After British Cycling’s successful sanctioned eRacing National Championship last week, the UCI has taken note and announced today that it will be sanctioning the first-ever eRacing UCI World Championships.
That’s right. You’ll be able to race virtually for a real life UCI rainbow jersey. In an odd pairing of two of the fastest-growing disciplines of cycling, the UCI’s first eRacing championships, slated for summer 2020, will be a gravel event.
“We’ve been looking at these gravel grinders and their growing popularity for a while,” said the UCI’s president David Lappartient. “But the problem is, gravel is not an even playing field. Not every country has miles and miles of gravel roads and undeveloped land. Some countries just have dirt roads, cobbles or old farm tracks, while other countries have year ‘round mud. Plus some gravel events sell out in hours, and are getting quite expensive. We need to be fair, and eSports and eRacing are the perfect way to bring all that’s great about gravel racing to cyclists around the world, whether they have access to gravel or not.”
“The British eRacing National Championships was a beautiful example of how we can bring racing to the masses without the complications of geography, Mother Nature, or the dangers of inexperienced racers or aerobars,” Lappartient explained.
“We’ll bring all the great gravel scenery to racers, without the adventure of getting lost, losing traction, getting a flat tire or running out of fuel. We’ve heard from so many cyclists that this sounds too good to be true, but I promise, it’ll be deserving of a rainbow jersey.”
“We’ll bring all the great gravel scenery to racers, without the adventure of getting lost, losing traction, getting a flat tire or running out of fuel.” -Lappartient, UCI President
The UCI is also keen to use eRacing as a way to level the gravel playing field in terms of equipment. Admitting its 2010 move to reduce maximum cyclocross tire widths from 35mm to 33mm was a failure in reducing the financial burden on racers to be competitive, since the most budget-constrained racers on clincher or tubeless tires push out past that mark on the today’s wide rims, the UCI has eliminated the tire and wheel component entirely with its eRacing approach.
“We know the top European juniors already have dozens of carbon tubular wheelsets,” said the UCI Technical Director Xavier Dafflon. “The last thing we want to do is force them to buy another wheelset just to go tubeless and be competitive in gravel.”
The first-ever UCI Worlds eRace gravel format, like the British championships, will be a three-stage competition, but this one will at least pay homage to some off-road history, albeit of a flat bar nature. There will be a hill climb, an endurance point-to-point race and a downhill, all with the simulated gravel resistance and scenery.
“It would be better if we could also add in an observed trials, like the early mountain bike races required, but we haven’t yet figured out a way to test such bike skills virtually,” said Lappartient. “It’s coming though, you can be certain of that.”
As for the racing platform for the championships, Dafflon remains noncommittal. “Even though the British Cycling championships were held on Zwift, we want to be true to the UCI’s country of residence, and be the Switzerland of eRacing. We’ll put out the championships to bid, so companies like BKool, Kinomap and Rouvy can have a chance of hosting the event, and the winning proposal will help decide whether it will stay with the gravel format in the future, or move towards other disciplines. It’ll be like the Olympic bid process—open, transparent, and totally objective.”
When asked by Cyclocross Magazine about the potential of having a real, UCI-sanctioned outdoor gravel world championships, or partnering up with the current “Gravel Worlds,” Lappartient hinted at a different, more powerful approach that might just shock current gravel racers.
“Our E-MTB Mountain Bike World Championships coming on August 28, 2019 to Mont-Saint-Anne is already generating an impressive amount of interest,” said Lappartient. “Gravel events are so long, way longer than a mountain bike race, and longer than some Tour de France stages. It’s really inhuman, especially if you’re in Kansas for ten or more hours. We think the safest, healthiest way to race such distances is with an e-bike. We’re committed to keeping cycling clean, and allowing e-bikes in gravel seems the most logical way to do that, if or when we sanction the sport. We want to get it right, after we’ve watched USA Cycling’s well-documented struggles.”
“Gravel events are so long, way longer than a mountain bike race, and longer than some Tour de France stages. It’s really inhuman, especially if you’re in Kansas for ten or more hours. We think the safest, healthiest way to race such distances is with an e-bike.” -Lappartient
With gravel e-bikes already available from Van Dessel Cycles, Raleigh, Bulls and Merlin, rainbow jersey hopefuls betting on the UCI’s hint already have a number of options. And with today’s announcement, we’re sure there will be more to come.
Gravel eRacing and gravel e-bikes. What’s next? Stay tuned for the latest on this electrifying story.
This story was originally published on April 1, 2019.