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Mohorič on Winning the UCI Gravel World Championships: ‘I knew I had to hurt myself and the others would also suffer’

By Monica Buck

In a display of tenacity and skill, Slovenia’s Matej Mohorič rose above late-race obstacles to secure his victory at the 2023 UCI Gravel World Championships. Breaking away from Belgian contender Florian Vermeersch with just 18.6km remaining before the Pieve de Soligo finish line, he brilliantly captured the revered rainbow jersey.

During the race’s final stages, Vermeersch himself grappled with mechanical challenges, dropping his chain a mere 14.5km from the finish. This unfortunate mishap cost him a critical 10 seconds, granting Mohorič, who boasts junior and U23 World titles, a decisive advantage.

Mohorič, pressing on, faced the formidable Collagu climb, stretching 1.7km with a daunting incline of 11.8%. Throughout this ascent, he was frequently seen casting anxious glances over his shoulder, perhaps unaware that Vermeersch was grappling with mechanical issues. This moment of uncertainty was accentuated by the race clock, which now indicated a substantial 38-second gap in favor of the Slovenian.

Drawing closer to his victory, the 28-year-old pressed on, determinedly navigating the challenging terrain, amplifying his lead. Eager fans lined the course, cheering him on, as he confronted the remaining technical descent standing between him and his championship title.

Mohorič’s audacious riding style was evident when, with a comfortable lead, he suffered a crash in the final 3.5 kilometres of the race. Displaying remarkable grit, he quickly rebounded and secured his first-place position.

2023 UCI Gravel Championships
Matej Mohorič, Florian Vermeersch of Belgium and Connor Swift at the 2023 UCI Gravel World Championships. © Profimedia

The race was marked by dynamic alliances. Early on, Mohorič teamed up with Vermeersch and Connor Swift of Great Britain, forming a dominant trio that successfully distanced themselves from the rest of the 224-rider pack. Their synergy was evident as they consistently extended their lead, demonstrating their prowess on this grueling course.

However, the championship was not without its share of upsets. Wout van Aert of Belgium, who entered the race as a highly anticipated contender, faced a series of unfortunate events, including an early crash, pushing him significantly behind the leaders. Displaying commendable resilience, he battled his way to an eventual eighth-place finish. Meanwhile, Gianni Vermeersch, the defending champion, faced challenges on the hilly course, contrasting sharply with the 2022 Gravel World Championships, ultimately securing an 11th place finish.

“The feeling is great, the parcours today was beautiful. I had one of the best days on the bike and enjoyed it so much,” Mohorič said. “As I kid I always wanted to start mountain biking and then I started to practice road cycling because my friends did and today I really enjoyed it. It hurt my legs but my mind was super happy.”

“Congrats also to Florian [Vermeersch] and Connor [Swift] because they were also super strong but I used the weight advantage in my favour on the climbs and I’m super proud of this achievement.

“I always believed from the very start. The more I was making it through selections, the more I felt I had good legs and I knew the final as I reckoned the last 40km,” Mohorič said. “If I tried to design it myself, I couldn’t do a better parcours: it was super technical, super sharp and steep climbs and that suits me perfectly.

“I knew I had to hurt myself and the others would also suffer and in the end, I managed to hold on all the way to the end.”

Gravel World Championship – Men’s race results

  1. MOHORIC Matej: 04:53:56
  2. VERMEERSCH Florian: +43 seconds
  3. SWIFT Connor: +3 minutes 40 seconds
  4. VALVERDE Alejandro: +6 minutes 48 seconds
  5. SWENSON Keegan: +6 minutes 48 seconds
  6. HERMANS Quinten: +7 minutes 24 seconds
  7. VELASCO Simone: +7 minutes 52 seconds
  8. VAN AERT Wout: +8 minutes 24 seconds
  9. DE MARCHI Alessandro: +9 minutes 8 seconds
  10. SCHÖNBERGER Sebastian: +9 minutes 43 seconds