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Jan 23, 2024

Erwin Verveken, former professional cyclocross rider and organizer of the UCI World Gravel Championships, discusses the history and growth of the UCI Gravel Series. He explains how the series was created to provide a more diverse and competitive experience for riders, and how it has quickly gained popularity and attracted top riders from around the world. Erwin also shares insights into the qualification process, the different types of gravel courses, and the future of gravel racing.

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

Key Takeaways:

  • The UCI Gravel Series was created to provide a more diverse and competitive experience for riders, with a variety of courses and race formats.
  • The series has quickly grown in popularity, attracting top riders from around the world and expanding to include more events each year.
  • Gravel racing is a unique blend of road racing and off-road riding, with courses that can vary in technicality and terrain.
  • The UCI Gravel World Championships allows both elite riders and amateurs to compete together, creating a unique and inclusive racing experience.
  • The series is constantly evolving, with new events being added each year and plans to expand to more countries in the future.

[00:00:00] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Erwin, welcome to the show.
[00:00:02] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Thank you. Thank you. It's a pleasure of being here.
[00:00:06] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): I'm excited to talk to you and learn more about the UCI World Gravel Championships and a little bit of the history there. But as always, I'd just love to start out with learning a little bit about you. I know you've got a, a strong history in the sport of cycling. So just a quick overview of how you got involved in the sport.
**** - (): And then let's talk about how you got involved in. Kind of the event organizing side of the sport with UCI.
[00:00:29] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Yeah. So I, I've been a pro rather mainly in cyclocross, uh, from 1995 till 2010. So a 16 year career in cyclocross, uh, uh, from the age of 22 to 38. And then when I retired from cycling in 2010, I started to work as a cyclocross and also a bit of model by coordinator at a lot. So lots of is a Belgian sports marketing company.
**** - (): Um, uh, at that time we were, I wouldn't say small, but yeah, it's, it's, it's grown a lot in, in the last, uh, 15 years. Um, and so initially I was only doing. Cyclocross, uh, in winter and mountain bike in summer. And then gradually, uh, I got other projects and in 2011, we started to talk to the, to the UCI to, uh, well, to reform a bit, the, the masters road world championships.
**** - (): So, um, yeah, everybody knows Ironman, Ironman, uh, and triathlon. You have to. Qualify somewhere in an arm and worldwide, uh, to get your ticket for the World Championships and, uh, well, the, the, the road Masters World Championships, uh, at the UCI, they were always organized in the same city in, in the same period for, for 20 years in Austria, uh, and there were some complaints of course, because the, the, yeah, always the same course, uh, the same type of riders, um, yeah, World Championships should move, uh, uh, you know, One day it should be a flat and fast race and then a race for climbers or for classical riders.
**** - (): So we came with a proposal to reform it like in Ironman with the qualifier series, uh, which, which started in 2011 with seven qualifier events and then a world championships. And well, it moved from seven the next year to 20. And yeah, now for next year, it's. events. It's the biggest series we've ever had.
**** - (): 2024. I mean,
[00:02:26] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): curious, Erwin, when, when you expanded the qualification, the number of qualification races, did you end up expanding the number of athletes that could actually compete in the world championships for the masters?
[00:02:38] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Yeah. Uh, so it has always been 25 percent per age group will qualify for the world championships. And so the results are major made up per age group. Um, and, and, uh, yeah. So from that, uh, point, uh, Uh, yeah. First year I think we had 700 drivers at the world championships. Uh, and then it grew to over a thousand thousands, 500, 2000.
**** - (): And in the last few years, we are in between two and a half and 3000, which is still okay. Uh, one year we decided to lower the percentage of qualified rider from 25 to 20 because of safety. Uh, we, we got 3000 riders at the start of, uh. Of one single event on a day, uh, so the Grand Fonda World Championships, but then it was, uh, yeah, 2020, the COVID year, so, and, and, and afterwards, uh, yeah, it took some time for riders to start traveling again.
**** - (): So we, we went back to 25%. And in that idea in 2019 at the end of the season in a debriefing with UCI, we proposed also to make up a similar series of gravel events. Gravel is big in the States. I think the first real gravel events date from 2005, 2006 or so. Um, and they, yeah, we saw in Europe and other continents, but mainly Europe, um, gravel has always been Uh, a bit more recreational, um, never competitive.
**** - (): Um, and it's only, let's say the last five years that there's really competitive parallel events. Um, so, so yeah, and at the end of 2019, we proposed. A similar setup with the qualifier series, uh, leading up to a yearly world championships. Uh, which then, well, got postponed in 2020, 2021 because of COVID. Uh, so the, the, the first season was 2022 with 11 qualifier events.
