The dust reveals rather than hides, distinguishes rather than aligns. The dust is not avoided but dreamt of, sought out, blessed even. The faces are those of an expressionist painting. This is the ancient heart of cycling; a collection of faces and bicycles suffused with an aura of bygone days. This is the Strade Bianche, the White Roads, even though they are rarely white, because they reproduce all the colours of the Tuscan hills, from beige to terracotta, brown to grey. The same colours that end up covering the riders, almost as a demonstration of the fact that cycling is a natural continuation of the roads on which the bikes travel.
This is the thirteenth edition of the race, yet the Strade Bianche seems to have always existed. Because it is a trip down the memory lane of cycling, it is a synopsis of different eras that have been glued onto today’s riders. It is a captivating race that sticks to your skin. Whether greeted by sun or rain in Piazza del Campo in Siena, you feel different, knowing that you have been to another cycling world. There is no race like it. It is a surprise and a revelation. On the gravel roads of Tuscany, cycling has discovered that nothing is more modern than what is old; that there is life – spectacular life – beyond the asphalt.
It was 2007 when Aleksandr Kolobnev made the transformation from a good cyclist to a pioneer, making history as the first man to have conquered 21stcentury dust. It was still called Monte Paschi Eroica at the time, because it took place on the same roads as L’Eroica and shared the same spirit, albeit in a competitive dimension. It was a high-speed journey, the modern daughter of its older mother. Because L’Eroica is a journey through Tuscany, from the Chianti region to Montalcino and back, through time, strictly on vintage bikes and, most of all, a journey into yourself. That name lasted for two years, then it took on another name and another road – Strade Bianche, obviously. Its beauty is not in the pleasure of pedalling, but in the malice, the sheer cruelty of the race. This malice, this cruelty are notably different from the great classics of the North, even if it is sometimes compared to the northern classics. There is nothing to remind you of Belgium – or that part of France that tends towards Belgium – in the Strade Bianche. Not the cobbles, not the routes or the landscapes. Even the dust is different.
The one that finishes in Siena is a supremely Italian race, carrying with it all the beauty and complexity of this country, its charm and its pitfalls. It travels through soft rolling hills and vertical climbs, it moves through enchanting landscapes, but you won’t be able to look at them, it entices you through the countryside but imposes a frenetic metropolitan pace on the group. It is like Malaparte’s Italy, “the cradle of right and wrong”; right is your attempt to break away from the group, wrong is what happens to your legs if you choose the wrong moment to do so.
Friday, 08 March 2019