Gianni Vermeersch became the first men’s gravel world champion in Veneto in Italy on Sunday, the Belgian attacking his breakaway companion Daniel Oss inside the final 10 kilometres and soloing to victory.
The former cyclocross rider, who rides for Alpecin-Fenix, was active from the start but would not have expected that he and Oss would have been given so much time by the chasing group once they attacked with 130km still to race.
Their gap to the main bunch was significant throughout the inaugural edition of the Gravel World Championships, but rather than wait for a sprint with Oss, Vermeersch made his move on the outskirts of the fortified walls of Cittadella.
A winner of only three professional road races in his career, it was his trade teammate Mathieu van der Poel who was expected by many to win the race, but the Dutchman had to settle for bronze.
In stark contrast to the off-road look of the women’s results, every rider in the final top-10 was or had been in the past two years contracted to a WorldTour or ProTour road team.
Just like the women did the day before, the men began with a grid start in the city of Vicenza, but controversially it was the riders who had crossed over from the road who lined up at the front, as opposed to gravel and mountain bike riders.
A 190km course saw the riders trace the rivers Bacchiglione and Brenta on a mixture of differing types of gravel, forest, bike paths and asphalt road surfaces, before eventually completing three laps around the stunning walled city of Cittadella.
Magnus Cort, one of the stars of this summer’s Tour de France, was in an early break of four alongside fellow road star Colombia’s Miguel Ángel López, South Africa’s fantastically-named mountain biker Matthew Beers and Italy’s Samuele Zoccarato. The quartet, however, were brought back by the large chasing group of around 50 riders.
With around 130km separating the race from the finish, Oss of Italy and Vermeersch of Belgium broke clear and immediately built a healthy advantage. Within 20km their lead was almost six minutes.
The chasing group behind contained the likes of pre-race favourite Van der Poel, but they were in no hurry to bring back Oss and Vermeersch, and with 30km and just over one full lap to go, the duo had an enormous lead of 4-45.
That lead reduced as the kilometres ticked by, but at the 10km marker they could be confident of victory, holding an advantage of two minutes. The chase group, for whatever reason, was too dysfunctional to bring the leaders back and seemed to admit defeat.
It seemed likely that, just as in the women’s race yesterday won by Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, that the leaders would wait until the final kilometre to attack one another, but Vermeersch made his move with around seven kilometres to go. The exact move that dropped Oss, however, was missed by television cameras.
Vermeersch then went into time trialling mode and entered the cobbles inside Cittadella solo and had time to celebrate becoming the first ever male gravel world champion.
Oss came home 43 seconds back, the Italian content with his silver medal as he crossed the line, with Van der Poel sprinting past Greg van Avermaet for third place and bronze.
Results: Men’s Gravel World Championships, Vicenza > Cittadella, 190km
1. Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) in 5-10.40
2. Daniel Oss (Ita) at 43s
3. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) at 1-28
4. Greg van Avermaet (Bel) at 1-29
5. Yevgeniy Fedorov (Kaz) at 1-39
6. Magnus Cort Nielson (Den) at same time
7. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) at 1-40
8. Zdenek Stybar (Czh) at 1-46
9. Davide Ballerine (Ita) 1-53
10 Andreas Stokbro (Den) at 2-43.