While the unofficial Gravel Worlds has been held annually in Nebraska, USA since 2010, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) today announced its first official Gravel World Championships, where a rainbow jersey —instead of a pirate sword— will be on offer.
The 2022 and 2023 UCI Gravel World Championships will both take place in Italy. The premiere UCI Gravel World Championships are slated for October 8 and 9, 2022 in the northeastern region of Veneto.
The date for the 2023 edition will be 30 September and 1 October 2023, but the location remains unconfirmed.
In an interview with Cycling Weekly, UCI's Gran Fondo manager, Erwin Vervecken, revealed that the UCI doesn’t expect the World Championships to 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. It was the same way with Stade Bianche as a Classic. The first few years there was not a lot of interest, and then [Fabian] Cancellera participated and because of the special course, the epic circumstances, it was an instant Classic," he said.
The UCI stacked their first foray into gravel racing with two separate endeavors: a 12-event UCI Gravel World Series and the UCI Gravel World Championships.
The 12 races that make up the Gravel World Series serve as qualifiers for the World Championships in October, and are open to both professional and amateur cyclists. This means that unlike other disciplines, the UCI Gravel World Championships can be contested by pros and amateurs alike.
National federations will be given 20 spaces for their best men and women elite racers, while amateur racers can qualify on their own by finishing inside the top 25 percent of their age group at a qualifying World Series race.
Of the qualifying races, seven are in Europe, two in America, one in the Philippines and two in Australia. With distances ranging between 85 to 130 kilometres, the World Series races are much shorter than what we've been seeing at the popular endurance races such as Gravel Locos, Unbound or SBT GRVL.
"We don’t want to do 200 miles, that’s too long. It should be more or less four or five hours. I wouldn’t say short, but not extreme like the U.S. races because you filter out a lot of leisure riders which we want to have as part of the Series,” Vervecken told Cycling Weekly.
The UCI is betting that some of the biggest names in road racing will want to compete for a rainbow jersey in gravel.
TotalEnergies rider Nikki Terpstra already made his intentions clear when he entered and won the third round of the UCI World Series in Millau, France. Likewise, Nathan Haas (Cofidis) competed in the Seven, Nannup race in Australia, where he ended up second behind Giant Factory team racer Adam Blazevic.
And Terpstra isn’t the only rider from TotalEnergies experimenting with gravel, Peter Sagan and Daniel Oss recently rode the 100-mile distance at Unbound Gravel in the U.S. earlier in June albeit just as a publicity stunt.
“Hopefully we can attract racers like Wout Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar. It will probably take a few years, but the Gravel World Championships will be at the end of the road season so for them, it’s a fun event at the end of a busy season,” said Vervecken.
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