**** - (): Uh, and this year already 18. And next year 25. So yeah, it's growing very fast and especially the number of participants is growing very very fast. So um And and the big difference is in gravel in the gravel world cheers and also the gravel world championships also elite riders can participate. So Where the, the ground from the world series is mainly for masters and amateurs.
**** - (): Uh, the gravel world series and the gravel world championships is, is for everybody. Uh, but still in the same concept where. In front there is a real battle amongst the best elite riders but in the back you as a recreational rider, you can also participate and if you're really fit and Keen and and also for the masters at a later age You can still qualify for the world championships and also right there together with well this year what for not more each?
**** - (): Following they were all at the start So yeah, I can imagine if you if you start in the back end and you're just five minutes behind these riders Uh, at the start, uh, that it's an amazing feeling to, to be in the same race with all those top stars.
[00:05:47] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah, yeah, that's I remember speaking to Bruce from the Highland Gravel Classic in Arkansas, who's the the one US gravel race that's part of the UCI series this year and the coming year in 2024. And I remember walking away from that conversation with that same feeling that Despite what some people in the United States may think about, you know, high performance gravel racing, and as it may detour from their vision of a community style gravel race as people who are around the sport and like other aspects of the sport, just being able to line up at a, at a UCI event with the names you just mentioned would be a thrill of a lifetime.
[00:06:27] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Yeah. I think so. Um, of course, gravel in the States, uh, is, is, is much older and has much more tradition and, uh, your biggest events are, are still bigger than, than the UCI events. Uh, our biggest event this year was 1700 and probably next year we will go over 2000, but yeah, if you speak about the real classics, uh, unbound and, and, and, and, well, you have several of them.
**** - (): They are more than double than our biggest race at the moment, but I think we still have potential to grow. Um, I see that, um, what, what really excites me is that after all these events and especially after the world championships, you all, you hear all these top stars telling, Hey, this was fun, huh? Wout van Aert had big trouble, a flat tire, a crash at the world championships, but he still continued because he liked it so much.
**** - (): And he yeah. Enjoyed. Riding a gravel race. So yeah, he is, by the way, my neighbor because he's living in the same city as me even. Well, if you count in miles like you do in the States, it's a bit more than a mile from where I live. And he called me and told, Hey, I want to do a UCI gravel race because I want to do the world championships this year.
**** - (): So all of a sudden he was there at the Belgian qualifier event in August and then six weeks later at the world championships and he really enjoyed it. So And that's the good thing. They are pure ambassadors, not only for cycling sports in general, but also for gravel because, uh, they have a lot of fun.
**** - (): Um, Valverde was there, Moritz, he said, well, it's my first gravel race I ever did, world championships. I always liked. Going off road, uh, mountain bike, but in gravel there's much more speed, it's much more fun. And, and yeah, I want to do this more next year, especially because of course he's wearing the nice rainbow jersey.
[00:08:26] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): That's right. Yeah. I think it's going to be interesting to see how within the European Peloton, if it follows the U S. You know, in, in the early days of gravel as professional athletes started moving over like Ted King, for example, would dabble in it. And then I think he told some of his ex pro tour friends that, Hey, this is fun.
**** - (): Plus you started to see them being able to make a career out of it. And obviously the likes of Wout van Aert is not going to leave the pro tour anytime soon, but it is interesting to think about. Riders who are later in their career, who still have power in their legs and enthusiasm in their heart to start seeing European gravel racing as a way to extend their career in a way that maybe gives them a little bit more joy than they had racing in the pro peloton after all those
[00:09:16] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Yeah. No, for sure. Um, I think there are two types of writers. You have the real top stars, like Rod van Aert, like Moritz and Demi Vollering. And I'm sure they will probably do one or two events a year when it fits in their program. But their focus will never be on gravel, uh, during the season, but well, the position of the gravel world championships at the end of the road season, uh, is ideal for them to end their season.
**** - (): And I'm sure that, uh, one day, uh, probably also, uh, Pogacar will be there. He was already there at the first world championships last year. but wasn't allowed from his team to take part, but he was in the, in the VIP area at the finish line. The day after he won the Tour of Lombardia, so the last classic of the season, it was on Saturday and the gravel world championships were, well, nearby.
**** - (): It's only a hundred kilometer away. So, and he really enjoyed it and he said, well, I want to do this race. But, yeah, it's still, um, there's still like the feeling of, okay, this is a dangerous sport, uh, uh, you can crash, you can, yeah, whatever, and it can jeopardize your next season, but as it's at the end of the season, I don't see really a point, uh, you see some, some crashes and, and, um, Yeah, that's, that's probably part of gravel, but it's not like a major crash.
**** - (): It's always in small groups. Uh, gravel is, is, is not to be compared with, with mountain bike or cyclocross. It's a, it's, it's an off road discipline, but the type of event is much more road race. Um, and that's what we also also see in the last two years. I'm having my background in cyclocross and cyclocross is very big in Belgium, but the real gravel, I know the real cyclocross specialists, like the ones who do the full season of cyclocross.
