Taking on the inaugural gravel world championships
For Emily, Lauren, and Letizia, racing the gravel world championships is pure joy
Racing the world championships is always an exciting endeavor.
Anytime the world’s top riders come together in a colorful sea of flags with spectators from all over the world lining the route, it is a sight to behold. The energy and anticipation from the riders and fans alike only heighten the atmosphere. This is the backdrop Emily Newsom, Lauren Stephens, and Letizia Borghesi will encounter this Saturday when they take on the gravel world championships.
“I wasn’t sure about racing the gravel worlds because of the travel and it’s been such a busy season,” Emily said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s such an honor to be picked and also I would really regret it if I missed it. It would be something I’d look back on and be sad that I didn’t race the first ever gravel worlds so that’s what tipped me over.”
The 140-kilometer course begins in Vicenza, Italy and snakes its way along the Bacchiglione river and then Padua river before finishing in the medieval walled city of Cittadella. The scenic route includes 700 meters of climbing, most of which falls in the opening 20 kilometers in the form of two steep climbs.
To get to this race, our three riders took very different paths.
For Letizia, hearing her American teammates talk about gravel racing and witnessing its explosion in popularity across Europe intrigued her so she did her first ever gravel race — only three weeks ago. It was the Italian gravel national championships no less and she took the silver medal.
“I decided to go to the Italian championships because it was near my home and I had no road race that day,” Letizia said. “I always like to ride off-road and wanted to try a new speciality of cycling. I also really like cyclocross so I wanted to try gravel, which is new in Europe. I think it will grow a lot in the future. It’s so much fun and you can enjoy it a lot and see beautiful landscapes and stay out of the traffic. I am so excited that the world championship will be in Italy and quite near to my home. It’s a really big event and it’s a way to grow gravel in Italy and to showcase this new speciality.”
Alongside her road racing season, Emily has also been racing the Life Time Grand Prix series which has included two gravel races so far. However, Emily notes that American gravel and Italian gravel are two very different animals.
“To prepare for this kind of gravel, you’d almost want to be coming off of a bunch of spring classics. This is very different from US gravel. In the US you’ve got a lot of long stretches of road and long climbs and the gravel course here in Italy is a bike path, then a little dirt road, then a field, and then a road, then a bike path, and then a road again. It’s all over the place which will keep it exciting. I feel like positioning will be extremely important, way more so than in US gravel racing.”
The spring classics may be well behind us now that it’s October, but Emily did spend 70 kilometers in the breakaway, much of it solo, in Strade Bianche so she is no stranger to hard efforts on Italian gravel.
As for Lauren, gravel racing is nothing new to her. She loves to hit the trails when she’s home in Dallas and knew she wouldn’t miss the gravel world championships. In fact, this will be Lauren’s third world championship in three weeks. She raced the marathon mountain bike world championships in Denmark before flying to Australia to compete in the road race world championship and now she is ready to line up in Italy for the gravel world championships.
“This is racing gravel on a global level with a global viewership,” Lauren said. “It’s really cool. It’s going to be fun seeing the Europeans racing the gravel and see what they think of it and how they enjoy it. It's my third world championship this year so I'm really excited to get to race for the national team three times this year at the world championship level. I’ve been racing gravel for awhile now. I just really enjoy racing gravel so that’s why I wanted to do it. I just want to be a part of it.”