Mathieu van der Poel is racing a road bike at Gravel Worlds

Seems he won't be the only one, either.

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There has been plenty of chatter about the fact the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships is being run on a relatively flat course that’s as much a road race as it is a gravel race. And such talk is only reinforced by the fact Mathieu van der Poel seems to be riding a Canyon Ultimate CFR road bike at the event.

In the days building up to the race, both Canyon and Alpecin–Deceuninck have taken the opportunity to promote a rather special-looking Grizl gravel bike that looks more road-ified than how we’re used to seeing the adventure-style gravel bike. However, neither Canyon nor Alpecin–Deceuninck have stated that this is the bike that Van der Poel will ride; rather it’s just vaguely implied in the Instagram posts. 

Meanwhile, Van der Poel posted a reconnaissance ride to Strava, with photos that show he clearly did the ride on a team road bike, the new Canyon Ultimate CFR.

His bike has the usual Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 R9200 groupset and Dura-Ace SPD-SL road pedals. Judging by the photos in that Strava post, the only obvious change from the usual race-spec is the low-profile Dura-Ace C36 carbon tubeless wheels shod with what appear to be Vittoria Terreno Dry tyres in an assumed 35 mm width (to match the available room in the Ultimate frame). And it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if we saw the four-time cyclocross world champion switch to a narrower tyre and more-aero wheel setup for race day.

The idea of using a road bike in a gravel race isn’t a wholly new concept. Peter Stetina won the hotly contested Belgian Waffle Ride San Diego back in 2019 on a Trek Domane Madone, and has been seen racing a Canyon Endurace road bike at some of the 2022 gravel events. 

Either way, Van der Poel’s choice of bike is far more road than gravel. It once again reinforces that not everyone’s version of gravel requires a dedicated gravel bike. It has us snickering that one of the race favourites thinks a road bike is the fastest choice for the UCI’s attempt at crowning a gravel world champion. And it appears Van der Poel isn’t alone in this thinking, with Specialized having stated that its riders, including Peter Sagan and Sina Frei, will be running 32 mm-wide semi-slick (Pathfinder) tyres on aero wheels and attached to bikes that may or may not be road-focussed.

Whether or not the Gravel Worlds meets our definition of a gravel race, there are quite a few big names expected to line up in search of the inaugural rainbow jersey. Our race preview has you covered for things to know about the upcoming UCI Gravel World Championships

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