Alexey Vermeulen, Sarah Sturm and Paige Onweller are three of the gravel ‘specialists’ on Team USA who are locked and loaded for explosive racing this weekend at UCI Gravel World Championships. They had pre-ridden all or most of the course, all said it was a challenging and technical for ‘worthy’ gravel world titles, and the winners would most likely be determined quite early, from the front of the race start.
“It’s a proper course. It’s tight, it’s technical. It has very, very, very steep climbs, it has paved climbs and loose climbs. It has paved descents, loose descents. There will be a true gravel winner at the end. It will be very intense all day. It will not play out like a road race. No one is gonna be on 35 millimetre slicks. This is a true gravel race,” Vermeulen told Cyclingnews, who traveled to Italy fresh from back-to-back wins at The Rad Dirt Fest and Chequamegon MTB Festival, putting him second overall in the Life Time Grand Prix series.
Coming from a pro road background that included two seasons on the WorldTour with LottoNL-Jumbo, Vermeulen said the new grid positions will characterise how the contest will play out. However, Team USA will have 169km to sort things out for the elite men’s contest, 140km for the elite women, but tactics could go sideways early on.
“I think one of our biggest issues is going to be the start on Sunday. This course is going to make it a little bit of luck of the draw,” Vermeulen told Cyclingnews.
The start grid rules were rejigged for this year’s race, as last year the initial grid plans had to be altered when there was considerable consternation when it was discovered that those who excelled in the qualifying UCI Gravel World Series were relegated to positions behind riders that had gathered UCI points on the road or in mountain biking and cyclocross.
This year when it comes to start positions the UCI Gravel World Series points are being fully factored in along with those earned during the 2022 UCI Gravel World Championships while 50% of the points in the UCI rankings for road, cyclocross plus mountain bike cross country and marathon are being taken into account. Prestigious US gravel races, such as Unbound, however count for nought when it comes to the start grid ranking system outlined in the technical guide for the race leaving the US team on the back foot.
“So there’s 235 guys on the start list, maybe guys missing, that is just a lot of riders. It starts gridded like a cyclocross…