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2nd Monte Paschi Eroica - 1.1

Italy, March 8, 2008

Eroica's status grows with new springtime date

By Gregor Brown

2007 winner Alexandr Kolobnev (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The race of le strade bianche is back with the second edition of the Monte Paschi Eroica, this Saturday, staring in Gaiole in Chianti and ending 181 kilometres later in Siena's Piazza del Campo. The 2008 running set to become even more of a desired race win to have in one's palmarès thanks to its new spring date. Organiser RCS Sport moved the race date from October to March to attract the in-form Classics riders that are suited to its new event; we can expect to see a fierce battle over the seven sectors of white gravel with names such as World Champion Paolo Bettini, 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Alessandro Ballan and 2007 Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O'Grady on the start list.

With the March 8 date, Monte Paschi Eroica is the first of RCS Sport's races for 2008 – a calendar which includes Tirreno-Adriatico (March 12-18), Milano-Sanremo (March 22), Giro d'Italia (May 10 - June 1), Giro del Lazio (August 9), Milano-Torino (October 16) and Giro di Lombardia (October 18).

RCS Sport was inspired by races like Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde van Vlaanderen as well as the long running cyclo-tourist event held on the same strade bianche ('white gravel roads') when it staged its first edition last fall – won by Alexandr Kolobnev (Team CSC), who had just finished second at the World Championships.

The race will take off from Piazza Ricasoli in Gaiole at 11:20 heading in a southern direction towards the first of seven sectors of sterrati ('gravel roads'). The most dangerous of sectors – 56.1 kilometres in total – should be number five. The 11.5 kilometre sector will finish off any rider with weak legs, and provide room for attacking. However, Kolobnev used the penultimate sector to leave his escape companions in a cloud of white dust last year.

Sectors and length:
1: km 35.0 at 13.5km
2: km 53.9 at 5.5km
3: km 82.3 at 11.9km
4: km 95.2 at 8.0km
5: km 132.4 at 11.5km
6: km 163.7 at 3.3km
7: km 170.4 at 2.4km

Dusty roads
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Riders noted from last year that climbing and descending on the sterrati is the key difficulty in the race. Diego Caccia (Barloworld) noted to Cyclingnews "the difficulty also comes on the descents; I was doing fairly well but lost it on one of the downhill turns."

Putting the cap on a beautiful race is the finish in the famous Piazza del Campo in Siena. The piazza, dating back to 1300, is the site of the twice-yearly horse race – Palio.

The favourites are those who excel in one-day hard-man races, like Ronde winner Alessandro Ballan of Team Lampre. The Italian will be favoured but may not get as much attention as Bettini, who lives nearby in La California. Bettini will have team-mate and recent winner of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with him, Steven De Jongh.

Kolobnev will not be back to defend his title but the team will look towards Norwegian Kurt-Asle Arvesen and O'Grady. The winner of Paris-Roubaix, will be a strongman for the day but his winning-form is a question mark. Two-time Giro d'Italia champion Gilberto Simoni proved his love for the rough Siena roads last year, and will be a favourite even if his form is being saved for two months later, in May.

American Teams Slipstream Chipotle and High Road will be contenders. The former has Steven Cozza and Michael Friedman, who just have had a successful Belgian weekend, while the team of Bob Stapleton can rely on Gerald Ciolek and Servais Knaven.

Barloworld will have Australian Baden Cooke as its leader, who will have strong support from Caccia. Russia-backed Tinkoff will likely rely on two trust-worthy Russians, Mikhail Ignatiev and Pavel Brutt, to make its mark.

Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown will be in Gaiole for the start of the Monte Paschi Eroica and will bring you a complete report when the sure to be epic race concludes in Siena's Piazza del Campo.