco Reda? Gia Brambilla? I tillegg til Battaglin kjørte de godt i GP Lugano.

  2. Cancellara is a solid pick, no doubt, but like Gilbert I don't think he is set to perform already. Hesjedal likes this race very much and without Dan Martin on the team I feel pretty sure he will be their leader. Brambilla is a great rider, I would love to see him do something tomorrow, but I think Battaglin is a little better right now. We will see.