Gravel Racing Gets a Big Boost – The Gravel Earth Series

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Gravel bike racing is growing in stature. In October, the UCI awarded its first-ever gravel world championship titles as Belgian Gianni Vermeesh became the first Men’s Elite UCI Gravel World Champion and Pauline Ferrand-Privot of France won the women’s equivalent and the right to wear the rainbow jersey.

What was notable about the men’s race were the riders who did not win. For example, multiple cyclocross world champion and Tour de France stage winner Mathieu van der Poel was third in the race while seven-time Tour de France Škoda Green Jersey winner Peter Sagan finished in 14th place. The Italian former road race specialist Davide Rebellin, who sadly passed away on November 30, finished 39th of the 99 riders participating in the race, an impressive performance for a 51-year-old athlete.

A little more than a month after these landmark championships, the Girona-based promoter Klassmark announced that a new global gravel race series will debut in 2023. The series, called Gravel Earth, will combine six to eight races, in different locations around the world, and culminate with an Earth Final Championship in late October or November at a yet undetermined location. The series was created “with the ambition of maintaining [gravel racing’s] essence [and] bringing together some of the most important and experienced events on Earth. The values of this sport, respect for the environment and love for the territory must prevail over any competition.”

Klassmark co-owner Cristina Freixes told journalists that the idea behind Gravel Earth was to expose more cycling fans to off-road racing in extraordinary places around the world. “What we wanted is to choose different kinds of styles of races but all in amazing places,” she said. “To provide more of an experience than a competition.”

The series will kick off on April 29-30 with La Traka, on the Costa Brava and Girona, Spain. It will be followed on June 20-23 by the four-stage Migration Gravel Race in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Just a few days later, gravel racers will be in France for the Nature is Bike run. July 1 sees gravel specialists in the heart of the Swiss Alps, in Andermatt, for the Octopus Gravel race, involving timed segments. That is followed by a single-stage race at The Rift in Iceland on July 23, with another single-stage event taking place on August 12 in Bergslagen, Sweden. That’s quite a journey.

But the series is not all sightseeing. Points will be allotted to the top male, female and non-binary finishers at each event, with every event weighted differently, depending on its “difficulty and prestige.” The final rankings will be calculated by totalling a rider’s top two scores, as well as the results of the Earth Final, which will, of course, award more points than the earlier races.

Since each event is rated differently, riders can choose to participate in events that best suit their style and skills. Riders who prefer stage racing will opt for Kenya’s Migration Gravel Race, which awards 12,000 points, while the Swedish and Icelandic races each allot 9,000 points. According to Freixes, “this classification format rewards the most regular and versatile bikers of the year.”

But the real point of the Earth Series is to promote gravel racing and environmental ideals. “The tracks of the Gravel Earth Series promote remote areas little visited by the general public to find genuine contact with the Earth,” the press release declared. “The landscape value and the natural environment in which the events take place must be the first premise.”