Timo Kielich and Martha Maltha sweep up victory at Gravel World Series Limburg

 Riders on the course at Gravel Fondo Limburg for April's UCI Gravel World Series
Riders on the course at Gravel Fondo Limburg for April's UCI Gravel World Series

It may have been the very first edition of the Gravel Fondo Limburg on Sunday but there was no easing in, either for the organisers or the riders, with the Dutch race launching straight into the UCI Gravel World Series with an event that sent riders straight from the start line and onto the steep climb of the Cauberg.

The first over the line in the women’s category of the sold-out event was Dutch rider Martha Maltha, with a time of 3:45:02 for the 113km race with 1240m of elevation gain.

“My goal was to train, but my legs were pretty strong today," said Maltha. "Especially in the climbs I could accelerate. In the last descent I fell and I was not sure about my position in the race. I was completely flabbergasted with the result!”

Janine Schneider (Team Embrace the World) was next, just a little over one-and-a-half-minutes back, as she added another Gravel World Series podium to her third place in Belgium of 2022 while the winner of last year’s French and Belgian rounds, Tessa Neefjes, completed the podium.

In the men’s category of the race, in a field heavy with strong names from on and off-road disciplines, the winner was multi-discipline rider Timo Kielich, who had traded his Alpecin-Deceuninck road colours for the kit of his cyclocross team Crelan-Fristads for the weekend race.

“This is my first official gravel race,” said Kielich in a statement from the race. “Because a road race got cancelled I decided to sign up for Gravel Fondo Limburg. It’s amazing to win!”

The 23-year-old, who come third in his last road race at the Grand Prix de Denain-Porte du Hainaut in March, came over the line with a time of 3 hours, 14 seconds, which was 52 seconds ahead of Cameron Mason (Trinity Racing).

"Hectic day out there at Limburg Gravel," said the rider from the United Kingdom in a post on Twitter. "Fighting for position all day in the front. I didn’t have the power to follow [Timo Kielich] on the Keutenberg but I’m happy with 2nd place. Home now to reset and do the final prep for MTB WCs."

Spanish rider Ismael Esteban Aguero (Logos Energia) came third after having taken second behind Alejandro Valverde in the previous weekend’s season opener, La Indomable.

Belgian Jens Adams, who finished 10th in the UCI Cyclocross World Cup standings last season, finished fourth. Other notables in the top 12 were sixth-place Jan Bakelants, who retired from Intermaché-Wanty Gobert last year, and in 11th place former WorldTour rider Laurens Ten Dam, runner-up at Unbound Gravel in 2021 and fourth last year.

Israel-Premier Tech’s Sep Vanmarcke also started the 170km race but sustained a left wrist fracture in a crash which kept him from finishing. The team reported later that Vanmarcke underwent successful surgery and could return to racing as early as mid-June.

The race provided an early barrier to the field of the Cauberg before entering a 34km local loop including the Keutenberg for three circuits. The Dutch race was the third instalment of the 2023 UCI Gravel World Series, which includes 17 events that act as qualifiers for the Gravel World Championships.

The second race of the series, the Swartberg 100, was also run on the weekend on Saturday in South Africa. That race, also a new edition to the series, was won by Gustav Basson (Team DMS) and Cathryn Colyn (Rocacorba Collective).