All You Need to Know About the UCI Gravel World Championships

By Martin Atanasov

The long-awaited final of the inaugural season of the UCI Gravel World Series is finally around the corner. The anticipated event will be held in Veneto, Italy, where on October 9, after a weekend of thrilling competition on two wheels, we will learn who are the best gravel riders in the world. The newly introduced UCI concept was met with mixed feelings when it was first presented. However, now the entire cycling community around the world is on the edge of their seats, waiting to find out who’s going to be the first world champion on gravel. But before the weekend rolls in, here is all you need to know about the UCI Gravel World Championships.

How it began

It all started last September with a UCI press release, which sparked conflict among cyclists and fans alike. The UCI announced that it would sanction a Gravel World Championships, which would be preceded by a Qualification Series. Back then, the organisers explained that it would combine road and mountain biking elements and would take place on forest tracks, farm roads, cobbled roads, and gravel. This race was inevitable with the sudden but rapid rise in gravel riders, who flooded the city outskirts of Europe amidst the Covid crisis. However, no dates were announced back then, and everyone held their breath in anticipation of witnessing history being made.

The Gravel World Series

While there wasn’t too much new around the Gravel World Series and the Championships, preparations went hastily. Finally, on April 3, 2022, the first official UCI-sanctioned Gravel World Series race began. The host of this inaugural race was the small village of Vega Grande, just a few kilometres north of Bongabon, Philippines. Naturally, most of Europe slept through the event. The next race in Seven, Australia was more noticeable, but only after the series reached Millau, France did its popularity boom.

Race after race, more and more people became enchanted by this new type of cycling competition. A total of 11 races became the battleground for cyclists worldwide, who strived to become part of the top 25%, so they could go to the first ever Gravel World Championships in Italy. With its popularity skyrocketing, the UCI-sanctioned race also got some familiar faces’ attention.

Peter Sagan was the first to hop on the bandwagon, with Paris-Roubaix champion Niki Terpstra also joining in the fun. The latter even won the Wish One Gravel Race qualification in France.

Most recently, Mathieu van der Poel also announced his intention to ride among the best. “This will be my very first gravel race, although it is not completely new. I trained on a gravel bike for the first time today, and it feels a lot like something between road racing and cyclocross. The adaptation on the bike wasn’t too bad. We are writing a bit of history on Sunday,” Van der Poel said.

With such high-profile entries, the battle this Sunday promises to be truly spectacular.

The route

The inaugural Gravel championship, without a doubt, deserved one spectacular route, and, oh boy, did the UCI guys deliver. The race will start in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Vicenza, pass by the beautiful city of Padua and finish within the walls of Cittadella, a medieval town 25km northeast of Vicenza. About 75% of the track will be white gravel, which is the typical overlay on unpaved Italian roads. The rest will be asphalt. The entire course is 140km and has about 700m of elevation.

The programme

The women’s elite will have the honour of starting this historic event and will be the first to dash through the historic route. They will start the 140km distance at noon on October 8. 15 minutes later, the start will be given to the first men groups: those aged 50-54 and 55-59. After that, the race day will continue with all women’s race groups, and at 12:35, the Men’s veteran core will have its chance to get a place in history, as the 60+ age group will begin their 140km journey through the Italian countryside.

Sunday will start an hour earlier with the elite men’s race. In addition to the 140km to Cittadella, the men will have to make two extra 25km-long circles in the surrounding area. This will add another 50km to a total of 190km. Moreover, their elevation will gain another 100m to a total of 800m. This 25-km long circle will not only give the locals a chance to witness one fascinating race, but it will also make for one hell of a technical finish. The last kilometre will switch between gravel, cobble, and asphalt. This will take strategising to a whole new level, as the last 200m of the race are all asphalt, and it will be interesting to see if typically excellent sprinters like Sagan and van der Poel will manage to get into position with such different road types beneath their wheels.

The UCI Gravel World Championships are here to stay

Although it had a bumpy start, it seems the UCI Gravel World Championships are here to stay. Not only does the race attract many fans to watch and participate in the events, but the final will offer a spectacular show that is definitely worth watching. Thankfully, UCI is planning on making the event an annual guest in its calendar, as the next five editions are already planned. So even if you slept through this year’s World Series, don’t worry. In the upcoming years, the Gravel World Championships will only get better.