Pogacar launches Giro-Tour bid at Italy’s white dust epic

Tadej Pogacar in action. File photo

Tadej Pogacar opens his season Saturday at the Strade Bianche in Italy targeting a win at the gravel race that will also act as preparation for his assault on a Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double.

The two-time Tour de France winner said he was “racing to win” in Siena, but has two more reasons to race on the white roads.

The iconic white gravel classic takes Pogacar to Italy where the Slovenian will contest the Giro for the first time in May.

The Tour de France’s stage nine around Troyes, meanwhile, will also feature 32km of gravel sections for the first time.

The race is renowned for its billowing clouds of white dust from the 71km of gravel along the route and the steep climb up via Santa Caterina leading to the Piazza del Campo finish line at Siena.

Defending champion Tom Pidcock of Ineos Grenadiers warmed up with a strong showing at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last week, finishing only seconds off the pace.

“We did a good job as a team and got ourselves in the right position,” he said. “We can build on that.”

Pogacar, the 2022 champion, comes in cold.

“It’s going to be a long season, including two Grand Tours, so new territory for me in that regard,” Pogacar said as he prepares to wrestle back the Tour title from Danish rival Jonas Vingegaard and debut at the Giro.

“I’ve been patient and taken a bit of a slower approach to this year,” the Team UAE leader said.

“There will be big rivals, but we’re racing for the win.”

– ‘Beautiful race’ –

Neither Wout van Aert nor Mathieu van der Poel are on the 2024 start-list but two-time former world champion and 2019 Strade Bianche winner Julian Alaphilippe is a threat in his sixth consecutive participation.

His Soudal Quick-Step sports director Davide Bramati said the Belgian team were going into the race with two leaders, Alaphilippe and Danish classics ace Kasper Asgreen.

“We are motivated for what is one of the most beautiful races of the year,” he said.

“Julian and Kasper are two riders who between them have finished three times on the podium here, and we are hoping for a good result.”

Alaphilippe won by attacking on the 16 percent gradient hill leading into the Siena town square just 500m from the finish line, while Pogacar and Pidcock launched unanswerable attacks from 50km out to claim their titles.

The race has been lengthened to 215km this season and will take over five hours to complete.

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