Lutsenko wins first Serenissima Gravel race

The surface changes, but the beat goes on for Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech), who soloed to victory in the inaugural edition of the Serenissima Gravel in Piazzola sul Brenta, coming home 42 seconds clear of Riccardo Minali (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert) and Nathan Haas (Cofidis).

Lutsenko had already underscored his late-season form with victory at the Coppa Agostoni on Monday and a pugnacious display at the revived Giro del Veneto in midweek, and he continued along the same lines in this, the first gravel race expressly for professional riders.

The Kazakhstani attacked alone with a shade over 80km remaining and he had built up a lead of almost two minutes over an elite group of chasers by the time he crossed the finishing line before the Palladian-style Villa Contarini with 33km still to race.

That lead was pared back inside a minute after one lap of the 11km finishing circuit, as Intermarché-Wanty led the pursuit behind, but Lutsenko's strength never wavered thereafter. His lead remained intact as he took the bell, and he would have ample time to savour his victory, dismounting and raising his bike above his head as he crossed the finish line.

"This race was a new experience for me and I'm happy because it's the first time I've raced gravel," Lutsenko said after taking a seat in the press room afterwards. "It was a bit hard to get used to riding the [gravel] bike but after an hour I got used to taking the corners, and it also helped that I'd done Strade Bianche in other years. At a certain point, I got away alone and I got 30 seconds, but it was hard because there's a big difference between a road bike and a gravel bike: here, you have to keep pushing."

How it unfolded

The race, organised by Filippo Pozzato as part of his Ride the Dreamland series in the Veneto, was something of an experiment. Gravel racing has grown as a mass-participation and endurance discipline, but this was a rather more exclusive and shorter event, with just 34 pro riders taking on the flat but often technical 132km course from Lido di Jesolo to Piazzola sul Brenta.

The variety in equipment choices and tyre pressures apparent on the start line underlined that this race was something of a journey into the unknown. It was unclear beforehand if pure strength or gravel experience would win the day, but Lutsenko's physical superiority ended all debates.

The race was a full-throated contest from the outset, with Astana to the fore in a brisk opening hour that saw the race strung out into a single line throughout the initial sectors of gravel. That early intensity would soon fracture the small peloton of 34 riders, with 15 or so strongmen forging clear a little over 40km into the race.

With Astana and Intermarché-Wanty Gobert present in numbers, Haas was among the riders who attempted to forge clear to escape their clutches, but the leading group remained intact on the greenway that led towards Treviso.

Lutsenko's winning move took shape on this fifth sector of gravel. After his teammate Samuele Battisella's initial acceleration was pinned back, Lutsenko launched a searing effort of his own, and he was soon alone at the head of the race, with only his thoughts for company. With no team cars behind and no race radios allowed, Lutsenko faced into a solo effort unlike any he had faced in his professional career to date.

"You're missing information from the radio, instructions, and you couldn't go back to take a drink or a gel, although at some points on the course we had soigneurs who gave us time gaps and food," Lutsenko said. "But without a team car, it's difficult. Normally when you go alone in the break, you have your directeur in your earpiece encouraging you. This time it was silence."

Intermarché-Wanty had Minali, Taco van der Hoorn and Kevin van Melsen in the chasing group, and they attempted to organise a coherent chase, but it was soon apparent that only a mechanical incident could impede Lutsenko, who was making light work of both the terrain and the solitude of his effort. All told, the 132k race featured almost 110km of off-road spread across ten sectors.

"Strade Bianche is a bit harder, I think, because it's constantly up and down. Today was flatter but it was hard too, because it was 130km and mainly gravel, so you needed good legs," said Lutsenko, who had 1:48 in hand with 33km to go.

That advantage dropped on the first lap of the finishing circuit, and Marco Frapporti (Vini-Zabù) made a spirited lone effort to bridge across on the second, but come the bell, it already seemed clear that the chasers were now racing for second place.

42 seconds after Lutsenko crossed the line, the Veneto native Minali beat Haas to the line for second, with Davide Martinelli (Astana) coming home in 4th ahead of Van Melsen and Simone Bevilacqua (Vini Zabù).

Speaking after the podium ceremony, Haas intimated that his racing programme would incorporate much more gravel racing in 2022, when the UCI introduces a new gravel series and the inaugural World Championships in the discipline. "I've done ten years in the WorldTour as a professional, now it's time to have some fun," he said. "The gravel scene in Europe is making a big jump."

Lutsenko's victory, meanwhile, marks him out among the favourites for the final race of the Italian season on Sunday, when the gruppo tackles the inaugural edition of the Veneto Classic. That event has ambitions of joining the WorldTour in the years ahead. It remains to be seen, meanwhile, if the Serenissima Gravel will be an augury of things to come in the development of the gravel discipline.

"This is the first time I've had this experience, but in the future, I think it could be done for WorldTour teams," Lutsenko said. "Riders like Van Aert and Van der Poel could come here. For them, it would be interesting to do a race like this."

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech 3:24:14
2Riccardo Minali (Ita) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux 0:00:42
3Nathan Haas (Aus) Cofidis
4Davide Martinelli (Ita) Astana-Premier Tech
5Kevin Van Melsen (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
6Simone Bevilacqua (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM
7Luca Braidot (Ita) 0:00:46
8Daniele Braidot (Ita) 0:00:49
9Samuele Battistella (Ita) Astana-Premier Tech 0:00:56
10Taco van der Hoorn (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux 0:00:58
11Luca Cibrario (Ita) 0:01:20
12Federico Zandri (Ita) Work Service-Marchiol-Dynatek 0:01:52
13Matteo Zurlo (Ita) Zalf Euromobil Fior 0:02:31
14Attilio Viviani (Ita) Cofidis
15Enrico Zanoncello (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane' 0:03:04
16Boy van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
17Riccardo Verza (Ita) Zalf Euromobil Fior 0:05:04
18Jan Petelin (Lux) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM 0:06:47
19Raul Colombo (Ita) Work Service-Marchiol-Dynatek 0:13:14
DNFJakob Dorigoni (Ita)
DNFFabio Felline (Ita) Astana-Premier Tech
DNFFilippo Fiorelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'
DNFDavide Gabburo (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'
DNFSamuele Zoccarato (Ita) Bardiani CSF Faizane'
DNFDavide De Pretto (Ita) Beltrami TSA Tre Colli
DNFMarco Grendene (Ita) Beltrami TSA Tre Colli
DNFFernando Barceló Aragon (Spa) Cofidis
DNFThomas Champion (Fra) Cofidis
DNFMattia Guasco (Ita) Team Qhubeka
DNFAntonio Puppio (Ita) Team Qhubeka
DNFDavide Orrico (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM
DNFMarco Frapporti (Ita) Vini Zabu' Brado KTM
DNFMarco Cao (Ita) Work Service-Marchiol-Dynatek
DNFGiulio Masotto (Ita) Zalf Euromobil Fior
DNFElia Menegale (Ita) Zalf Euromobil Fior
DNFJacopo Cortese (Ita) Mg.k Vis VPM
DNFFabio Di Guglielmo (Ita) Mg.k Vis VPM

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.

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