Preview: The first and only UCI Gravel World Championships
The dust is just beginning to accumulate on the Wollongong Road Courseand already the rainbow fever continues, this time in Italy for the first UCI Gravel World Championships.
A unofficial gravel worlds has been held annually in Nebraska, USA for the past 12 years, but last year the UCI decided it wanted a slice of the popular gravel pie as well. In early 2022, the UCI launched an event of 12 UCI Gravel World Series and announced the first-ever UCI Gravel World Championships, where an “official” rainbow jersey – instead of a pirate sword – will be offered.
In an interview with weekly cyclingthe man in charge of the UCI’s gravel foray, Erwin Vervecken, has revealed that the UCI is not necessarily waiting for its Gravel World Championships be an overnight success.
“It’s a new concept, we still have to prove ourselves, it will take a few years, probably three to five. It just takes time,” he said.
Still, excitement is bubbling as many notable names enter to try and win the first-ever gravel rainbow jersey this weekend, including Peter Sagan, Nikki Terpstra, Peter Sagan, Greg van Avermaet, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Sina Frei and Sofia Villafañe Gomez.
Here’s what to expect.
For its first two editions, the UCI Gravel World Championships will take place in Venteo, Italy.
The first edition will take place on October 8 & 9, 2022.
The second edition will take place on September 30 and October 1, 2023.
Race Day Schedules
Saturday October 8, 2022:
12:00 p.m. Women’s Elites
12:15 p.m. – Men 50-54 and 55-59
12:20 p.m. – Women 19-34
12:25 p.m. – Women 35-39
12:30 p.m. – Women 40-44
12:35 p.m. – Men 60+ combined
12:40 p.m. – Women 45+ combined
Sunday October 9, 2022:
11:00 a.m. – Elite Men
11:10 am – Men 19-34
11:15 am – Men 35-39
11:20 a.m. – Men 40-44
11:25 am – Men 45-49
What: Gravel races for pros and amateurs
Basically, gravel driving is all about exploring new places and traversing less traveled (unpaved) roads. As a running discipline, it is characterized by its mostly unpaved and often difficult terrain, long distances, self-reliance, and soloist nature.
The UCI, however, seems to be easing people into this new frontier of off-road racing with shorter courses than we’ve become accustomed to in American races and the terrain also seems fairly non-technical, requiring little more than a sturdy winter tire. Additionally, unlike most existing gravel races, the elite men and women will compete separately and over different distances.
“We don’t want to do 200 miles, it’s too long. It should be more or less four or five hours. I wouldn’t say short, but not extreme like American racing because you’re filtering out a lot of recreational riders that we want to have as part of the series,” Vervecken told Cycling Weekly.
And that is perhaps what makes these UCI World Championships special: the pros and the amateurs will compete side by side.
Contrary to the common race program of the men’s and women’s junior, U23 and elite categories, the UCI Gravel World Championships will be divided into age categories and an “open” Elite category.
Only riders belonging to a team registered with the UCI and/or those who have been selected by their national federations can participate in the open category.
National cycling federations have 20 slots for their top elite male and female riders, while amateur riders have had the chance to qualify on their own throughout the season at UCI Gravel World Series events.
Over the past year, twelve UCI Gravel World Series events have taken place around the world, where riders who have finished in the top 25% of their age group have entered the World Championships. Professional and elite riders do not need to qualify and will instead be selected by their national federations.
Age group categories may be in progress at the time of open races, but will be scored separately. The UCI indicates that the categories by age group are mainly reserved for amateur and master riders.
The event will offer three courses: 140 km, 166 km and 194 km. All races depart from Vicenza, follow the Bacchiglione River and end in the medieval walled town of Cittadella.
The majority of the courses will be on the typical Italian ‘white roads’ made famous by the Strade Bianche, and also feature cobblestones, coarse gravel and fast asphalt.
All runners will face two hills in the first 20km, but the majority of the course is relatively flat as it runs alongside the river.
The short course:
After the initial climb out of town, the race turns pretty darn flat; there is a total of just 700 meters of climbing spread over the 140 kilometer route. The race is 32% unpaved, 24% hard gravel, 1% cobblestone, 10% hard surface and 31% asphalt.
All female categories, including the elite race, as well as all male categories from 50 to 69 years old will compete in this 140 kilometer course.