**** - (): Uh, and not focus on the road. Yeah. They usually, by the end of the race, the last hour, they, they, they lose contact with the, with, with, with the, the road is, um, uh, gravel is much more a road race than it will ever be, a cyclocross or a mountain bike. It's not technical at all. Um, and, and yeah, in my opinion, it's, it's, it's for the pure.
**** - (): Road specialists from the, from the spring classic said that the ones who like, uh, party rebel, we're like tour of Flanders, uh, those type of guys. They are the ones who are the real gravel specialists.
[00:11:41] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. I think that makes sense. I think one thing that we've learned in racing gravel over these years is that anything can happen and it's your ability as a rider to deal with unpredictable situations. And to your point as a cyclocross racer. Every lap, there's an unpredictable situation that you have to deal with and you have to deal with nursing your bike and not being too hard on the equipment.
**** - (): And there's certainly no, you know, there's no team car following you very quickly. Although in cyclocross, you can swap
[00:12:09] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Yeah. You can switch bikes two times a lap. Um, and, and you can have it cleaned and everything. So, um, no, that's, that's, I think it makes. It's part of the story why it's, it's so popular because, uh, he lost 10 minutes at the world championships, but he still continued. And it's more like the epic, right?
**** - (): Like you see in, uh, in Paris, uh, it's, it's kind of a survival race. Um, even though you have a lot of bad luck in the beginning, the race is never over. You can still continue. You can still make up and, and, and, uh, close gaps. And so. That feeling of, of, of, of like a real epic race in, in epic circumstances. At this moment, we, we had to ice the world championships in dry, in dry circumstances, but yeah, one day we'll also have them in, uh, in very wet circumstances, like you had, uh, I think unbound was this year in very muddy conditions.
**** - (): So, and that will make it very epic. Uh, but to me it's, it's yeah, if you compare it with European. Cycling it's, it's, it's, it's, it's much more a copy of, uh, what Paris Roubaix is every year.
[00:13:24] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah, yeah, I was going to ask you to the extent in which you, you were there and understand the run up when that first world championships event happened in the qualifiers. How are you thinking about the criteria for the course and course construction? Were there some constraints that the UCI put on the event to make it in the mold of what they were expecting?
[00:13:47] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Well, the first year, first of all, um, because of COVID and, and, and yeah. Let's say COVID ended, but, uh, yeah, everybody was still afraid to set up a new event and even the World Championships, uh, beginning of 2022. We had a few candidates, uh, to run the World Championships, but, uh, one after another, they decided, okay, maybe it's too early.
**** - (): Let's skip 2022, but we'll focus on 2023 or 2024. Um, So we found an organizer rather late in Italy, so Filippo Pozzato, the ex pro rider. He did a good job because it was like on a short period. He had to prepare the World Championships, but the World Championships were not the typical gravel race. I know from from this doing this series for sure.
**** - (): Not the typical gravel race you have in the States. It was like a 50 50 road gravel race and even the gravel was like, yeah, it was flat. It was Um, yeah, to me a bit too much of a road race. Um, um, um, but yeah, it was all last minute. I think that the, uh, the organizer was awarded two months prior to the race.
**** - (): Uh, then yeah, the full process of having courses approved, having them checked and then getting the necessary approvals from the different towns. Yeah, it took some time and there was not really. to, to, to, to make an update, um, um, which was done this year, this year. Uh, we had to switch organizer and it was also, uh, only, only two months before the world championships, but the course, which was presented was much better than the first edition, uh, in percentage was more off road, more gravel, but also much more exciting, uh, flats, uh, yeah.
**** - (): Paved sections in between, but also a lot of elevation, um, and a very beautiful course, I think very different from what you have in the States. Um, if, if I see the images and the, and the videos from, from Unbound and the American races, yeah, they are. Even more road racing, uh, on gravel roads, um, yeah, in percentage, much more gravel roads, but it's less technical than what we see as gravel events in mainly Europe, which are, um, I wouldn't say they are not more towards mountain bike for sure or not, but they are, um, not wide open big boulevards where you can ride the truck.
**** - (): Uh, it's always a smaller, uh, Uh, yeah, forest roads, farm roads. Um, it's, it's more technical.
[00:16:38] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think there's a wide diversity of gravel racing in the United States. Obviously, to your point, the Unbound may be on sort of dirt roads
[00:16:48] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Yeah. And that's maybe the image we have from, from American gravel racing.
[00:16:51] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah, yeah, no, it's very interesting to hear you say that because if I'm thinking about like what you might see from an unbound or an SVT gravel, that would very much be the takeaway.
