Pro Gravel

Gravel World Championship 2022

13/10/22
Jonas Orset

For the first time, the UCI invited pro and elite riders to measure strengths under the Gravel World Championship in Veneto, Italy, October 9th.

Our vision as The Nordic Trailblazer is to be a frontrunner and therefore I was really stoked to be one of the 140 riders allowed to start in the pro/elite category in Vicenza for 193 km of gravel, finishing in the historic town of Cittadella.

Set up

What: UCI Gravel World Championship
Where: Vicenza to Cittadella, Veneto, Italy
Distance:  193 km
Dates: October 9th 2022
Start time: 11.00
Weather: Sun and light wind, 23°C
Route: Flat, narrow, twisty. See on Komoot.

Team: The Nordic Trailblazer (Morsa Sykkelklubb)
Support: Bjørn Bergenheim, Lars Tore Markussen, Hanna Ersvik

Bike: Cannondale SuperSix Evo CX
Wheels: DT Swiss GR1400
Head unit: Stages Dash M200
Power meter: Stages Power meter
Tires: Maxxis Receptor 40mm
Race kit: CCN Sport Norwegian World Championship jersey
Helmet: Met Manta
Shoes: Fizik Terra X3
Chain lube: Muc Off
Nutrition: Squeezy Sports Nutrition
Pre race bike fix: Morsa Sykkelklubb

Backround

During the UCI Gravel World Series I found myself battling the best. In Halmstad, Sweden, I just missed the podium in the sprint finishing in 5th. A month later I was 7th in Ranxo, Spain. My good results and good form made the next goal a given. I decided to go for the first Gravel World Championship.

CATALONA: In Ranxo I was 7th. Photo: Ranxo Gravel

Read more: Ranxo Gravel

Strangely enough, the UCI also opened for non qualified riders to race in Veneto if they got a wildcard from their federation or had a pro UCI licence. Therefore lots of top level riders, some of the best cyclists around, put the Championship on their calendar. Names as Mathieu van der Poel, Peter Sagan, Greg van Avermaet, Zdeněk Štybar and Magnus Cort Nielsen was found on the start list. My name was on there too.

WORLDS: I'm ready for the first ever Gravel World Championship. Photo: Lars Tore Markussen, edit Hanna Ersvik.

Last preparations for the Gravel World Championship in Gravel

After the race in Ranxo I added some longer rides to my training plan. I think the combo of high volume in the training, the chill Norwegian fall weather, and working with the cycling schools, mixed together was the reason I got a cold. I wasn’t really sick, but felt a fatigue which made me sleepy. I didn’t feel strong during training. At one time I feared my appearance in Italy. Luckily I was a bit better for the last key workout on Thursday, which gave me hope.

On Thursday night, I arrived Venice with my girlfriend Hanna. My support team of Bjørn and Lars Tore had already arrived and they picked us up at the airport and drove us to our Airbnb. A nice house outside Padova. 

On Friday we went over to Vicenza, the host town of the start. I got my first view of the route. The start was pretty crazy, leading us straight into a 1.5km climb followed by a twisty downhill single track. At the bottom, we rode into some fast sections, a forest path, then a 2 km climb. It was a good chance the race was settled already at 10 km.

Gravel World Championship Route
KOMOOT: The route on Komoot. Photo: Lars Tore Markussen

On Saturday, the day before, we went to Cittadella, the finishing town. It was a really cool historic town built around a castle wall. I test rode the final,  a loop of 27k we were going to do twice. It was a tricky final, yet some epic surroundings.

My support team took care of the bike and I could mostly focus on getting fit for fight.

BIKE READY: I'm turning my Stages Dash on before the race. Photo: Hanna Ersvik.

We are in Italy - let's race

It is a bit surreal to line up with cycling’s very best.  

I am a bit nervous, which is pretty normal going into the World’s. I am not sure about my form after the sickness, but I am prepared to fight. I know many of the riders, and feel I am where I belong in the gravel scene.

23˚C and sunny. Light wind from the east. 

I am staging as early as 30 minutes before as it isn’t really clear how we will line up. The commissaries tell us the riders with the most UCI points will be called to the front. I think the whole thing is a bit tragicomic, as the UCI definitely should give the riders racing their Gravel World Series an advantage yet they do the opposite. Then it is really no point of going through a gravel qualification if road racers are prioritised. 

Either way I get a decent start position ready for the signal to go.

SPEED: High speed up the first climb. Photo: Pocispix (Facebook)

Flying start

Bang. It is just like a cyclocross start. Riders everywhere. I am in the middle of the chaos. Halfway into the climb I don’t feel like normal and start to struggle. The strongest are attacking, other riders are getting dropped. I keep contention with the rear of the peloton. In the single track downhill some riders crash. Others are drifting through the corners. Brakes are screaming. I manage to stay up. 

Hitting the flat the field is sprung out. Fast. Too fast. I'm not feeling strong. I lose the wheel of the rider in front of me. Dropped.

