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Cyclocross and road stalwart Gianni Vermeersch (Belgium) grabbed the first men’s UCI Gravel World Championships title Sunday.
The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider bust into a breakaway with Peter Sagan’s longtime wingman Daniel Oss (Italy) after just 80km of racing before dropping his rival inside the final eight kilometers through Citadella, Italy.
Oss came across for second place, 43 seconds later. Vermeersch’s Alpecin-Deceuninck teammate Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) won the sprint for third from the straggling chase group, one minute later.
The top 10 finishers of Sunday’s multi-surface event were all road pros. Former Olympic champion and monument winner Greg van Avermaet finished fourth as U23 road champion Yevgeniy Fedorov placed fifth.
Vermeersch is a regular on the cyclocross scene and scored three victories in the mud in his winter pursuits. The 29-year-old looked at ease on a course that mixed pavement, gravel, cobblestones and dirt as he rode an Alpecin-Deceuninck-issue Canyon bike.
Vermeersch became one of the cornerstones of his Alpecin team after joining the Belgian setup in its earliest 2017 inception. He brought his pro team victories at the Antwerp Port Epic and Four Days of Dunkirk, but now scores a victory that brings his Belgian nation its second rainbow jersey in a month after Remco Evenepoel won the road worlds on September 25.
“It’s crazy. I think it was one of the biggest chances for me to once become world champion,” Vermeersch said. “I cannot believe I am going to have the white rainbow jersey, to have it in my house.”
Vermeersch attacked Oss on the paved final of the race rather than gambling on a sprint as a mass of chasers began reeling back a multi-minute gap they enjoyed for more than two hours of racing.
“We just went full the whole day, and the moment we had five minutes I knew that we had a big chance to make it to the finish. We just kept going and it was just a man-to-man fight in the last lap,” he said.
“I was hesitating a little bit because I knew the final 500 meters were perfect for me. But also because there was a group coming behind. We heard that the advantage was only 2:30 so I just wanted to go full also on that part for the advantage. And then he was dropped, so I kept going.”
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) October 9, 2022
Road dynamics, gravel race
Sunday’s 194km course through Italy’s Veneto region brought rapidly changing surfaces that included Strade Bianche-style dirt tracks, grass paths, cobbled sections, and a strong serving of paved surfaces.
With around 30 percent of the course on the asphalt and a strong roadie presence in the peloton, the dry, flat race had a road feel and was completed at an average of more than 37kph.
WorldTour rider Magnus Cort (Denmark) and Miguel Ángel López (Colombia) – who was hot off racing at Il Lombardia on Saturday – were early attackers before Samuele Zocoratto (Italy) and MTB ace Matt Beers (South Africa) came across.
Van der Poel led a large chasing group across before his Alpecin-Deceunick trade teammate Vermeersch surged away with Oss after around 80km of racing.
Vermeersch, Oss fend off failed chase
The two leaders soon stretched out a 5:30 lead over the chasing peloton and the dynamic was set for the remainder of the race.
A course heavy on narrow, twisting roads meant road powerhouses Vermeersch and Oss kept their gap to more than 5 minutes all the way through to the final 50km.
The peloton isn’t gaining much time as the gap still sits around 5min ⏱
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) October 9, 2022
Van der Poel and Nathan Haas (Australia) were among the riders that tried to light up the chase peloton. However with Italian riders disrupting on a closing circuit stacked with tight pinchpoints, the two-score group had little advantage over the two strong escapees.
The bunch eventually split as the race entered its final 27km circuit.
A series of accelerations saw around six riders go off in pursuit of Oss and Vermeersch. Danish duo Cort and Andreas Stokbro Nielsen, Dutch pair Van der Poel and Mathijs Loman, and Italian twosome Davide Ballerini and Alessandro di Marchi went launched a chase of the two leaders before a dozen more bridged back across.
The surge in pace cut the gap to less than three minutes, but with 15km to go, the gold medal was going to either Oss or Vermeersch.
Vermeersch’s ‘cross background saw him looking more comfortable on the heavily stoned farm roads that littered the Citadella circuit as Oss looked to fall back on pure horsepower.
The Belgian finally dropped Oss inside the final seven kilometers and began lapping straggling riders that were dropped some time before.
Vermeersch could be seen checking back for signs of Oss in the final kilometers but looked assured in relishing the moment as he cross the line to win the rainbow stripes.
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