Strade Bianche is a vintage Classic, or so they say. Actually, it is only 12 years old. But it's arguably the only 12-year-old for which being "vintage" and "Classic" is not a blame - rather the opposite.
It's vintage because it speaks the language of old-time cycling, because its routes are the ones of L'Eroica. And it's Classic - in spite of its age - because it's one of those races cycling fans cherish and know by heart, enumerating one by one its gravel sections like they do with Flanders' muurs, Roubaix' cobbles or Sanremo's capi. Those big-time races that you remember everything about: names, editions, happenings.
Races whose look and outcomes can change drastically from a year to another. And even change the looks of the riders: from the muddy figures of 2018, to the clay masks of this year. That's how you line up in the first two steps of the podium two riders who had never showed up in the top-10 in Piazza del Campo before - and it doesn't happen that often in Classics.
Strade Bianche is a race you never seem to learn enough about. Too many variables happen when the tarmac leaves way to the gravel, and the rules suddenly change. Ad every gravel stretch, a real sprint happens to get into the narrow entry in the leading positions, and then you only have to push and hold your breath - partly hoping that nothing unfortunate happens with your tires at the worst possible time, partly to keep the dust from entering your lungs. If Arturo Bandini asked for answers to the dust of the Mid-East, to the Tuscany's clays the riders were only asking for mercy.
Few finish lines in the cycling World give the sense of apotheosis Piazza del Campo does. But pretty much like all the best things, you got to work hard for it. The Via Santa Caterina climb is a perfect metaphor of that: the amazing look of two walls of spectators on each side, framing an uphill with infamous gradients, until the last 150 meters gently downhill, finally helping your way into the heart of Siena.
And there you celebrate, even though the one on the top of the podium is always just one. And if you came in second some bitterness is justified, but you succeeded anyway. Because even if you finished hors delay, and even the classification gives no evidence of your effort, your clay mask staring at Siena's Palazzo Comunale clearly shows it was all real.