The 2023 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships will be part of the biggest cycling event ever staged when the UCI Cycling World Championships take place in Glasgow and across Scotland from 3 to 13 August. Of the 13 separate UCI World Championships being held over 11 days, those for Gran Fondo will take place on 4 August (road races in Perth and Kinross) and 7 August (individual time trials in Dundee and Angus).
All participants will have qualified at one of the events organised all over the world that make up the UCI Gran Fondo World Series.
Among them will be Slovenia’s Laura Šimenc, 32, a professor in the veterinarian faculty of the University of Ljubljana, and Austria’s Stefan Kirchmair, 34, architect and coach. Both will be defending the road race rainbow jerseys they claimed last year in Trento (Italy), where they not only won their respective categories, but also set the best times across all age classes.
Both of them are phenomenal athletes, flying in the virtual world of Zwift in the winter before heading out on the road where they are used to winning Gran Fondos and smashing King of the Mountain (KOM) and Queen of the Mountain (QOM) challenges, sometimes ahead of the biggest names in professional cycling.
What does it mean for you to be a UCI World Champion and wear the rainbow stripes?
Laura Šimenc (LS): It’s amazing! I love it, especially because I claimed it in the road race. I was a two-time UCI World Champion in the time trial so I really wanted to get it back in the road race after such a long time [her previous victory dated back to 2018]! Also, the course was very demanding so I didn’t expect it at all, and I was super happy. The jersey is great. I’m wearing it at every race I’m attending this year to make the best of it while it lasts!
Stefan Kirchmair (SK): I took a bigger and bigger interest in the UCI Worlds and in the UCI Gran Fondo Series in the past few years and I really went for it last year. Trento is one of my favourite places. It’s only 200 kilometres from home and I’ve gone there very often to train. It was my main goal of the year and I was very happy when I was able to win there. With the jersey, everybody looks at you, you have to do much more work, especially now that I have decided to do more races and Gran Fondos in Italy. So you have a lot more pressure in the races. But it’s a great opportunity on the other hand, and I’ve noticed much more attention from the media when I win races now.
What are the skills that enable you to shine in Gran Fondos, on Zwift, hunting KOMs…
SK: My skills have changed a lot over the years I’ve been doing sports. When I was a kid, I was playing chess and shooting with an air rifle. Then at 16, I was the youngest participant in the Ötztaler and it went really well. I turned to cycling but it was already late, I couldn’t find opportunities to make a career but doing races like the Tour of Austria, I realised my talent was for climbing, long efforts. That’s why I went for Gran Fondos, you can find really nice races with beautiful hard climbs. I had to stop in 2015 because of injuries. I tried Zwift a few years later and it really hooked me. I was a really different athlete at the time, heavier and punchier. And it’s easy to transition from there to KOM hunting because both are short efforts. I really worked on sharp accelerations and it also helped me in the UCI Worlds, which is a four hour and something race, not six or seven like some Gran Fondos.
LS: I’m pretty good on climbs, maybe not the best but I can hold on and then I can outsprint my rivals because I’m tall and quite punchy. I’m also good at riding in the bunch. If I’m with a good group of riders, I can work well with them. I’m not the typical sprinter or pure climber. I also love downhills. I developed these skills training with a group of friends, mostly men. They’re all punchier, better climbers, better on downhills… So you need to follow or quit and it bettered my skills in every aspect. The same goes with the races. I’m not training just one aspect, I try to cover everything. I just want to have fun and do everything on my bike.
How is your 2023 shaping as the reigning UCI World Champion?
LS: I feel good but we didn’t have good weather over the winter, so I didn’t train much outside until March. I did two Gran Fondos in Italy in March. At first, it was a bit of a shock for my body but then I felt better. I finished 1st and 2nd in Sanremo and Alassio. Then I went to the Istria Gran Fondo, which is also the qualifier for the UCI Worlds in Scotland. I was already qualified but it’s almost my home race and I won the TT and the road race. It was perfect and it showed me the shape is coming back. Now, I want to be at my best in the Maratona dles Dolomites (July 2) and in Scotland. But it’s not easy because they are quite different races. Dolomites is very much about climbing while Glasgow is more punchy, and I’m also doing the time trial.
SK: The big change after I became UCI World Champion was that I decided to join an Italian Team (Sildom Garda) to do more events in Italy. There, almost all the major Gran Fondos are packed in May and mostly June, until Maratona dles Dolomites. I always want to do new races, discover new things, and I think it’s one of the big ones I haven’t won so it’s a big motivation for me. Then I will do the 'Étape du Tour, it’s only a week after the Maratona and I will stay in France for a couple of weeks. And then I’m going to Scotland.