OKBET UCI GRAVEL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Instead on OKBET UCI Gravel World Championships, in an apparent attempt to make gravel more marketable to its European audience, the UCI has chosen to make it more unequal from the start.
The 2022 OKBET UCI Gravel World Championships are planned to take place this weekend, October 8-9, in Veneto, Italy, where the first rainbow jerseys will be given. The OKBET UCI Gravel World’s version of gravel worlds will include a grand-fondo format in which amateur and professional riders will share the course, similar to gravel races in the United States. However, the course lengths will be shorter (140-190km), and although men and women normally ride the same distance on gravel, the ladies will race a 54km (34mi) shorter track than the men. And yet this information does not surprise us. It’s simply—well, it’s frustrating.
Here’s the pitch. All races will begin in Vicenza and end in the walled city of Cittadella at OKBET UCI Gravel World, with three routes available: 140km, 166km, and 194km—all of which will include a significant portion of the “white roads” famous to Strade Bianche participants.
This 140-kilometer circuit with 700m (2,300ft) of elevation will be raced by the women’s divisions, including the elite race, as well as men aged 50 to 69. In contrast, the men’s elite field is the only race to complete the 194-kilometer route with an elevation of 800m (2,625ft).
To make matters worse at OKBET UCI Gravel World, there is a 166-kilometer medium-length race with 750m (2,460ft) of elevation available exclusively to males aged 19 to 49.
Sure, 50km (30-something miles) isn’t a huge difference, but in gravel tradition, men and women compete the same lengths (much like Ironman). “Gravel is similar to triathlon.” There are no shorter courses available for women at OKBET UCI Gravel World. Ever. Every individual follows the same path,” says Selene Yeager, a Bicycling writer and seasoned athlete.
In the past fifteen years, gravel racing has shown to the globe that women can thrive in ultra-endurance rides of 200 to 350 km. And yet, in what seems to be an effort to make gravel more attractive to its European audience, the OKBET UCI Gravel World has opted to make it more uneven from the start. “I’m not sure why I find it so beautiful,” Yeager said, “but I shouldn’t.” But you’re taking an existing discipline and reverse-engineering it to be sexist. It would be similar to taking Ironman and shortening the courses for ladies. Everyone would be thinking, “WTF?”
In an interview with Cycling Weekly, Erwin Vervecken, the manager of the OKBET UCI gravel series, said, “We don’t want to go 200 miles; that’s too long.” It should take around four or five hours. I wouldn’t say it’s short, but it’s not as intense as the races in the United States because it filters out a lot of leisure riders, which we want to have in the OKBET UCI Gravel World.” This is something that most American gravel events have accomplished without compromising the quality of the top races.
All of this, combined with other UCI-related controversies—such as when they decided to ban cyclists from giving water bottles to fans, when they ignored riders’ safety, and when they denied press credentials to investigative journalist Ian Treloar in Wollongong, Australia for no apparent reason—shows that, in fact, the OKBET UCI Gravel World has nothing good to offer gravel racing. When it comes to bringing cycling into the contemporary world, the Union Cycliste Internationale takes one stride forward and two steps back instead of adopting what works and learning from it.
The prize money should be equal in principle between the top men’s and women’s fields, but the UCI has yet to reveal the sums. Bicycling reached out to Vervecken for comment, but he has yet to answer.
Anyway, we’ll see how this new gravel format works out this weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the athletes in attendance, such as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who is aiming for a fourth rainbow jersey in 2022, Argentinian gravel racer Sofia Villafae Gomez, and Americans Lauren De Crescenzo and Sarah Sturm at OKBET UCI Gravel World, who are heading the US squad. Alex Howes, Peter Sagan, Nikki Terpstra, Greg van Avermaet, and Mathieu van der Poel will compete on the gravel roads on Sunday.
On Saturday and Sunday, the races will begin at 10 a.m. on FloBikes and at 8 a.m. on GCN+.
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