Ride Report - UCI Gravel World Series - La Indomable (The Untamed)

Jorge Padrones reports from the first round of the 2023 UCI Gravel World Series from Almería in Spain. High altitude, high speed and a high level of technical difficulty made the event a challenging start to this year’s UCI gravel race series.

The small village of Berja in Almería, located in the south of Spain just between the Tabernas Desert and Sierra Nevada had been chosen as the first venue to start the UCI Gravel World series in 2023. There was an impressively well stacked start list - without any doubt gravel is getting attention from the pro tour teams and from gravel riders in general. In 2023, there will be a total of 16 qualifier events plus the World Champs, which are to be Italy in October. 

Between the riders at the start line, the one taking all the attention was Alejandro Valverde, who recently retired from the pro field. He’s leading the newly created Movistar Team Gravel Squad which will race the UCI Gravel calendar. 

The organisation had prepared a hard (in all senses) course with around 2500 elevation meters, but almost all of them concentrated in just one single climb. It was around 60 kms of climbing right from the start, which was really hard. The profile was very easy to remember - climbing for the first 60 kms and then a long 40 kms descent, it was around 2.5 hours of climbing for the pros and sometime more for the rest of the pack, with just small rests on the way up. 

The course views were really amazing, on one side it was the Mediterranean Sea, easily visible once we took some altitude, while on the other side we could see the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada with the majestic Mulhacen presiding over it. Mulhacen is the highest peak in the Iberian Peninsula with 3479 meters. 

The altitude was something to take into account in the race as we reached the 2200 meters elevation and the more difficult climbing section was above the 1800 meters. You could really feel the altitude effects and feel short of breath.

There was a little controversy about the course design. Last year for the World Champs, people were saying it was a very easy course and some riders even chose to use all-road bikes and that it wasn’t gravelly enough to make it a real challenge. Here, we had the same assertion but from the other extreme - the course, especially the descent, was very rocky and full of loose stones that made it very technical and difficult, with many people having punctures and mechanicals. Some of the riders described the course as not really gravel riding, but more like mountain biking. Speaking with different riders, there’s something clear - when coming to gravel racing, it is not set in stone nor clear what a racing gravel course is or how it should be designed to keep everybody happy. 

While the ascent was hard, the descent was tricky having to negotiate very carefully the best line to avoid punctures. It was very fast, but with sudden rocky areas that made you stay concentrated as otherwise going too fast into these areas could make you lose the control.

The expectation and the attendance at the race was very high and we can say the competitive level was great. While in other races and events you see people who have gone to have a wonderful day of gravel riding, as this race was a qualifier for the gravel Word Champs, most of the riders came here with a mission. You could tell that the competitive level was high and all participants fought for each position, as only top 25% of the classification was getting the pass to the Worlds. 

In the women’s elite category Carolin Schiff took the win followed by Jade Treffeisen and Hayley Simmonds on a very fought victory. Alejandro Valverde won the men’s elite race without problems. While he had some concerns about the descent, he set a ferocious pace right from the beginning, going solo since Km 1 so he could put enough time on his rivals to be able to go easy on the descent. Ismael Esteban the former Spanish cyclocross champion took the second followed by Cameron Mason from the Trinity team took the third just seconds behind Esteban. 

If you’d like to check out all the details of the route that Jorges rode, you can find it here:

Jorge Padrones

Jorge is based in Spain and is a regular on the start-line of different gravel events across Europe and further afield too.