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Vermeersch wins, Oss and Van der Poel complete podium at Gravel World Championships

Off-road background comes in handy as top-level road pros fight over the first gravel rainbow jersey.

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An Alpecin-Deceuninck rider was expected to emerge with the rainbow jersey at the end of the inaugural UCI men’s gravel World Championship, but the fact it was Gianni Vermeersch (Belgium) and not Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) was unexpected.

Mathieu van der Poel had once again played down his chances before the start by saying his legs weren’t feeling amazing, a known warning sign that has previously meant he is primed to rip the limbs off his rivals.

The Dutchman was one of the elite road pros who collaborated to make an early selection, then Miguel Ángel López (Colombia) tried to jump on an uphill section before other attacks as the select group came unstuck then re-combined, but it was an attack from Daniel Oss (Italy) and Vermeersch after 40 km that proved to be decisive.

The course, coupled with the Italians and Belgians not being immediately inclined to chase down their compatriots, meant the pair built an unassailable lead, happy to work together and find out later which of them would take gold.

“We just drove all day with just the two of us,” Vermeersch explained, having spent 150km of quality time alongside the Italian. “The moment we had five minutes, I knew we had a good chance of making it to the finish. We kept going until it was a hand-to-hand fight on the last lap. I knew the race situation but the moto who gave the time gaps spoke in Italian. That’s why I asked Daniel every time what the lead was.”

The gap was more than five minutes with 50 km remaining, and it took a while for the gap to start decreasing, a Van der Poel-led counter from behind chipping away time and splitting the relatively large bunch into smaller groups.

Further ahead, Vermeersch dropped Oss inside the closing kilometres, using his cyclocross skills to his advantage on the trickier terrain, and the Belgian crossed the line alone to take the rainbow jersey in what he described as the best win of his career.

Oss was safe for second and then it was the battle for bronze between Van der Poel and Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium), which the Dutchman won. He said afterwards that if it wasn’t for the gravel Worlds he would have hung his road bike up for the winter, ending his 2022 season on a sour note post-Australia, but instead he signs off with a medal.

“It’s unbelievable,” Vermeersch concluded. “It was one of the biggest opportunities for me to ever become a world champion. I can’t believe I get to take the rainbow jersey home.”

“Obviously I am very happy for Gianni. I would have liked to win myself, but it became a bit of a tactical joust, also from the Italians. You have to be at peace with that,” Van der Poel said. “I would have preferred to ride with the form before the World Championships in Australia, but all in all it was a lot of fun, especially because Gianni is still world champion. It is unique. It is a piece of history that we have experienced.”

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