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UCI updates rules for the use of gravel roads in pro road races

On the heels of complaints from riders and teams, the cycling governing body demands more transparency on unpaved sectors in road races.

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In the wake of a growing trend of race organizers adding gravel sectors to their road races, the UCI has moved to clarify rules.

In an update posted Tuesday, the UCI rulebook now includes new processes and protocol for organizers if they want to add non-paved roads into events.

“If an organizer wishes to include unpaved roads in an event, the UCI must be informed at the time of registering the event on the calendar,” the rules state in section 2.2.015. “Furthermore, the organizer shall make every effort to ensure the safety of the riders, spectators and race followers and that the event runs smoothly in sporting terms and with regards to equitable treatment of participants.”

New rules outline that organizers must provide more detailed information about any gravel sectors to be added to the race route, including length, width, road surface conditions and elevation. The UCI also said that any gravel sectors need to be assured that they can be raced safely under any weather conditions.

The UCI also states that it can deny the inclusion of gravel sectors — or even refuse to register the event on the international calendar — if the new protocols are not followed.

Whether this will put a chill on race organizers searching out new, unchartered terrain remains to be seen.

The update comes on the heels of events across Europe adding gravel sectors to events. Last year, the Tour de France and Vuelta a España both included high-profile gravel sectors in their respective races.

Mishaps during the rain-marred stage 9 across Andorra in the 2019 Vuelta seems to have triggered a deluge of complaints from riders and teams. A gravel sector linked two paved roads high in the Pyrénées, but riders were caught in a quagmire when rain poured down on the course to create havoc between riders and chasing team cars. Several riders crashed, including eventual winner Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).

There was also uncertainty about race-day conditions on a gravel sector added to the finale of stage 6 at La Planche des Belles Filles at the Tour de France. The final section of the stage was compressed from gravel to hard pack just days before the race.

Gravel is booming across the bike industry, and many traditional road races have included unpaved sectors in their races to pique the public curiosity.

The rule update only addressed gravel sectors that would be used in UCI-sanctioned road races.

So far, the UCI has not widened its reach to govern gravel-only off-road events that are booming across the globe, especially in North America. Many of those events are being run beyond the control of the UCI.

Last month, UCI president David Lappartient admitted that the UCI is watching with interest at the booming gravel scene, and suggested that a UCI-sanctioned world championships could be in the works.