It's time for a pro gravel race
Updated: Jan 12, 2020
Gravel is cycling’s Hot New Thing, and every part of the industry wants in on the action. Such is the fervour around gravel riding – and the new potential revenue that it represents to an otherwise stale market – that we have even seen the Tour de France add short gravel sections to a couple of stages.
The thing is, such naked tokenism serves no one. It isn’t enough to satisfy gravel fans and yet the risk of punctures messing up the race, by taking a top rider out of contention, is out of all proportion. Sure, they could use gravel tyres, but when 98% of the race, including the final, is contested on asphalt it’s much faster to use road race tyres and hope for the best, so that’s what they all do. Road events should stick to what they’re good at.
However, that’s not to say that the top level of road racing, and its calendar, cannot innovate and join in with gravel. It’s been fun to see pro road riders entering gravel races in the last couple of years and the EF Education First team, in particular, has reaped great exposure rewards, in part through its own high quality media output and activations. Others will surely follow. It’s easy to see where this is going.
We need pro gravel races. And I don’t just mean a pro category at the likes of Dirty Kanza, though that would also be a good idea. We need a UCI sanctioned and televised gravel race for professional teams only.
I don’t think there’d be any shortage of interest. Loads of pro riders love gravel riding and bike manufacturers would leap at the opportunity – at the time of writing (23 Nov), of all the brands confirmed to be supporting a WorldTour team in 2020 only Lapierre does not offer a gravel bike.
Give the race a 1.1 ranking to open up entry to all levels of team – WorldTour, ProConti, Conti and National – and make it optional for WorldTour teams, so FDJ can give it a miss until Lapierre pull their finger out and make a gravel bike. At the same time, limit teams to four riders and prohibit support vehicles to aid their logistics in what is already a busy calendar.
Pro level gravel racing would be great to watch, it would progress the sport and help it to reflect the riding that ever more people are doing, and it would be a powerful driver for innovation and technological progression in what is still a very young segment.
Start with a one-off event to test the waters, and in a few years we could have a mini calendar of pro gravel races, some flatter and faster, others more mountainous. How cool would it be to watch a super tough pro race during your gravel cycling holiday in the Pyrenees?
Just a thought.