In the days before the first UCI Gravel World Championships last year, the specialists who had spent much of the year competing in and supporting the new UCI Gravel World Series discovered their results were worth nothing when it came to the all-important starting positions in the race for the rainbow jersey. In a controversial decision, they were being trumped by road, mountain bike and cyclocross athletes, who had not raced a single one of the gravel series events. In 2023, the rules are set to change.
A post flagging the alterations to the regulations was put out on the Gravel World Series Facebook page, outlining that elite riders at the 2023 UCI Gravel World Championships in Veneto, Italy on October 7-8, would line up based on a points system. On first glance, this appeared to lean in favour of those racing gravel throughout the year.
Positions will be allocated, organisers said, based on a cumulation of points won during the Gravel World Series events and the previous year’s Gravel World Championship, along with “50% of the points in the UCI rankings road, mountain bike cross-country (XCO), mountain bike marathon (XCM) and cyclocross”.
The early broadcasting of the start grid policy, may perhaps allay some of the controversy from last year, with last-minute discussions resulting in riders like series round winners Piotr Havik and Adam Blazevic, ultimately, moved up to the second row in the men’s event. However, they still sat behind a front row dominated by road pros, including Mathieu van der Poel, Peter Sagan and Miguel Angel López. In the women’s race, mountain bike world champion and eventual winner Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who hadn’t raced in the gravel series, was also prominent on the front of the grid.
Start position were an issue last year, as races began with an early climb to split the fields, and narrow sections following, that made moving up a challenge.
The importance of position on the start line is a key factor in mountain biking and cyclocross. too. Riders who come into the race from the road, like Tom Pidcock or Marianne Vos, do not find any concessions given for road points but instead have to fight their way up if they want a better placement.
That raises the question, is it enough to cut the weighting of points from other disciplines in half for the Gravel World Championships?
The points awarded for the UCI Gravel World Series – running from April to September with 17 events – will range from 200 for the event winner through to 5 for 25th. For the World Championships, points will range from 1,000 down to 10 points.
Additionally, the top-finishing riders from qualifier events will have to request access to a ‘priority start box’. “Riders can apply for this first box submitting their candidature to the different organizers who will then decide and pick a maximum of 25 riders over both genders,” said the UCI Gravel World Series post.
2022 versus 2023
To put the proposed points system in perspective, we did a quick tally on where some of top riders and regular participants in the Gravel World Series would have been positioned under this system as they headed into the first Gravel World Championships in 2022.
Picking out the trio of men’s riders who each won two rounds in 2022 – Adam Blazevic, Svenja Betz and Piotr Havik – they would have gone into the World Championships with 700 to 720 points tallies based on the new system.
Of course you have to keep in mind that there were no World Championships points thrown into the mix given it was the first edition, but 700 odd points in the men’s category would have actually put the top UCI Gravel World Series riders on the grid ahead of many of Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and López. However, Van der Poel would have been safely ensconced on the front row even with his halved road points alone – which in October of 2022 were already over 2,000 point – and that is even without his swag of points from cyclocross added in.
In fact, even with the 50% rule in place, any of the top 25 riders in the men’s road rankings, given they all were sitting above 1,440 points before the 2022 UCI Gravel World Championships, would have topped the best riders of the gravel series.
Ferrand-Prévot, with her halved mountain bike UCI points, would have also been easily ahead of two-time gravel World Series winner Svenja Betz. In fact, any rider in the top 18 of the women’s road rankings could have likely walked onto the front row ahead of the top performers in the gravel series.
Then there are gravel specialists like 2022 Unbound Gravel 200 winners Sofia Gomez Villafane and Ivar Svilk, who no points to show for that race since it isn’t UCI classified. They did actually get a front row slot in 2022, but the new regulations don’t appear to ensure a place at the front of the grid this time out.
Points system for 2023 UCI Gravel World Championships start grid
At the UCI Gravel World Championships, riders of the Elite category would be lined up at the start based on a points system which is a cumulation of the following points, the highest number listed for the winner:
- Points won during the UCI Gravel World Series events in the overall male/female result per race for top 25 : 200-180-160-150-140-130-120-110-100-90-80-70-65-60-55-50-45-40-35-30-25-20-15-10-5 points
- Points won during the UCI Gravel World Championships of the previous year in the elite category for top 25 : 1000-750-600-500-450-400-350-300-275-250-225-200-180-160-140-120-100-80-70-60-50-40-30-20-10 points
- 50% of the points in the UCI rankings road, mountain bike cross-country (XCO), mountain bike marathon (XCM) and cyclocross