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Alle Strade Bianche!

Italy_mediumPausing briefly from my steady stream of worship for cycling's traditional races, it's actually kind of cool that the sport also continues adding new routes. Tradition is nice, particularly where the years of experience have shown, for example, that the hellingen of Flanders make for good racing. But there are traditions that haven't held up as well (Paris-Brussels, anyone?). The roadmaps look nothing like they did in 1900. And there are storehouses of knowledge on what makes a good course... all of which is an open invitation to make a cool new event. For more, read the 275 posts we've written celebrating the Tour of California.

Monte Paschi Eroica -- now lengthened out to Montepaschi Strade Bianche Eroica Toscana -- is probably the new race that has drawn the most attention. Its signature white gravel roads make it Tuscany's version of Paris-Roubaix, even if the only thing those races have in common is dust. But apart from the visual spectacle, it's a well-planned course, touring the rolling hills of Italy's most celebrated region, and making for a Breton-style classic course. Much as I hate profiles of mountain courses, in the case of the classics they're of some use. Check it out:

Monte Paschi Eroica course

Not going to kill anyone, but I count about 17 discernible inclines. After a while this is going to get hard, and the last 2km include risers of 9% and 16% before the finish in the Piazza del Campo in Siena. Whoever wins will earn it, which is what you expect in a classic. Frankly, it's not clear to me what type of rider this favors, but I'll go with the Flanders climber-types until experience proves otherwise. Assuming its funding and calendar spot are secure, this race should be around for a while.

CSC have won both editions so far, with autumn warrior Kolobnev taking the original (October) version and Fabian Cancellara last spring. Cance is nursing his wounds at home, and Kolobnev undoubtedly won't see his shadow for another month or so. But from the startlist you can see Riis is bringing plenty of mettle to the race: Andy Schleck, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, and Stuart O'Grady, among others. Getting most of the attention will be world champion Alessandro Ballan of Lampre, racing at home in his beautiful jersey for the first time in a major race. Other notables from the home country (who will be looking to hold serve, for once): Giovanni Visconti, Francesco Ginanni, Daniele Bennati, Manuel Quinziato, Filippo Pozzato, and a succession of continental pros. The foreigners include favorites like Aurelien Clerc, Roger Hammond, Andreas Klier, Martyn Maaskant, Svein Tuft, Linus Gerdemann, Gerald Ciolek, and a stacked Columbia team including Edvald Boasson Hagen, Mark Cavendish, Bernhard Eisel, Mick Rogers and Thomas Lovkvist.

Great startlist. Beautiful scenery. Excellent course. We'll be here tomorrow morning, live, as long as there is a video source to be had. Oh, and my pick: Filippo Pozzato. He's very hungry, was on form last weekend, and will have plenty of support.