A bit later I get caught by a group going in a bit slower pace. It suits me well today. 

Bang again! No, it's another flat! Not the first time this season. What a bummer.

Race plan, just finish

I don’t see any sealant leaking so I hope it will work to just add some air. The CO2 cartridge isn't treating me well. I have to use the second one too. It’s not working. Then I see the cut. Sealant isn’t enough. Maybe a plug?

Food stop is not too far away and I can change wheels there. I decide to ride the airliners to the food stop, but it isn’t ideal. It’s 12 km, on partly rooted trails. The tire feel really soggy and it is sketchy in the corners. I have to go slow not to go down. 

Finally arriving the feed and I am already about 15 min behind. We try a quick wheel change, but something isn't right. The wheel doesn’t fit the frame. What? We realise, we did a stupid mistake. We have a 160mm disc on the spare wheel while I am riding 140. I thought we did check this, but now the mistake is already made. We swap discs, but lose another 5 minutes.

So now, I am more than 20 min behind after only 22 km. Great start.

MECHANICAL: Wheel and disc change. Photo: Hanna Ersvik.

Getting through

When we finally manage to change wheels, some riders from the age categories starting 10 min behind the us elite riders, are passing me. I get on the bike and sprint up to them. It is a group of 20 riders going pretty fast.

At first I don’t do too much but staying on their wheels. Not feeling great, and with the technical issues I kind of want to withdraw. I can’t.  I don’t want my name next to the DNF. No, I want to finish.

I’m joining the group. It’s not always that easy as the course is twisty and open for wind. It’s sometimes hard following the wheel. 

The course is technical and has lots of corners, bridges, small towns, single tracks, bike paths going right and left. 

When we get more into the race I understand I am probably the strongest in the group and start to drive the speed. I’m not competitive, I just want to make it to the finish. 

We are getting closer to the end of the tunnel.

FRONT: Mathieu van der Poel in the front is keeping the speed high. Photo: Hanna Ersvik.

Final loop

There were many people out this Sunday afternoon in Cittadella. The surroundings are great. Going through the old castle is amazing. Truly something to remember. 

The loop is not so entertaining, but it offers a huge variety of surfaces. Lots of asphalt on narrow country roads through small villages, some part are on tractor trails passing the green fields. A few kilometer are on a bouncy single track, like a pump track. 

The last 10 riders in my group stay together into the last lap. The age group riders, all but me, are finishing the race, while I have 1 lap to go. Then, only 300 meter before the finish line, we get stopped. 

The first rides are lapping us, sprinting to the finish. It’s Belgium Gianni Vermeersch 43 sec in front of Daniel Oss. Then Mathieu van de Poel wins the sprint for third. 

WINNER: Gianni Vermeersch wins the first Gravel World Championship. Photo: Pocispix (Facebook)

We have to wait about 5 minutes to be able to pass the line. I have another lap to go, and have to fight my way though photographers and TV interviews of the finishing riders. 

At this time I just want to make it through, so I don’t really care much about the early finishers. I get through and start on the last lap. Lars Tore hand me a coke and I ride on solo. There are no riders to see, but the road marshals are still stopping traffic. There are more cars in the course now. I have to take care. 

Eventually. I make the finish line. 99th. Lanterne Rouge. The last finisher in the Gravel World Championship Men Elite. But I did finish.

MADE IT: Not my best day, but I made it through. Photo: Hanna Ersvik.

Summing it all up

I have mixed feelings about the UCI Gravel World Championship. Firstly I am proud of making the start, and finishing the first edition. The only Norwegian rider in the pro category. 

Then I am pretty bummed about not being at my best for such an event, and also yet again having the mechanical problem. It would have been a different day if I was on top of my game. I wouldn’t expect to be riding with the best, but I think a top 30 could have been in reach, which I would have been happy about with such a strong field. 

I am grateful about the experience of being a part of the World’s and lining up with the very best. And I am grateful to share it with Hanna and my support team. In evaluation there are things to improve on most areas, but now, a few days after the race I am not down, but confident things will be better next time. 

ITALY: The surroundings were great in Veneto. Photo: Hanna Ersvik.

UCI into Gravel

I have also mixed thoughts about the UCI coming into gravel. I think in general it’s great the world of gravel also is growing outside the US, but I am not sure about the way the UCI are trying to change gravel as America made us familiar with. Definitely I do not like that top rodies don’t have to qualify through the World Series, and that they even get a better start position. I’m not sure if the UCI are managing to empower the gravel riders if they aren’t prioritising the World Series leaders in the World Championship. 

In UCI gravel races there are no prize money, which make the serious full time gravel rider question why to choose races organised by the UCI when they are being taken so much better care of in other gravel events. 

We’ll, there’s a first for everything, and I’ll keep on being an optimist about the UCI involvement in gravel.

I am looking forward to what’s next.

I’m already back in the Mid South and next up is the Belgium Waffle Ride in Kansas October 16th and Big Sugar October 22nd. Two fun and pure gravel events where the whole gravel community are taken care of. 

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