The 2022 UCI Gravel World Championships are set to take place this weekend, October 8-9, in Veneto, Italy, where we will see the very first rainbow jerseys awarded in this discipline. In the UCI’s version of gravel worlds, the racers will see a grand-fondo format where amateur riders will share the course with professionals—much like gravel events in the United States. However, the course distances will be shorter (140-190km), and while traditionally, in gravel, men and women race the same distance, at the UCI’s event, the women will race a course that is 54km (34mi) shorter than the men’s. And while we are not surprised by this detail. It’s just—well—it’s infuriating.

Here is the spiel. All races will start in Vicenza and finish in the walled city of Cittadella, with three courses available: 140km, 166km, and 194km—all with a large percentage of the “white roads” that are familiar to Strade Bianche.

The women’s categories—including the elite race, plus men ages 50 through 69—will race this 140-kilometer course with 700m (2,300ft) of climbing. In comparison, the men’s elite field is the only race to cover the 194-kilometer-long course with 800m (2,625ft) of elevation.

And, to add insult to injury, there is a 166-kilometer medium-length course with 750m (2,460ft) in elevation, but only for men ages 19 through 49.

Sure, 50km (30-something miles) is not an enormous difference, except that in gravel tradition—much like Ironman—men and women race the same distances. “Gravel is like triathlon. There are no shorter courses for women. Ever. Every single human does the same course,” shares Selene Yeager, Bicycling contributor, and seasoned athlete.

In the last fifteen years, gravel racing has shown the world that women can do ultra-endurance rides of 200 to 350 miles and excel at them. And yet, here we have the UCI, in what seems to be an attempt to make gravel more marketable to their European audience, has also chosen to make it more unequal from the get-go. “I don’t know why I find it so stunning,” added Yeager, “I shouldn’t. But you’re taking a discipline that exists and reverse-engineering it to be sexist. It would be like taking Ironman and making the courses shorter for women. Everyone would be like, WTF?”

In an interview conducted by Cycling Weekly, the manager of the UCI gravel series, Erwin Vervecken, shared: “We don’t want to do 200 miles; that’s too long. It should be more or less four or five hours. I wouldn’t say short, but not extreme like the U.S. races because you filter out a lot of leisure riders which we want to have as part of the Series.” Something that most American gravel events have managed to do without affecting the quality of the elite races.

All this, in addition to other UCI-related controversies—like when they decided to ban cyclists for giving water bottles to fans, the instances in which they ignored riders’ safety, and that time they denied press credentials to investigative journalist Ian Treloar in Wollongong, Australia for no apparent good reason—goes to show that, in fact, the UCI has nothing good to offer to gravel racing. Instead of taking something that works and learning from it, the Union Cycliste Internationale takes one step forward and two steps back when it comes to bringing cycling into the modern world.

As for the prize purses, in theory, they should be equal between the elite men’s and women’s fields, but the amounts have yet to be disclosed by the UCI. Bicycling reached out to Vervecken for comment, but he has not responded to our request.

Anyway, let’s see how this new gravel format pans out over the weekend. I certainly am excited to watch some of the athletes that will be in attendance, like Pauline Ferrand-Prévot—looking for a fourth rainbow jersey to claim this 2022,—Argentinian gravel racer Sofia Villafañe Gomez, and Americans Lauren De Crescenzo and Sarah Sturm who are leading the U.S. team. On Sunday, we shall see the likes of Alex Howes, Peter Sagan, Nikki Terpstra, Greg van Avermaet, and Mathieu van der Poel battling out on the gravel roads.

The races will be broadcast on FloBikes beginning at 10 A.M. and on GCN+ at 8 A.M. on both Saturday and Sunday.

Headshot of Rosael Torres Davis
Rosael Torres Davis
Special Projects Editor, Bicycling, Runner’s World & Popular Mechanics

Rosael is an avid cyclist and seasonal runner who is in the pursuit of getting more people on bikes. All bodies. All bikes. As the editor of special projects, she gets to work on initiatives that further engage our audience and provide additional value to our readership. Lately, she has been dipping her cleats into gravel racing and other off-road adventures.