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Monte Paschi Strade Bianche
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Written by Juffie (2009-02-28 22:20)
Translated by DZI (2009-02-28 22:20:42)

Although there is talk about a new race in 2006, the Monte Paschi Eroica is only introduced to the UCI Europe Tour as a 1.1 race in 2007. That year, the 'Eroica', as it's commonly called, is ridden in the fall. The year after it gets a place on the UCI calendar in early spring, namely the first week of March and right at the start of the spring classics.
The inaugural Monte Pachi Eroica is ten years before that, however, in 1997. The first ever race is organised and ridden by amateurs. The organiser wanted to be different from all other existing 'tourist' races. That is revealed through the course with its typical graveled patches, but the race also gets its own typical 'look'.

The reason is a quaint one; Contestants can only participate riding an old fashioned bicycle, the vintage bike. The word 'Eroica' actually means 'heroic', and the race literally seems to be headed back to the hero-days of Coppi, Bartali and Simpson. To emphasise that heroic age, the participants not only have to ride the old bike, they also have to be dressed accordingly. Old cycling-fashion will take any viewer back to the days of old and the heroism of that era.

The first professional version of the race starts ten years later and resembles a mix of Milan - San Remo and Paris - Roubaix.
The race takes place in the beautiful heart of Tuscany in Italy. Although the length of the race might differ, the start is taken in the Chianti wine-region, in the town Gaiole. The chalk finishline is drawn on the historic Piazza Del Campo in Siena. You might know the Piazza Del Campo also from the yearly horse-races where representants of the ten districts of Siena battle for a glorious title. Siena itself was founded in the middle ages, which adds to the historic value of the bike race.

The name is derived from the local bank 'Banca Monte Paschi di Siena' and the bank is also the main sponsor of the race. It was founded in 1472 to give aid to the poor and then slowly grew into a traditional banking institution. The organisation of the race is in the hands of RCS-Sport. RCS director Zomegnan stipulated in 2006 that 'cycling is in need of something new' and 'cyclists are in need of new motivation'. The first winner, Kolobnev, speaks of massive dust clouds along the route, limiting the visibility to about thirty meters.

The riders get that 'times long gone feeling' along the course also. The track leads them on a lap through Tuscany, with its green pastures, the olive trees and the many Strada Bianche - literally translated as 'white streets' - flowing through the landscape. Quite a large portion of the route is made up of these Strada Bianche which gives the race its unique character. The total of graveled patches amounts to over seventy kilometers, divided into seven stretches. The roads slightly resemble the cobbled stretches in Paris - Roubaix, the main reason why there's a parallel between the races. The main differences are the dust and small pebbles coming off the tyres, which enhances the difficulty of this particular race.

Quite telling about the kind of race this is, Fabian Cancellara wins the second edition, the winners so far are true classic specialists. The race is rapidly becoming more popular with the riders each year. Some of the riders will still remember what it's like to ride these white gravel roads. These are the riders - who cursed the organiser at the time - who took part in the Giro d 'Italia 2005. The infamous stage to Sestrières across the Colle delle Finèstre, with its eight kilometers of graveled road leading to the top. Leader Savoldelli can't keep up with the three leaders, while Danilo Di Luca seems to be flying on the Strade Bianche. Savoldelli does win that Giro due to his phenomenal descending skills.

The race might not have much history as a professional race yet at the time we write this, it does however have all the ingredients to become a true classic race.

The beautiful decor put together with the tough character of the race seems to have enough substance to be elevated in its class. By 2010 the race changes its name to the current one; 'Monte Paschi Strade Bianche', while in 2017 the race joins all the great classics in the UCI Wolrd Tour scene. Up until now (2020) Fabian Cancellara is still considered master of the Strade Bianche, clocking three wins (2008, 2012, 2016) in total.

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