**** - (): I would have as well that these are, you know, sort of road racing style open, you know, wide roads that give a lot of opportunity for moving around. Um, but if you dig into the gravel cycling world, there are a lot of events that really push The capabilities of the bikes and really create sections that have a huge impact on the race based on one's technical abilities.
**** - (): So, you know, they might go into single track, they might go into mud, they might have river crossings, all the types of things that would really push both the rider's skill levels and equipment.
[00:17:37] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Well, for, for the UCI, uh, two things, of course, when, when we started up the, the UCI Gravel Series and the Gravel World Championships. Um, one of the first things we decided is, uh, you have a few of, of, of, uh, of very long, uh, endurance races, uh, a month is, uh, 300 kilometers or even more than 200 miles. Um,
[00:18:00] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. 200 miles. Yeah,
[00:18:01] - ():  Erwin Verveken: we decided to, with the UCI gravel world series to have like the typical, um, duration of a road race.
**** - (): So five, six hours. Um, racing, not, not like unmount this, I guess, 10, 11 hours of racing. Uh, and that's what we are. We're not aiming for that. That's, that's like, yeah, a very big endurance race. Uh, our goal is to keep it in between 150 and 200 kilometers. Um, depending a bit on the elevation and on what is available.
**** - (): Um, and then, uh, a second thing is so like single track. It is possible when there's no alternative, so to connect two sections, uh, with a small single track, uh, towards the end of the race. Yeah, it's not preferred, but if there's no other solution, then we allow it. But the big majority should be on wide open gravel roads where we can also ride a car.
**** - (): That's the goal of the UCI Gravel World Series.
[00:19:10] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. I certainly noticed in the, in the race coverage this past year, and certainly commentary from both the men and women on the U S team that the narrowness of the roads. And you hear this refrain, even when road cyclists go over to Europe, it's just another world when you're trying to pack 200 people into these, through these narrow villages.
**** - (): And certainly the other big thing that stood out in some of the video I saw was, Some of the, um, the 180 degree switchbacks on the roads and trails that the riders had to navigate and the, the chaos that ensued around that and how that impact the race.
[00:19:47] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Yeah, well, I'm not sure about the 180 degree turns. Uh, you mean now in the last world championships?
[00:19:55] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. There was one scene that I saw the riders cutting across the, the earliest part of the corner to get around and join the group.
[00:20:04] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Yeah, there were some. Uh, well, it's, it's a famous YouTube video from, from the law at the first half an hour of the, of the gravel world championships in the elite category. Yeah. I don't know. I think it's from an American rider who filmed it with his scope.
[00:20:18] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): yeah. I think it's from Payson McKelvin.
[00:20:21] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Um, yeah, it gives a good idea of the hectic in the start.
**** - (): Uh, and of course, well, our, our, our courses are not fence. They are just marked with science and everybody has a GPS device on his bike. Um, so that's, yeah. I presume it's also the same in the States, so you don't have, uh, uh, tape, uh, to, to, to, to prevent riders from cutting corners. So, um, I think that's, that's the spirit of gravel.
**** - (): So, um, yeah, it's only in the, in the first. 10, 15 k in, uh, uh, in the course. Uh, but next year, because then we are ourselves, the organized, so the company I'm working for Goot, so is, uh, organizing the, the next world championships in Belgium. Um, yeah, it will hardly be impossible to, to cut corners there, uh, in the, in the first.
**** - (): Part of the race and where it's possible. Yeah, we'll probably also try to prevent it Without making too much Yeah It's, it's, it's never the goal to make like a fenced cyclocross or mountain bike course. Um, that's, that's not our goal, but yeah, different type of racing. Uh, I've done, yeah, because I'm, I'm managing the, these, these races.
**** - (): And, um, of course also ex pro rider. So I take my bike to a lot of these events and try to ride them. To get a good impression on the different type of events, uh, if I compare our events, um, uh, which are in the series, there's indeed a lot of different events. Uh, next year we will also, uh, organize the, the Belgian Gravel Championships, uh, which are.
**** - (): Uh, very typical American style and Bond style, uh, gravel racing, which is very uncommon in Belgium. But yeah, in the north, there's like a section where, where we can have those kind of races. Uh, so. There's a bit of a difference, but, but yeah, uh, the good thing about gravel is that, uh, you can have very technical races, um, uh, but, but the majority are on wide open roads, fast, uh, uh, you don't need to be too technical.
**** - (): If you see, um, more rich winning the world championships. Although I think he's very technical as a rider, as a roadie. Uh, but also Jasper Stavun winning the first European Championships. Um, I don't think he's very technical as a roadie. So, uh, yeah, it's, uh, it's something which, which can suit any, any, uh, any road specialist.
[00:23:00] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Gotcha. And when you think about the courses in the men's courses and the women's courses, as I understand it, they differed in distance. Can you talk a little bit about the logic behind that?
