Pauline Ferrand-Prévot became the first ever winner of the women's Gravel World Championships on Saturday, the Frenchwoman winning a two-up sprint finish in the Italian city of Cittadella.
Ferrand-Prévot, who had been backed by many to win the event, was ever-present throughout the day's 140km of racing, first infiltrating a large group and then heading a smaller, five-rider group for the last two hours.
The lead group splintered in the closing kilometre and Ferrand-Prévot comfortably beat off the challenge of Swiss mountain biker Sina Frei.
It means that Ferrand-Prévot, who is close to joining the mountain bike arm of Ineos Grenadiers, collected her fourth rainbow jersey in just two months, having previously taken gold in cross-country, short track and marathon events in mountain biking this summer.
Second for Frei and third for Italy's Chiara Teocchi, meanwhile, were a reminder of the off-road technicalities of gravel racing, the pair both coming from mountain biking and denying the road riders despite the flat parcours.
The Veneto region of Italy was selected as the host of the first-ever UCI Gravel Worlds, the 140km course starting in the city of Vicenza and finishing inside the mediaeval walled city of Cittadella.
Tracing the rivers Bacchiglione and Brenta along bike paths for much of the parcours, a large group of 20 riders broke away early. It wasn't until an hour's of racing had passed, however, that a race-defining lead group of five riders splintered from the original breakaway.
Despite the presence of a number of WorldTour road riders on the startline, it was the off-road experts who occupied the front of the race, most notably Ferrand-Prévot. Alongside her was the United States’ star gravel rider Laurens Stephens and Frei.
Italy were represented by Teocchi while Jade Treffeisen also found herself in the leading pack, the German having been a consistent performer in the Gravel World Series.
Raced on narrow tracks on mostly hard gravel and roads akin to that made famous by the Strade Bianche race, riders were permitted mechanical assistance at designated zones, but had to finish the race on the same bike they started. New viewers of the discipline will have noticed some riders using saddle bags on their bikes.
With 60km to go, the quintet had a lead of 40 seconds, the chasing group behind pressing hard, led by four Italian riders and Sofía Gómez Villafañe of Argentina, the winner of Unbound Gravel. Interestingly, Lauren de Crescenzo, the current unofficial world champion from the Gravel Worlds in Nebraska, was not present in the first two groups.
The chasers were hamstrung by a small crash at 45km remaining when some riders missed a turn and crashed, stymying their chase. The gap between the groups steadily increased in favour of the leaders as the kilometres ticked by, stabilising at around 90 seconds with 35km to go. Stephens, however, was soon dropped off the front, and with just over 20km to go the four leaders had seen their advantage reduced to just under a minute.
Suddenly, the gap began to drop rapidly, just 35 seconds separating a reinvigorated chase group and the leaders with 17km left. The trend didn't last, however, with the difference going back out in favour of the leaders once they had moved from the asphalt and back onto the gravel on the outskirts of Cittadella. With 8km to go, they had a lead of a minute, but neither of the protagonists seemed keen to attack one another.
With just three kilometres between the quartet and the finishing line, the riders exited the final grass section and still they remained together. A short gravel path along the city walls saw Treffeisen come temporarily unstuck as she sought to pass through a fence, but she caught the trio back up.
Into a technical final kilometre and Frei and Ferrand-Prévot took advantage of their better positioning to break away from Teocchi and Treffeisen, the Swiss and the Frenchwoman entering the city walls together.
Frei led out the sprint, but Ferrand-Prévot came round the Swiss to take home the title by a bike length, with Teocchi delighted in taking bronze.
Results: Women's World Gravel Championships - Vicenza > Cittadella, 140km
1. Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Fra) in 4-09.07
2. Sina Frei (Swi) at same time
3. Chiara Teochhi (Ita) at 11s
4. Jade Treffeisen (Ger) at same time
5. Barbara Guarischi (Ita) at 27s
6. Tiffany Cromwell (Aus) at 40s
7. Ilaria Sanguineti (Ita) at 1-02
8. Letizia Borghesi (Ita) at 3-08
9. Rasa Leleivyte (Lit) at 3-11
10. Reijanne Markus (Ned) at 3-14.
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