On Saturday, after 140 km of challenging gravel and 1600 meters of climbing, Kasia Niewiadoma finally took her first win since the fourth stage of the Women’s Tour [of Britain] in 2019. It’s been a tumultuous few years for the Polish rider, not without its highs, but a victory has eluded her. Finally, at the Gravel World Championships in Veneto, Italy she got not only that long-awaited win, but a rainbow jersey.
The day before the event was marked with discontent after it came to light that there would be no live coverage of the women’s race. In its second edition, the race attracted the biggest names in gravel and road, Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift winner Demi Vollering and gravel and former road European champion Lorena Wiebes among them. The course was a challenging one, with a few sections of gravel that were less gravel and more the stones you might find at the bottom of a mountain stream.
From the beginning the Italian team took charge of the race, reducing the field to only the strongest riders. Niewiadoma and a handful of WorldTour women quickly took the race into their own hands early on, riding away from the gravel pros who flew to Italy to test themselves.
Niewiadoma’s road team Canyon-SRAM was Tweeting updates of the race, one of the few ways to follow the action as the UCI didn’t even put together a live ticker to update everyone on the goings on. Niewiadoma remained in the front group throughout the race even as it swelled and shrank with other riders. She eventually went solo with 26 km to go, her gap only a few seconds from Vollering and Italy’s Silvia Persico. That gap eventually grew to half a minute with 10 km to go.
By the final kilometre, Niewiadoma’s lead grew to 38 seconds, enough to comfortably secure her the title of 2023 gravel World Champion, just months after she nearly claimed the queen stage of the Tour de France Femmes with a daring attack.
Niewiadoma signed her first professional contract in 2014 and since then has become one of the most recognizable riders in the peloton. Her attacking style has won her fans worldwide but has also been a detriment to her palmares; her competitors always know what she’s going to do. She’s going to attack.
Over the last handful of years, she has turned to gravel to balance the pressure of racing on the road, swapping intervals for adventure rides with her loved ones. She’s not the only Women’s WorldTour rider who uses gravel as an escape. Vollering has also been vocal about the need to supplement the hard training.
Niewiadoma has been on the short list of favourites for road World Champion titles for years, and she’s come pretty close. In 2021 in Leuven, she was third behind Elisa Balsamo and Marianne Vos. This year she was a heavy favourite but ended up not starting due to a respiratory virus. On Saturday, she won her first world title, the perfect cap to a season that has been a rollercoaster. Heading into an Olympic year, the Polish rider is riding high, something her rivals better watch out for.
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