[00:23:11] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Well, I know that in, in, in, in the States and also let's say in, in, in general in English speaking countries, it's also the same in Britain and in Australia. There's a, there's a big movement to have women and men having the same distance. If you see it cycling, uh, in history, and then I mean, from 50 years back, and even now, all disciplines, uh, being cyclocross, mountain bike, road, uh, women and men have different distances for the World Championships and World Cups.
**** - (): Uh, you can be, it's worth a discussion. I know that, uh, in, in. The English speaking countries, there's more, uh, a vote to have them equal, but I don't think there's, well, gender equality doesn't mean that they have to have the, the same distance. I think the media attention should be the same and, and the price money should be the same, but, uh, the, the distance, uh, if you have, uh, the women racing over 260, 270 kilometers, the road world championships.
**** - (): It would give a totally different dynamic and it would mean a much more individual race by the end of the race because then it's pure endurance. Well, for the man. Uh, yeah, it's it's another type of race, so I'm not really convinced if they should have, uh, the same distance for men and women. Um,
[00:24:42] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Are you thinking about it in terms of time? Are you shooting for a similar amount of time out there on the bike for
[00:24:48] - ():  Erwin Verveken: no, not even time. Um, we did many surveys amongst the participants after the World Championships, uh, both in Gran Fondo and Gravel. And if you ask, uh, women if they prefer to have the same distance as men, probably Americans and, yeah, Australians, they would go for it. Yeah, the same distance, but it depends also a bit on what riders prefer.
**** - (): Uh, everybody is, is, if you're somebody who has a great endurance, uh, you will pick the same distance as the man. If you're more explosive and you're more a tactic, uh, uh, yeah, a strong sprinter type of rider. You prefer a shorter course. So, but in general, we see that, uh, if we ask men, women directly, our participants, that the majority still prefers a shorter distance for, uh, for women.
**** - (): Um,
[00:25:41] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. I mean, I think it's an interesting debate and I'm certainly not one to opine too strongly one way or the other, but I do imagine that you have more dynamic racing in the shorter distances
[00:25:53] - ():  Erwin Verveken: that's what I'm.
[00:25:54] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): people complaining with me about this.
[00:25:56] - ():  Erwin Verveken: So I, I don't know, women on the road, for instance, the, uh, the road, World Championships now in Glasgow for women. I don't know, but I think there were 150, 160 and men were 260. In general, they're around that distance. But if you have the women also on the 260, well, it will be a pure endurance race.
**** - (): And by the end, they will be, there's a big chance that there will be one. One by one. So, um, and then on the meet, I'm floating can start racing again because she's she's a super strong rider who survives everybody by the end of the race when it's a very hard race. Um, so, yeah, um, it's worth the discussion.
**** - (): But if you ask the riders, I think the majority will still prefer to have a shorter distance for women because it's indeed another dynamic.
[00:26:51] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. When you think about, uh, and I do want to get into the master's element of this cause I think that's fascinating. And for our listeners who are non professional athletes, I think it's a great and interesting opportunity. But one final question at the elite level, how do you determine how many riders an individual country can bring to the event?
[00:27:10] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Well, so the basic goal is that everybody should qualify. But, uh, in order to promote the first editions of the World Championships and, uh, yeah, to also have national teams and the federations involved, in 2022 and also this year, the UCI decided to grant 20 wildcards to every national federation. For riders, um, um, so in the past two years, now 2022, 2023, they could be used by any rider.
**** - (): Uh, so also the Masters and, and, and, and the Age Group riders. Uh, for 2024, it will only be limited for the Elite category. And gradually, it's our goal to limit the number of wildcards. So riders should be really be encouraged to qualify. But on the other hand, first year we had Peter Sagan, we had Mathieu we had, uh, Greg van Auermaat all participating.
**** - (): And without those wildcards, they wouldn't have been there. Uh, Pauline Ferrand Bréveau. This year Vollering, uh, Wout van Aert, uh, well, Wout qualified, but, uh, the other riders, Mohoritch, um, we were really happy with them at the start. So we want to keep a certain amount of, uh, of, of wildcards for the, for the top level riders.
**** - (): And yeah, we'll see from year to year, uh, evaluate after every edition of the World Championships, if we have to stick to, uh, I don't know, maybe 10 wildcards, uh, maximum per country, or more wildcards for the bigger countries, uh, less wildcards for the smaller countries. But this year we also had riders from Guinea Bissau and from Barbados and, uh, yeah, like very exotic countries at the start.
**** - (): Uh, and they wouldn't have been there without these wildcards, so, um. Yeah, I'm still in favor of having them, but maybe limit them a bit more. So the drivers really are encouraged to have to go to a qualifier. Yeah,
[00:29:04] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): And you mentioned that that qualification, it sounds like it's standard across the board. If you finish at a UCI gravel world cup qualifier event in the top 25%, you've punched your tickets to go to the world championships.
