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3rd Montepaschi Strade Bianche - Eroica Toscana - 1.1

Italy, March 7, 2009

A young classic with epic potential

By Gregor Brown

Can Alessandro Ballan (Lampre - N.G.C.) be the first Italian to win Eroica?
Photo ©: Riccardo
(Click for larger image)

The Monte Paschi Eroica has earned its place as a classic despite its relatively short history, with the race’s third edition being staged this Saturday. Some 119 riders will tackle the rolling white gravel roads around Siena, Italy this weekend, with the winner being decided in the historical city Piazza del Campo after 190 kilometres of racing.

While much of Eroica stays the same for 2009, there are some slight changes like the race’s new name: Montepaschi Strade Bianche - Eroica Toscana. The event is also nine kilometres longer and there is one more gravel sector, taking the total unsealed sections to 57.2 kilometres in length. The riders leave Gaiole in Chianti and head south toward the first of eight sectors of le strade bianche ('white gravel roads').

The race will likely split up on the loop back north to Siena. The riders will hit the back-to-back sections of three and four - 19.9 kilometres of dusty gravel, which includes climbing and sketchy descents. The final selection of riders could come before sector eight, which leaves 12.2 kilometres to Siena's Campo.

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
8: km 176.7 at 1.1km

Total length: 57.2km

In the final two kilometres there is a section of nine percent gradient, which kicks up a percent in the last 900 metres through Porta di Fontebranda. The final punch in this Italian fistfight comes with a 16 percent rise on Santa Caterina. The winner will be decided in the Piazza del Campo, where the famous twice yearly horse races – Palio – run.

While the race lacks the century-long history that fellow Italian classic Milano-Sanremo will celebrate this year, epic battles like last year’s race have helped cement it as Italy’s own Paris-Roubaix. In 2008 a two-wheeled version of a fistfight between Fabian Cancellara and Alessandro Ballan decided Eroica, following a day-long break that featured Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. That epic finish was an indicator of things to come throughout the year.

"It's 'renegade,'" said Hesjedal to sum up the race in one word. "Because it's road bikes racing off-road."

There is more gravel sections in this year's race
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Cancellara went on to win Milano-Sanremo two weeks later and the Olympic Games time trial gold medal in August. Ballan set Italy on fire in September with an attack to win the UCI World Road Championships. Organiser RCS Sport could not have asked for a better finale to its young race.

Ballan will likely not have to contend with Cancellara this year due to the Swiss rider's back pain, but he will face a list of serious rivals from the 15 teams participating. Katusha's Filippo Pozzato will give the biggest threat to Ballan. Other contenders include local favourite Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Columbia-Highroad's George Hincapie and Mark Cavendish, 2007 Paris-Roubaix champion Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) and teammate Fränk Schleck, and Giovanni Visconti (ISD).

RCS Sport brought Eroica into its line-up in 2007 to complement an already impressive list of races. Its other races for 2009 include Milan-Sanremo, Giro d'Italia and Giro di Lombardia among others.