Wout van Aert, 28, has been on so many podiums it’s crazy to even begin to count them. He’s raced every kind of road event out there, and began his career in cyclocross. In 2018 he rode the Strade Bianche, which included several gravel sections (and featured torrential rain), but this year will be his first experience truly racing gravel.
In a press release, Jumbo-Visma announced that the Belgian pro would race his first UCI level gravel event in Houffalize on Saturday. Van Aert said, “There are still some nice races this season, like the Tour of Britain and the European Championships in Drenthe. The intention is to finish with the gravel world championships. I find it useful to have done a gravel race before. This is a great opportunity, close to home.”
Van Aert left the Tour de France early this year to be with his wife as she gave birth to their second child. He has since raced the UCI World Championships in Glasgow, where he was second in the road race and fifth in the time trial. He’ll also race the Tour of Britain.
The ‘World Series’ in Houffalize is a qualifying race for the world championships, which will once again be in Italy on October 7-8. “I ride here mainly because I like to race and show myself to my fans and the public, van Aert said. “I’m looking forward to the last part of the season, with fun and new races. For example, it's been a long time since I focused on a European Championship. And riding on gravel is something I really enjoy.”
The Gravel World Championships include the women’s elite race on Saturday, October 7 on a fast, flat 87-mile course. The elite men race on Sunday, with a 120-mile course — the same route that the women ride, with two local 16.7-mile laps tagged on at the end. Both races start in Vicenza and finish in nearby Cittadella.
While gravel racing has had its day in the U.S. for several years, it seems to also finally be catching on in Europe. Keegan Swenson recently annihilated the course record at the Leadville 100 (which is technically deemed a mountain bike race), and had many saying that even WorldTour racers would have a hard time putting out such power numbers at altitude. What do you say, Wout? Up for visiting tiny-mountain-town, USA?
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