[00:29:17] - ():  Erwin Verveken: The only change next year is that, um. And the first two years, qualification was always per age group, but then we saw this year Verde. Yeah. He saw, uh, in the meantime, 42 years old. So he, he then had to qualify in the 40 to 44 age category and Okay. The, the two races he did were, were not the biggest one.
**** - (): I think the, the one in, uh, the two in Spain, he won, were like five, 600 drivers at the start. So then it's still okay to to, to have him in the front. But well, as these events grow bigger and bigger, uh, we decided to also have the elite category as part of the qualifier series. So before every race, you have to choose, okay, I want to go and qualify for the world championships elite or for my age group.
**** - (): Uh, so like a rider being 19 to 34 years old, if he chooses to sign up for the elite category, Of course, with an elite license, then he can only qualify for the elite category at the world championships. If he chooses to qualify or to sign up for the age groups, he can only qualify for his age group. Um, and that's what we decided this year to change.
**** - (): Um, so that the elite category can also have older riders, uh, in their 30s, 35, 40 years old, like Valverde, like, uh, yeah, many of them will retire from road racing and like, uh, Jan Baklans, Nicky Terpstra, uh, yeah, probably also a lot of Americans who are over 35, but still want to race elite at a high level.
**** - (): So, yeah. they didn't get the opportunity to race elite.
[00:30:58] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): you'd, you'd may have mentioned this earlier, but just so I understand on race day are the amateur men lining up behind the elite men and starting kind of alongside them.
[00:31:10] - ():  Erwin Verveken: at the qualifier events, uh, well, they're different options and we give a lot of freedom to the different organizers to set up or the setup of the start can either be man elite in front, followed by women elite. And then with a small interval, the age groups, uh, or we can have many leads followed by men age groups.
**** - (): Let's say until the age of 50 and then the women elite with all with a small interval, but it depends a bit on the size of the field. And yeah, I think next year our biggest event will be over 2000. So then you have to make some. Rules to, to, to make a fair start and a fair reason. Uh, but we still give the opportunity, um, to riders without a license to qualify for the world championships in their age groups.
**** - (): So it's only for the elite category that you need a license. If you want to race, uh, in the age groups, uh, you're 42 years old and you still want to do world championships. So you can go to a qualifier, take part, um, and then qualify for the world championships. And it's only. to sign up for the world championships that you need a year license, so not to qualify.
[00:32:20] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Gotcha. Gotcha. Yeah. Super exciting. Let's talk about the 2024 Trek UCI gravel world series calendar. You've expanded now to a total, is it a 26 events
[00:32:31] - ():  Erwin Verveken: well there's uh in the 25 Qualifying for the 2024 World Championships and one was in October, uh, past the World Championships for the 2025 World Championships. So, uh, but yeah, we have been expanding with, uh, a lot of extra races. So if I look at the list, one extra in Austria, one extra in Italy. Um, I'm running off the list here now on my computer.
**** - (): Uh, there's a new race in Kenya. There's a new race, a second year race in Germany, Switzerland, one in Wales in the UK. Um, and then by the end of the season, also a second new one in Spain. Um, and there will most likely be two. Uh, extra ones being added later, uh, which still are struggling with approvals. Uh, so yeah, there's, uh, there's, it's no secret that there's one candidate in Rwanda where the world championships on the road take place next now in 2025.
**** - (): Um, and, and a second one in Switzerland, uh, they will most likely be added, uh, yeah, in the next few weeks.
[00:33:48] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): when you, what does it take for an event to become part of the series and are these events typically events that have run in the past and then embrace the UCI series and come to you and say, yeah, I'd like to be part of it or are they events that happened from the ground up? With the sole intention of being a UCI qualifier.
[00:34:07] - ():  Erwin Verveken: It's it's a mix. Um, we have existing events will have been run as a competitive event before we have, uh, fun events like, uh, leisure events like non competitive events with been switched to a competitive event. We have big organizers who have run professional road racing or Gran Fondo racing, like the race in Switzerland is run by the same team who has the UCI Gran Fondo for many years.
**** - (): Um, yeah, so. New events will have all of a sudden started up, um, the second race in, in, uh, Germany, for instance, has run the motorbike marathon world championships five years ago or six years ago, 2017. Uh, so it's a mix. Yeah. Um,
[00:34:59] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): And then, you know, obviously there's presumably an application process for the event to become part of the series. Do the events then need to take on that same kind of, uh, men will race by themselves. Women will race by themselves. The distance will be in it within certain parameters. Is that what the, how they have to adopt to the UCI landscape?
