UCI Gravel World Championships: 10 riders to watch in the men’s race

From Sagan to Van der Poel, to some surprise picks including Alexandre Vinokourov and Davide Rebellin.

Photo: James Startt

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This weekend sees the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships take place in Veneto, Italy with a star-studded field expected for the women’s and men’s elite races.

The women’s race takes place on Saturday with the men lining up on Sunday morning for a 194km race that comprises 140km stretch that culminates with two laps of a 27km circuit.

The route for both races is relatively flat, with the men racing around 800m of climbing over a combination of gravel, road, and trails.

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Ahead of Sunday’s race, VeloNews has highlighted 10 riders to watch. An article on the women’s race will be out later today, and you can find our complete start list, right here.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia)

The three-time former road world champion was a surprise top-10 in Wollongong a few weeks ago, so the form and hunger are very much still there, even if the results have been hard to come by for the last twelve months. The veteran one-day specialist has more gravel experience than your average WorldTour roadie, and while those adventures have yielded little in the way of results, he still heads into this championship as a major contender. Part of the issue with Sagan at previous gravel races has been questionable motivation given his road priorities but with a rainbow jersey on the line, he’s sure to at least mount a challenge. A fourth world title cannot be ruled out.

Lachlan Morton (Australia)

Morton’s 2022 season has comprised almost exclusively of off-road adventures and racing with Unbound Gravel and the Colorado Trail his two biggest appointments to date. The Australian is set to form part of the EF off-road squad next season alongside Alex Howes, and possibly one or two more riders, but he will close out his European campaign at Gravel Worlds in Italy. It’s hard to know where Morton is in terms of race fitness given his lack of start line presence in recent months but he should feature as the spearhead for EF Education-EasyPost in the absence of Howes.

Ivar Slik (Netherlands)

The 29-year-old Dutchman quit full-time road racing in the spring in order to capitalize on the growth of gravel and he hasn’t looked back since, winning Unbound Gravel in June and becoming one of the most prominent riders on the scene in 2022. He beat a gaggle of former WorldTour level pros back in June to win the most prestigious gravel race in North America, and he should be in the running this time around too.

Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan)

Unlike most of the roadies on this list, Lutsenko has actually won a gravel race, claiming last year’s Serenissima Gravel in impressive style thanks to a strong solo move. He has kept his form in the second half of the season too and was the only rider capable, or willing, to match Remco Evenepoel when the Belgian blasted away from the opposition at the UCI Road World Championships last month. In many ways Lutsenko is the antithesis of whatever the ‘spirit of gravel’ is. You just can’t imagine him rocking up in a camper, busting out a BBQ with Laurens ten Dam, and talking about pale ale brewing with Peter Stetina. But in a very different sense, he’s a racer’s racer – quiet, stoic, and just gets on with it. He’s a real contender for the rainbow jersey.

Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands)

Mathieu van der Poel competing in the Mixed Team Relay at the road worlds (Photo: Con Chronis/Getty Images)

Last time Van der Poel attended a race it didn’t go so well with an entire country banning him from its shores for three years and his world championships going up in smoke. He’ll be hoping for something a little less humiliating this time around, and will go into the event as the main favorite given his off-road pedigree and his impressive — albeit wasted — form that he threw away in Australia. Talent-wise, he has the skills to wipe the floor with this field if he’s on a good day, while a rainbow jersey in gravel would be a small consolation following what happened last month. He’d be the UCI’s perfect poster boy for a manufactured world championship.

Nathan Haas (Australia)

The Australian jumped ship from the WorldTour at the end of 2021 and hasn’t looked back since, mixing a blend of European racing with US events this season. It’s very much been a year of gaining experience for the former Katusha and Cofidis rider but he leads the line for Australia in Italy with a reasonable chance of a podium following his win in The Rift in July.

Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic)

An off-roader who moved to the road and who is now set to dovetail several disciplines as he moves into the twilight of his career. Stybar, a multiple cyclocross world champion has all the off-road skill required for Gravel Worlds, while his form in the second half of the year has picked up due to the fact that he was hunting for a final WorldTour contract. In 2023 he will mix road and off-road racing but he could certainly spring a surprise or two this weekend. He’s not quite the force he was a decade ago but the former Strade Bianche rider isn’t a spent force either.

Davide Rebellin (Italy)

Given that his career pre-dates the existence of roads, Rebellin should find himself at home on the gravel in Veneto, Italy. The 51-year-old, who is finally destined to hang up his wheels at the end of the season, has built up a career that has spanned four decades, and although he is unlikely to see the front of the race come Sunday, he’s worth keeping tabs on considering this will be one of his final outings in what has been a controversial career.

Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan)

He’s racing in an upper age category compared to the rest of the riders on this list but the recently turned 49-year-old is a rider who still regularly races and trains. In fact, one of the alleged reasons Premier Tech briefly edged him out of the team in 2021 was because they were fed up with the amount of time he spent riding rather than working. This year, the Astana team has been devoid of regular results and success, with payment problems, investigations in Switzerland that centered around the team boss’s financial activity, a doping suspension for one rider, a brief internal suspension for another, and scant few results on the road. Bizarrely none of that seems to register when it comes to the importance the UCI puts on ethics when they dish out WorldTour licenses but either way expect Vinokourov to come out of this as the 45-49 men’s world champion of gravel.

Miguel Angel Lopez (Colombia)

We’ve admittedly gone a little Astana-heavy with our list but this is Miguel Angel Lopez we’re talking about. He’s listed to race Il Lombardia the day before so it’s not clear whether he’s going to make the start line come Sunday or what shape he could arrive in but this could be a fascinating subplot. If he races will he team up with Lutsenko or ride his own race? This is a pint-sized mountain climber going toe-to-toe with veteran classics riders and gravel stars. Whatever happens, it should be worth watching.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.