The recently-announced calendar for the 2022 Trek UCI Gravel World Series offers 12 races worldwide, open to riders of all ages and levels, epitomising the ‘cycling for all’ ethos. It’s the first time that gravel races – disputed primarily on unpathed roads - have come together under the UCI umbrella, formalising the standards and promoting the stature of the events that retain the friendly and open atmosphere at the heart of the gravel scene but also attract some of the most competitive riders from men’s and women’s racing.
The UCI Gravel Philippines race on 3 April is at Bongabon, Nueva Ecija on the northern Luzon island, one of the Philippines’ two main islands, around 200km north-east of Manilla. The full 85km distance course is for men aged 19-59 and women 19-49, while a 65km alternative is for the competitors in the age groups above. Both routes are fast and largely flat, but both feature the most challenging climb – 3.3km long, hitting 13% and peaking at 270m above sea level.
While the sales of gravel-specific bikes have been growing in recent years, on Luzon island and at the events that follow in the inaugural year of the Trek UCI Gravel World Series, participants can compete on any type of bike, as long as it doesn’t have electrical assistance. So we’ll see drop-bar bikes built for gravel, road or cyclo-cross, and flat-bar bikes with rigid, hardtail and potentially short-travel full-suspension frames made from different materials all going head to head.
After the first event there are 11 more races scheduled through to the end of September in the inaugural Trek UCI Gravel World Series hosted around the world, from Australia to America and right across Europe. The series is set to culminate at a UCI Gravel World Championships – with date and location yet to be announced – where men and women in each age group will have the opportunity to compete for the famous rainbow stripes jersey.
Like the road-orientated UCI Gran Fondo Series, the fastest 25% riders from each age group qualify for the UCI World Championships. But unlike the UCI Gran Fondo Series, the 2022 Trek UCI Gravel World Series is also open to professional riders. And that concept of enthusiasts and pros rubbing shoulders appeals to both groups.
The pro’s perspective
Former UCI WorldTour road pro Nathan Haas considers himself an “early adopter” of gravel racing and is hugely enthusiastic about the announcement of the 2022 Trek UCI Gravel World Series. He might be best known from his 12 years in professional UCI Road Teams, winning one-day and stage races around the world and riding in all three Grand Tours, but Haas’ roots are in mountain biking and he’s happy to welcome a new era with an emerging discipline that gets going when the asphalt stops.
“There’s a huge hunger for gravel all around the world, and in Europe there’s such a high participation rate but what we didn’t have yet are the high profile races,” says the Australian. “The UCI coming in and formalising this series is a catalyst for suddenly seeing that growth in Europe and lots of other places – Australia, Asia – the organisation is going to be perfect, and the safety will be really good.
“Knowing that there is a whole series to look forward to adds a new narrative to gravel, with a build-up to the UCI World Championships. When it comes to cycling there’s an unspoken joy when anyone thinks about putting on a rainbow jersey… I would be lying if I said I wasn’t having those dreams to chase that this season. It’s been a huge reason as to why I decided to jump into gravel full gas, to really target this series and then the UCI World Championships!
“For me gravel has been a natural progression to explore a new way of riding bikes. I don’t necessarily think gravel’s better than road or mountain bike or track, it’s just great to have something new, a new challenge, a new environment, new places to race around the world, new formats. It’s great to see how the UCI has reached out to so many race organisers around the world to see how they can facilitate the first year and make it as good and as global as possible. And I believe that 2023 might be even more incredible.”
Haas has his sights set on chasing the wins, but he’s also buzzing about being part of the ‘cycling for all’ movement.
“It’s very inclusive. It’s not just the people who are at these events trying to win, it’s everyone racing to have the best day they can, and that’s the true spirit of gravel. The UCI are aware of the culture within the sport and want to embrace it and catapult it into a much more professional and incredible sport.”