[00:35:20] - ():  Erwin Verveken: yeah. Well, but as I told, we're not too difficult in these first years. We don't want to, the big criticism we had, uh, especially from, from, uh, from, from the States, uh, in the beginning is, well, you see, I will make it, uh, too much regulations and things like that. Um, well, we decided not to make, uh, any regulation.
**** - (): So the bike is free, of course, no e bike, but, uh, If you want to raise a mountain bike, or a gravel bike, or a road bike, whatever bike you like, the perfect bike that fits best for that course is, is, is, is, is free to use. Uh, distance, well, there's a rule now, I think the minimum distance is 75k and the maximum 200.
**** - (): Um, but for the rest, uh, there's no Regulation on tire width, uh, starting procedure is also quite flexible. Uh, we discuss it with every organizer, but, uh, yeah, we are pretty flexible in, in allowing things.
[00:36:23] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Gotcha. What are the things that, that struck me when I looked at the 2024 calendar? Was we still only have one event here in the United States? Is that intentional? Is it just
[00:36:35] - ():  Erwin Verveken: no, no. Because
[00:36:36] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): for events? And
[00:36:39] - ():  Erwin Verveken: let's say that we would like to have, um, in the, the, the big traditional cycling countries in Europe, two events, like we have now. Two in Belgium, two in Holland, two in Germany, two in Switzerland, two in Italy, two in Spain, uh, only one in France, two in the uk. And then for the big countries like the, the States, Canada or Australia, uh, we can go up to three events.
**** - (): And I've been in very good context with, with potential, uh, uh, yeah. Interested organizers who have started the process of, yeah. Um, yeah, uh, having different online meetings with me, but also of course. On their side, getting the approvals, um, and speaking to their sponsors. And we have been very close with one organizer, um, yeah, to finally become the second qualifier.
**** - (): And I'm sure that in 2025, we will have at least two, probably even three events. Uh, and also in Canada, I'm in touch with a second Canadian event, uh, which is likely to sign. And which I had expected to sign already for 2024. But yeah, the, uh, it's also the same in, in, uh, in Grand Fonda racing. Um, It's, it's, it's more challenging for me to convince, uh, an American organizer to, to join, uh, the series.
**** - (): Um, a part of it is because, well, they, um, there is like, um, let's say, uh, uh, a general criticism in everything which is related to regulations and to federations within the states. That's what I learned from my different contexts. Uh, people don't like to be. To regulate it, although I think we are quite flexible.
**** - (): Um, uh, and, uh, another big thing is in Europe, there is, uh, yeah, for organizing and we're speaking about the financial part of the, of, of, of, of organizing an event is in, in, uh, in the States, there's not such a system of, of government funding. So in Europe, but also in Africa, we have three African events to in Australia, uh, people organizers apply for fundings with the city, the region or an entity from the government, which puts in money to promote events of a high level, but also because they generate a lot of tourism.
**** - (): If I see that this year, the European Championships, we organized ourselves, uh, uh, on the 1st of October. Well, we had 1, 700 riders coming from, I don't know exactly 30 or 35 different countries, but they all stay in the hotel for a few nights because they want to do a record right a few days before they stay after they go and have dinner, they buy a souvenir, they rent a car.
**** - (): So there's a lot of economic return for the region. And that system doesn't really exist in the, in the States, as far as I know, from, from my country.
[00:39:45] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. You know, it's true. I've talked about this on a number of occasions with different event organizers and it's, it is super interesting. Like there are some rural regions that are trying to reinvent themselves where you do get some of that interplay with the local city government and great deal of enthusiasm to bring riders in because having them.
**** - (): Yeah. A thousand people and their families over a weekend is a great economic boom for those cities. And then in other cases, you have the exact opposite mentality, which is we don't want any more people coming here. We don't need athletes to come into our town. You know, particularly I live in the San Francisco Bay area
[00:40:23] - ():  Erwin Verveken: which is really a pity. Um, I think.
[00:40:27] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): very much
[00:40:27] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Sports, sports in general, especially while I'm living in Belgium, which is probably the cycling country together with Italy and France, we have, uh, every little town has his own club and has at least a competitive rider and this, uh, yeah, uh, you have to drive maximum one hour to do a race on Saturday and Sunday, uh, in every discipline.
**** - (): So that's, that's the good thing about, uh, well. living in a traditional cycling country, but also for organizers. Uh, excuse me. Um, so yeah, the, the, the fundings we have are necessary to set up big events and they are live on television. It's part of our culture. They generate, as I told you, a lot of.
**** - (): Economic return, but not only economic return, it's also, yeah, promotion for the region if you have like a very nice, um, yeah, uh, area with, with a beautiful nature. It's a good promotion for, for, for the region to, to generate also other type of tourism. The race we now organized on the 1st of October, which will also fit us as a first, no, the next world championships next year in Belgium.
