Strade Bianche, the white gravel road race, offers five scenarios that have made this modern race with a legendary soul iconic

The most beautiful locations of a competition which, in the space of just a few years, has become a vivid fresco of the most romantic part of Tuscany

Home Road Bicycles Tips Strade Bianche, the white gravel road race, offers five scenarios that have made this modern race with a legendary soul iconic

Dust clouds on dirt trails lost amid cypress trees and farmhouses, the almost unreal enchantment of the Crete Senesi olive groves and the mysterious charm of a truly breath-taking town. In seventeen years of life, the Strade Bianche has managed to climb the peaks of the World Tour circuit and make inroads into the hearts of fans thanks to its ferocious and passionate character.

Here are the places which have made it so unique in the eyes of millions of spectators across the globe.

San Martino in Grania

This is the quintessential postcard of the Strade Bianche and one of the most frequently photographed legs of the race ever, where fans watch the smoke signals of racers in the distance like Sioux on the crests of canyons while the hills embrace the race from every direction, demonstrating how cycling can merge with the landscape almost like an impressionist painting. From the ridge that is permanently exposed to the cutting winds, you can see the lost farmhouses and the rows of cypress trees. This is how the poetic story of a sport that mixes victims and executioners in an endless duel came to be.

Monte Sante Marie

If this dirt track were a song, it would probably be a track from Pink Floyd's album “The Division Bell”, a long progressive session where the immensity of the hills runs as far as the eye can see along the crest of the dry, dusty, lost road. The riders are alone here with their bike, in a wasteland almost always beaten by the wind, where melancholy black shadows are cast on the whiter than white dirt road in the dazzling early afternoon sun. As the name itself explains, this is not a place for action, it is made for contemplation and prayer, sacred and profane mixing together, which is often the case in the midst of the competition. So far from Siena – and everything for that matter – sector eight awaits, so you can stand before yourself, stripped naked. Hellish endless hills, the silence of an alienating rhythm that no one can hear: the desert of another planet.

Colle Pinzuto

One of the best grounds to launch an attack – together with Le Tolfe – before betting everything on Santa Caterina. It is your inner voice that tells you if you are strong enough and how much longer until the arrival. Like all the key points of a race, Colle Pinzuto also has the charm of sacrifice: short, hard, to be tackled at a frenzied pace if you want to make it out alive. Don't let yourselves be deceived by the bucolic glow and the silver olive trees that surround this road lost in the middle of nowhere - very little about it is a fairy tale and it would all be too easy to consider setting your foot on the ground. This is typical of cycling: reality is never what you expect it to be.

Santa Caterina

A springboard to wing it or lose it. This is the last real and raw lashing of the day – among the most painful, by the way – a narrow path that rises like an ascent from hell up to heaven. In the middle, a purgatory of extreme suffering, where you have to shut off your brain so you don't feel your legs as they break, one excruciating metre at a time. This last kilometre has a maximum gradient of sixteen per cent and people have been crowding there since the morning. It is a test of clarity and endurance, but it is also proof of how cycling makes something absolutely normal, like a street in the middle of many others, extraordinary. The finish line is just a few more pushes on the pedals away, the last stronghold of pain throws you directly towards the end, like a freshly shocked arrow.

Piazza del Campo

Some say that if you stand in the middle of Piazza del Campo, with your eyes closed, you can hear the scuffle of the horses galloping along as if in a dream, a music box of dust and glory, the jockeys leaning forward and crowds shouting, leaning out and cheering for their thoroughbred in battle.

There is nothing in the world that resembles the arrival scenario of the Strade Bianche race. It is difficult not to feel a lump rising in your throat when you witness for the first time the roar of the entire square shaking the runners on the cobbles along the last two hundred metres: the racer alone and a hurricane all around them, a funnel of people about to explode. The stage suddenly opens between the narrow alleys where the wind always blows, the Torre del Mangia is fully bathed in the sun and half the shell-shaped square is in the shade.

This is how the last worthy act of a timeless race takes place.