In Strade Bianche you just never stop fighting.
On Saturday the women’s World Tour peloton continues with one of the youngest classics on the calendar. The 2023 Strade Bianche is only the ninth edition but it’s the race everyone wants to ride and everyone wants to watch. For AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step last year’s number three Ashleigh Moolman Pasio lines up with Tour of Valencia winner Justine Ghekiere, Marthe Goossens, Gaia Masetti, Anya Louw and Mireia Benito.
“Strade Bianche is one of my favorite races,” says Ashleigh. “I love the thrill of the gravel roads and the tension it creates in the peloton. It’s like an adrenaline rush. Last year it was a great race for me when I fininshed third, even though it wasn’t the plan I would go for a result, so I worked a lot that day. This year I can focus 100% on getting my best result.
Everyone is super motivated. AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step is a project that focuses on development and growth, so we have some riders who haven’t raced Strade Bianche before. To me that’s not an issue because everyone is motivated and I can share my experience with my colleagues.”
Marthe Goossens is one of those riders lining up for her very first Strade Bianche. The Belgian rider only recently made the switch from BMX racing to road racing but takes those BMX skills with her to Italy.
“I have watched this race every year on television,” Marthe says. “That mix of the white gravel roads, the dust, the old Italian villages and the atmosphere are really amazing. I am really looking forward to racing here and I will do everything to contribute to a team result. I am really happy I can be at this race to gain experience for the years to come. I do think my fearlessness from BMX racing is going to be really helpful racing fast on gravel.”
Ashleigh saw a team that rode united in the Tour of Valencia and she expects the same on Saturday for the 136 kilometers long race which starts and finishes in picturesque Sienna.
“The first part of the race is all about being united and supporting each other. It’s also about eating and drinking because if you under fuel, you will really pay for it in this hard race. We need to cover moves and look out for each other. Sector 5 is the longest of all gravel sectors and will be the first important point. After that the attacks usually happen. I hope that Justine is still with me by that point and hopefully more teammates going into the final,” Ashleigh explains.
After the opening weekend SD Worx really made a statement and last year’s winner Lotte Kopecky is the rider to watch. Former winner Annemiek van Vleuten and the Movistar team as well as Elisa Longo Borghini racing in front of her home crowds. Ashleigh also adds Kasia Niewiadoma to the mix.
“There are many strong teams here but if we race united as we did in Valencia, we are strong too. The race is all about balance between spending energy in positioning and trying to save something for the final. It just all adds up in the end. If we get that balance right, I am sure Justine, I and the entire team will be ready for an impressive performance, whether that is a result of just an all-round great performance. The most important lesson of Strade Bianche is to never stop fighting, and I am certain that this is what this team will do” Ashleigh concludes.