**** - (): Yeah, it's, it's a, it's a national park. It's a big forest area. It's being promoted now through these kinds of events and the weeks before, but especially the weeks after. The European Championships we organized there. It was full of people, yeah, uh, hiking, uh, um, riding their bikes. And they also come and then, yeah, uh, it generates tourism and tourism means money for the region.
**** - (): And, um, yeah, that's, that's the good thing about, uh, yeah, cycling in, in, in, in Belgium, for instance.
[00:42:24] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah, yeah, if I was to sort of read the tea leaves, so to speak about the U. S. gravel cycling scene sentiment around the U. C. I. gravel world championships and the qualifier events, I would say, I. I'm reading a market change this year after the event, we sent some of our best athletes over there, there was good exposure.
**** - (): Obviously we wish that the, the women's race was able to be televised, but I understand what happened there, but seeing the scene and seeing the camaraderie of the U S team, I believe has translated to a sort of a general uplifting of the UCI brand within gravel. And this idea that, you know, the racing is different.
**** - (): It's, it's, it's different and unique in its own way. And the experience is quite powerful, you know, to go to a world level event where you're representing your country, whether it's at an elite level or at the master's level, it's just super exciting. And it's a feeling that compares differently to what it feels like to be at Unbound or SBT Gravel.
**** - (): It's its own unique and special thing that I think more US riders are now aspiring to.
[00:43:38] - ():  Erwin Verveken: No, I'm sure. So I'm not this. Well, uh, the biggest travel event worldwide and a long tradition and it's, it's, but it's still, uh, I guess a 90 or 95 percent based American event. Participants, uh, they come from many different countries, but The big majority is still American. If you're at the World Championships, you're, first of all, dressed in your national kit, which is fairly prestigious, it's very, yeah.
**** - (): Riders are proud, and especially Americans are proud to wear their national colors. Uh, they ride in a team, they travel towards an event, uh, and then you're next shoulder to shoulder at the start grid, next to a British rider, an Italian, a Slovenian, a Belgian, uh, which creates a special atmosphere. Um, and yeah, the first year there was a lot of criticism on the course.
**** - (): Um, I agree for a part of it. I was, I wasn't the best course. I was not also, also not a hundred percent convinced on the course this year. It was pure promotion for gravel. Uh, and, and The fact that, uh, yeah, also your best gravel rider, Keegan Swanson, was there. Yeah, it was also a good promotion for our world championships.
**** - (): But, yeah, in the end, I'm sure that let him develop a bit longer in an international gravel scene. He'll probably, yeah, he can win the world championships for sure. And then he would be a great ambassador, uh, wearing the, the, the, the, the, the, the rainbow jersey also in the state. So, and our biggest goal is to still, because we have been in talks with USA Cycling to bring the, the World Championships, uh, to, to the States.
**** - (): And there were some very interested, uh, organizers, uh, we were very close to a deal, uh, in the first year, but unfortunately, well, then, uh, they were a bit hesitating and, and decided to skip. For the next few years, but then given the very big explosion of gravel racing in Europe, all of a sudden, yeah, it was awarded until now, uh, 20, 28.
**** - (): Uh, so it's, uh, uh, yeah, they missed an opportunity. Um, Yeah.
[00:45:51] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Have you, so we know that 2024 will be in Belgium. Have you announced where the roadmap goes in the subsequent years?
[00:45:59] - ():  Erwin Verveken: 2025 is France, Nice. So the South of France, uh, 2026 is, is, uh, the seven event in Western Australia. Uh, which is now already part of the, of the, of the UCR gravel. We'll see is 2027 is again, the combined world championships of the UCR, which now took place in Glasgow this past August, and they will then also have gravel.
**** - (): Which is again in France, so the Haut Savoie region, which is the Alps. It's, uh, if you see the mountain stages of the Tour de France, so that area, there will be a lot of climbing. Um, that's 2027, and then 2028 is Alula in Saudi Arabia. Uh, which is a big sports city, and they have a big and huge budget, uh, to promote cycling, and especially gravel is one of their key.
**** - (): So, um, and then 2029, I know there's a lot of interest. Um, um, and, uh, yeah, hopefully one day I'm sure that if we have a very good candidate in the States, uh, the UCI would be very happy to, to, to have the world championships awarded to, to the States, uh, uh, because, well, in the end, the history of gravel racing is, is, is in, in the U S Midwestern.
[00:47:18] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Erwin, thank you so much for the time. I appreciate learning more about UCI's approach and everything you're doing to promote the sport. Very much appreciate it.
[00:47:28] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Well, it's a pleasure. It's, uh, also it was nice talking to an American audience. Uh, uh, so, uh, yeah, happy to, to explain what we are doing and what our plans are for the future years.
[00:47:42] - ():  Craig Dalton (host): Amazing. Thanks again.
[00:47:44] - ():  Erwin Verveken: Thank you.