The men’s elite peloton is the only race to cover the long course, which is the same course as the 140 kilometer but adds two additional 27 kilometer circuits around Cittadella at the end for a total of 194 kilometers with 800 meters of elevation gain . The race is 36% unpaved, 18% hard gravel, 1% cobblestone, 17% hard surface and 27% asphalt.
The 166 kilometer medium length course will be contested by the male age categories from 19 to 49 and will consist of the same main course with a single lap around Cittadella. Their total elevation over the day will be around 750 meters.
For this inaugural event, the UCI will allow “any style of bike”, as long as it contains no motors – e-bikes are not allowed! – nor any aerobar extension.
Outside of the pre-determined refueling and assistance zones, no mechanical assistance is provided to riders, who will therefore carry their own spare parts and puncture repair kit. Although assistance may be received, no bike changes will be permitted. The rider must finish on the frame he used at the start.
Early reports from on-site sources tell us that the course is more of “mixed road” terrain rather than the rocky gravel courses we’ve come to expect from races like Unbound and SBT Gravel in the US, or even The Rift in Iceland and FNLD GRVL in Finland.
Riders come from all racing disciplines and switch between riding gravel-specific and cyclocross bikes, as tires aren’t much of an issue here. Racers tell us that 32mm tires, which are even narrower than a cyclocross race tire, will do just fine.
The pretenders :
While the start lists have yet to be released, pros from all disciplines are converging on Veneto, including WorldTour roadies, gravel corsairs, cyclocrossers and xc mountain bikers.
Here are a few of the contenders:
Mathieu van der Poel, will make its first racing appearance since the debacle in Australia. The 27-year-old interdisciplinary superstar will make his gravel racing debut with fun at the center of his ambitions.
“We write a bit of history on Sunday,” Van der Poel said in a press release. “For me my very first gravel race of my career. Although it’s not completely new. I trained on the gravel bike for the first time today and it feels like something between road racing and cyclo-cross… It’s mostly fun to be there. And if the feeling is good on Sunday, obviously we’ll do our best to get the best possible result.”
Former three-time world champion Pierre Sagan is no stranger to gravel, however. He raced the Unbound 100 mile race in June and made it easy. The Slovak Told weekly cycling that he plans to compete in Italy in order to “give back to the people” who have supported him throughout his illustrious career, including some of his sponsors Specialized, Sportful and 100% Sunglasses.
Sagan’s teammate and a rider with perhaps more serious ambitions, Nikki Terpstra, will be lining up after competing in several Gravel World Series events. The former Paris-Roubaix winner recently announced his retirement from road racing, but his cycling aspirations, particularly in gravel disciplines, remain.
Former Tour of Britain winner turned gravel professional, Nathan Haas, will also join the stacked field. The Aussie has raced gravel races around the world, and showcasing beautiful custom Colnago bikes along the way.
Rumor has it that the former three-time cyclo-cross world champion Zdenek Stybar will also participate in the celebration. An expert off-road cyclist, Stybar began his road career in 2011 and achieved notable results including wins at Omloop het Nieuwsblad, three Tour de France stages, Strade Bianche and two second-place finishes at Paris-Roubiax. In one of these races he had lost against Greg van Avermeat who, by the way, is also rumored to contest the elite men’s race on Sunday.
EF Education EasyPost’s Alex Howe will lead the American contingent alongside the women’s race favorite Lauren de Crescenzo —already the current Unofficial Gravel World Champion.
Known as a strong soloist, Lauren de Crescenzo finished second at the US Road Nationals this year as well as the 200 Mile Unbound, and she won the incredibly tough Gila Stage Race. In 2021 she won Unbound, SBT GRVL, Gravel Worlds and Rad Dirt Fest in a single season. She will surely be one to watch next Saturday.
But fierce competition will come from superstar Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. The Frenchwoman will be chasing her fourth rainbow jersey of the season (!) after having already been world champion in short track, cross-country and marathon mountain biking.
And then there’s the Unbound winner and the current one Lifetime Grand Prize chief, Sofia Villafane Gomez (Argentina), Swiss professional mountain biker Sina Frei and the Americans Sarah Sturm and Lauren Stephens. The latter will compete in her third consecutive world championships after the mountain bike road and marathon world championships last month.
How to watch
FloBikes (opens in a new tab)will have live coverage of the event. The show will air live on both days and will also be available for replay. The exact time of the live stream has yet to be announced.