The eighth Strade Bianche once again met every expectation from an event that has at its heart the concept of ‘heroic’ racing.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) staged a memorable duel for victory while some of the world’s best riders – Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) among them – fought to reel them in before the finish in beautiful Siena.
The race offered much for the fan of professional cycling to consider, given the result, the parcours, and the illustrious participants. Just how good is 23-year-old Kwiatkowski, for example? And how good can he become? With victory now in two of the most prestigious early-season events, including triumphs in time trials, mountainous stages, and a brutal one-day race, should he now be considered among the very best?
The contemporary peloton is not short of rising stars, with Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) both racking up early-season victories. Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) is another young talent to have stood on the top step of the podium in 2014, and while Team Sky’s Peter Kennaugh, Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky, and Kwiatkowski’s countryman, Rafal Majka, have yet to notch up a win in 2014, they must surely be considered among those able to offer the sport a bright future. Is Kwiatkowski the cream of this formidable crop?
Two-time winner, Cancellara, had no answer for Kwiatkowski on the white roads of Tuscany, but how much can be read into a performance that might be considered subdued by his own impossible standards? Spartacus has much on his ‘to do’ list this season, including the defence of his titles at E3 Harlebeke, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, as well as a tilt at the hour record. Was the Strade Bianche too much too soon, given the glut of more high profile engagements that will follow?
A professional road race taking inspiration from a granfondo may seem like the tail wagging the dog, but L’Eroica is far from your average sportive, and the Strade Bianche is far from your average road race. ‘Heroic racing’ lies at the heart of both events, the notion that much can be learned from a bygone era before technology became the dominant consideration, and while bikes made before 1987 are barred from the granfondo, so car-to-rider radios are not permitted in the race. Does the spectacle suffer or benefit as a result?
And does Ian Stannard’s strong performance in Tuscany strengthen his position in Team Sky’s Classics squad? With the British team forced to reshuffle its pack of riders following the withdrawal of an injured Chris Froome from Tirreno-Adriatico, will Geraint Thomas’ performances in an edition of Paris-Nice billed as a series of one-day Classics now decide whether he or Stanndard is made Classics leader?
We consider all these questions in our ‘five observations’ on the 2014 Strade Bianche. Add your own in the RCUK Forum.