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California to host gravel worlds? What we know — and don’t know — about new UCI race

Athletes and event organizers speak to us about what they've heard, while the UCI continues to defer any communication.

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As the end of January draws near, most bike races in 2022 — from grassroots gravel to WorldTour road — have a date on the calendar.

One interesting exception is the UCI world gravel championships.

When the event was announced last September, it generated a healthy debate among athletes and fans. Since then, the international federation has been mum on the race’s venue or date.

Earlier this month, VeloNews spoke with Erwin Vervecken, the off-road and gravel manager for Golazo Sports, the Belgian sports marketing agency that is coordinating the UCI Gravel World Series qualifier events.

Vervecken said that the UCI would likely announce the details of “gravel worlds” and the qualifier series after it had met for approval meetings at the UCI world cyclocross championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas later this month.

Related: What you need to know about the UCI Gravel World Series

Nevertheless, in the absence of information, the rumor mill spins. In the case of gravel worlds, it’s churning, especially for those cyclists who make a living racing the off-road discipline.

VeloNews spoke with cyclists and event promoters about what they have heard about the event. The UCI repeatedly deferred our requests for interviews, and at last contact, a representative from the international governing body said they would “get back to you at the beginning of February to schedule an interview.”

Here is what we currently know, and what we don’t know, about gravel worlds:

California was considered

Of all the rumors about gravel worlds whereabouts, California emerged most frequently as a contender.

Katerina Nash, the legendary cyclocross and mountain bike racer who is also the president of the UCI Athletes Commission, told VeloNews that she was involved in some of the early-stage planning of a potential Lake Tahoe venue.

“I knew about it last summer and potentially helped out with some minor details, with the visions,” she said. “But I have not been part of any of the meetings between USA Cycling and the UCI since then.”

Nash would not comment further on whether or not the Tahoe/Truckee region was ultimately decided on as the event venue, but she did say that if it was, she’d like to be on the start line.

“I’m quite curious, too,” she said. “I didn’t put in tons of work, but I went out and thought out a course. I honestly hope it happens, but I don’t know. I’m hopeful to know more next week like everyone else.”

Another source, who asked to have their name kept off the record, said that the Tahoe/Truckee region was indeed set to be the host venue, on October 1, until very recently.

The source told VeloNews that USA Cycling decided that it could not produce a quality event with such a tight timeline with so little guidance from the UCI regarding rules and regulations for the event.

In response to our request for an interview, USA Cycling responded that it was “still working with the UCI in finalizing key details of the event and are not in a place to make any announcements yet.”

Many of the gravel pros we spoke to were also under the impression that the event would be held in California.

Former Dutch road pro turned gravel cyclist Laurens ten Dam told VeloNews that he’s heard a variety of rumors.

“I heard several things. I heard it’s going to be Tahoe, in August. Then I heard a rumor that it would be in Italy. Then there was another rumor it was Tahoe but not confirmed yet,” he said. “Belgium could be in the loop, too. If it’s not confirmed, it’s not confirmed. Then I heard Tahoe again, October 8-9. Then Pete [Stetina] told me Tahoe was the same day as Gravel Locos.”

Stetina told VeloNews that he had also heard multiple dates thrown around as potential options for gravel worlds. And, although the former WorldTour rider would likely be a serious contender for gravel’s rainbow stripes, Stetina said that he’s not going to make any exceptions for the event on such short notice.

“They’ve been super quiet and if they’re about to announce an entire series and dates, well, you saw my schedule,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with all those organizers and there are not many open dates. I pride myself on being a man of my word and I’m not going to back out on any commitments to organizers. If the worlds’ date is on an open weekend, I’ll evaluate the logistics and whatever is needed. I’m not putting it on any pedestal at the moment.”

Lauren De Crescenzo, another rainbow jersey contender, recently posted her 2022  calendar on Instagram and listed the UCI world gravel championships as a September race.

She told VeloNews that she was under the impression gravel worlds would be held in Truckee, California the week before road worlds in Australia.

Regarding gravel worlds’ potential date, it only takes a cursory scan of the men’s and women’s WorldTour calendars, as well as the North American gravel calendar, to surmise that not many dates are available that do not conflict with another major race.

The Life Time Grand Prix series, which will demand the bulk of attention from many North American pros, runs from April to October. The four-race Belgian Waffle Ride series has major events in late April, June, September, and October.

On the road side, the men’s and women’s WorldTour calendars are flush this year; however, during the October 1-2 weekend under scrutiny for gravel worlds the only conflicting races of note are the Giro dell’Emilia, and also the German XC MTB national championships.

Gravel Locos vs ‘gravel worlds’

Until recently there were also no major — read BWR or Life Time  — gravel events on the calendar the weekend of October 1-2.

However, in early January, Fabian Serralta, the organizer of the successful Gravel Locos event last year in Texas, announced a new Gravel Locos in Pueblo, Colorado that weekend. Serralta said that when he posted the Pueblo race date on social media, he immediately got calls from athletes who were concerned that Gravel Locos might potentially conflict with the yet-to-be-announced gravel worlds’ date.

For an inaugural race, Gravel Locos attracted a huge set of pro riders last year. When Serralta announced the new event in Pueblo, many of the Gravel Locos veterans, including Stetina and ten Dam, stated their commitment.

Ian Boswell told VeloNews he’d also be at the race in Pueblo this year, and Serralta confirmed that Ted King, Emily Newsom, Adam Roberge, Alison Tetrick, Sam Boardman, Jess Cerra, and Colin Strickland would also be on the start line — all riders who could potentially cast their name in the ring for the gravel world championships.

Related: Gravel Locos: The biggest race you’ve never heard of

Although Boswell told VeloNews he’s not interested in the UCI event no matter when or where it takes place, he empathized with athletes who are struggling to find room in already-packed schedules.

“Don’t forget, they have to qualify, too,” he said. “So it’s not just a conflict of events, but there’s another weekend that year that you have to qualify for that event. And if you don’t qualify at the event you’re hoping to, you go to another. So that’s potentially two or three weekends on top of worlds that you have to plan for.”

Ten Dam expressed frustration from the perspective of someone who would consider the UCI event — if he could plan for it. The Dutchman already has at least seven transatlantic flights scheduled for 2022.

“If you have a family and kids at home, you need to do some planning,” he said. “My wife is really supportive but I can’t keep saying one month before, ‘hey, I’m leaving for two weeks.’ I guess I could do that but I don’t want to do that. Things need to become clear.”

Does Gravel Locos conflict with gravel worlds? Where in the world is gravel worlds? Is it possible we won’t see a gravel worlds in 2022?

At this point, nothing is clear.

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