Our sport has its classic races. Some are more than 100 years old, for example Liège-Bastogne-Liège was first run in 1892. Over time they’ve developed legends and histories that go a long way to make the sport what it is today. Sometimes a new race comes along and the organisers struggle to make it work. They could do well to learn the lesson of the wonderful Strade Bianche race which takes place today, combining local history with a free internet video stream.
Strade bianche is Italian for “white roads” and the name comes from the white-grey dust roads of the Tuscany region in Italy. The region has excellent sealed roads but in order to reach some villages it is still necessary to use the dust tracks. Note these are not cobbled but instead use a chalky-white fine gravel as the top surface. When dry you can slide in the corners, when wet the material binds better but remains treacherous.
In adopting these secondary roads this modern race appropriates the past, anchoring itself in a distant age when cyclists and motorists alike used dust tracks. Lacquered composite frames and bright corporate logos are dulled by the chalky dust and if the conditions are really bad then our modern riders resemble their predecessors from a century ago even more.
Indeed the association with history is how the race came about. First there was the Eroica, an organised festival of cycling with a retro take whereby anyone can ride… so long as they have a bike that is pre-1987. Many take part with much older bikes and dress the part too with wool kit and even the old goggles used by pilots and motorists alike to keep the dust out.
Better still, the finish is in Siena. The town is packed with historic architecture – and tourists – and is famous for its bowl-shaped square that hosts the Palio, probably the world’s most demented horse race. The same venue is used for the race finish.
It’s not just the imagery of dusty roads and Tuscan hills, the race is a top quality event run by Giro organisers RCS. The route is selective, the strade bianche are far from flat and the whole region is hilly. Better still cycling in Italy is most popular in two regions, to the north of Milan in Lombardy and then in Tuscany, between Pisa and Florence. Hosting a race in a hotbed of cycling is always going to help.
The Eroica also fits into a perfect slot on the calendar. Being in Tuscany it can offer mild weather in March but the offroad sections mean it’s a useful build up for the cobbled classics as well. And coming just before Tirreno-Adriatico guarantees many riders are available.
For all the talk of history, it’s all on TV and the internet, there will be a free live video stream of the race online. See the Gazzetta.it website later today, you should find it there from around 3pm Euro-time.
Any race organiser wondering how they can improve their event need not look much further than this race. It is only a few years old but the event borrows extensively from the landscape and history to make it a worthy fixture of the cycling calendar. There are many one day races labelled “classic” but this race merits the tag. A selective route, a stunning finish and in an area where the people like their cycling, the race has all the right ingredients. Better still, it is available to watch for free around the world, a great modern touch.