Tim Wellens relishing downhill gravel at Strade Bianche

Lotto-Soudal star is off to a hot start in 2022, and reconfirmed his love for the dusty stuff: 'I would like to have gravel in every race.'

Photo: Getty Images

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UBEDA, Spain (VN) —  Tim Wellens couldn’t follow the Alexey Lutsenko jetliner Monday in Spain’s “Strade Bianche,” but he’s already licking his chops about returning to the real deal next month in Italy.

Wellens couldn’t match the Astana-Qazaqstan rider’s accelerations on a series of gravel climbing sectors at the debut edition of the Jaén Paraíso Interior, and tipped his hat to the stronger rider as he finished second at 53 seconds back.

Related: Alexey Lutsenko solos to inaugural Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior gravel race

What the Lotto-Soudal star is looking forward to is Strade Bianche and its far more technical and trickier downhill gravel sectors.

That’s where the real fun is.

“[This race] is up there with Strade Bianche, but the advantage at Strade Bianche is that there is downhill gravel,” Wellens said at the line Monday. “And here it was only uphill and that was a big difference.”

Huh? Wouldn’t that be more dangerous?

A smile creased across Wellens’ dusty face in Úbeda as he explained.

“It’s easier when you are in the front to drop the others,” Wellens said. “It’s all about positioning when you go on gravel downhill, so that’s the main difference.”

It’s no secret that Wellens is one of the best handlers in the peloton, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that he would thrive on the more technical, sloppier and looser gravel at Strade Bianche.

Overnight showers Monday left the gravel sectors across the region’s famous “sea of olives” to ride more compact. Riders said the gravel set up nicely, and there were hardly any puddles or too many loose sections.

Wellens said the team reconned the Jaén course Sunday, and decided to ride 28mm tires with 4.3 bar (62psi) pressure.

“We tested well before the race, and we were very clear with the tire pressure and width,” he said. “We came very well prepared and we did not have any issues. Tire pressure was much softer, and today it was perfect. The uphill was quite steep, and we needed a little bit of a grip.”

Things should be very different in Tuscany, with a few more weeks of the ever warming spring to dry out the “white roads” a bit more ahead of Strade Bianche.

Second here Monday gives him a boost ahead of the March 5 date with Strade Bianche, where he was third in 2017.

“Indeed, it is a little bit comparable, but let’s be honest, the level will be higher because it’s WorldTour,” said Wellens, who won already in 2022 at the Mallorca Challenge. “Nevertheless, it’s nice to be second here.

“I have good memories there, I was third there once, top-10, I like to ride on the gravel, so I am looking forward to riding Strade.”

And what about gravel in other races? Some don’t like to see the dusty stuff in the Tour de France or other stage races.

Wellens loves it.

“I like to do it, and I am quite technical, so it is to my advantage,” Wellens said. “I would like to have gravel in every race.”

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