Matej Mohorič wrapped up the elite competition in style at this weekend’s gravel world championships, a worthy winner and in a beautiful setting, but sadly, it lands a bit flat.
I’m not really qualified to assess whether the UCI’s gravel world championships stood up to the ‘spirit of gravel’, but the Veneto route – a nice change after last year’s poor offering where many road pros opted for their usual road bikes – did not disappoint in pure racing terms. That said, honestly, those positive words have a bitter aftertaste given the shadow that was cast over this weekend’s racing by the lack of live coverage for the elite women’s race.
The men’s coverage left a bit to be desired too, with barely an hour of actual live pictures, and cutouts that were frankly understandable given the terrain and technology available, but what we did see was a display of both glorious landscape and the top finishers’ terrific packet of skills.
It makes what we were robbed of on Saturday all the more egregious.
Niewiadoma’s punishing attack that saw off the rest of the field was just one facet of what looked like a dominant display at an incredibly hard race, and in extraordinary company. One of the riders she got the better of was Tour de France champion Demi Vollering – who later said, “I think no race that I’ve done on the road is as hard as today” – someone Niewiadoma has faced off against countless times at this point, but on the biting gradients and rugged technical terrain of the Veneto course, the Pole was clearly superior.
For thorough coverage of the women’s race, head over to Abby Mickey’s brilliant reporting on Saturday’s events, both the immense disappointment that was no live coverage, and the rousing victory of Kasia Niewiadoma who left behind some stellar talent on her way to an emphatic victory.
Mohorič is a similar kind of rider to Niewiadoma, twisting and diving through corners, reading the trail ahead and confidently navigating all aspects of the course, while also carrying a world-class cardiovascular engine. There was a nervous moment just outside 3 km to go when a change in surface through a corner conspired against him, sending man and bike sliding across the dirt, but the Slovenian was back up and on his way within a few seconds (and his bike mercifully more or less undamaged). A worthy winner.
- Matej Mohorič (Slovenia) 4:53:56
- Florian Vermeersch (Belgium) + 00:43
- Connor Swift (Great Britain) + 03:40
- Alejandro Valverde (Spain) + 06:48
- Keegan Swenson (USA) st.
See full results of the men’s race here.
Here are some of the moments that defined the men’s race, and a little appreciation for the route itself.
By the time live coverage started, there were only three riders left to contest victory, Mohorič, Florian Vermeersch (no relation to last year’s winner Gianni), and Connor Swift. But as the punchy gradients and rough terrain steadily wore the race down, first Swift, then Vermeersch dropped away.
The hardy Belgian had been dogged in his attempt to match the Slovenian, but on the last few climbs, Mohorič was the only rider left looking bouncy as opposed to broken. It would come down to the last man standing; survival of the fittest (and luckiest).
The rest of the field was several minutes behind any of the three leaders by the last 25 km – including pre-race favourite Wout van Aert who crashed fairly early in the race and eventually finished eighth, 8:24 down – but there was still a fight to be had for the medals. A mechanical almost derailed Vermeersch, but after a swift dismount, re-seating the chain, and remount – riders are not allowed mechanical assistance – the Belgian charged onwards through the beautiful landscape.
A solo victory is rarely the most thrilling of stories, but Mohorič and the Veneto region made those last 15 kilometres a blockbuster to behold.
The run-in to the finish was not without mishaps, though …
Mohorič kept it upright from there onwards, and after a few looks over his shoulder to make absolutely sure, he enjoyed the last kilometre before crossing the line.
“The feeling is great, the parcours today was beautiful,” Mohorič said at the finish. “I had one of the best days on the bike and enjoyed it so much. As I kid I always wanted to start mountain biking and then I started to practise road cycling because my friends did, and today I really enjoyed it. It hurt my legs but my mind was super happy.”
No surprise, Mohorič loved the course and he knew what he had to do. He could only hope that he wouldn’t suffer at the hands of Misfortune.
“I always believed from the very start,” he said. “The more I was making it through selections, the more I felt I had good legs and I knew the final … If I tried to design it myself, I couldn’t do a better parcours: it was super technical, with super sharp and steep climbs and that suits me perfectly.”
Both the newly crowned elite world champions could hardly be more deserving of their victories, and the race organisers pieced together a brilliant, sometimes bonkers, and always entertaining course. Hopefully, in time, and after next year’s promised live coverage, these victories will be remembered as they should be – as epic battles through magnificent terrain. Until then, the UCI has work to do.
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