The first weekend of April is always a big one for cycling fans, with the Tour of Flanders, one cycling’s oldest and toughest single day classic races, dominating proceedings. And because of its historical significance and difficulty, this is one of only five World Tour road races to hold “monument” status. For more than a century the race has been at the heart of Belgian sporting culture, and the cycling-mad region is widely accepted as the home of global road bike racing. But on Sunday, the sport’s eyes will also turn to the other side of the world, where the Trek UCI Gravel World Series begins with the Bongabon Gravel Philippines race. What is the new world series? For several years the UCI has stated its intention to take a stake in the gravel scene, and right up until last weekend how intended to do so was still something of a mystery. Belgian sports management company Golazo Sports was tasked with pulling together 12 smaller events to make up the series, with one event in Asia, two in Australia, and the rest split between Europe and the US. “I am thrilled that we now have an exciting and rich calendar of gravel events for riders with an adventurous spirit who enjoy cycling on unsealed roads and paths,” David Lappartient, the UCI president, said. The series is aimed at inclusion over elitism, with the target riders being master racers and keen amateurs, although they also hope some elite professionals will take part. The best small cameras to capture your outdoor adventures with Racing will be age grouped in 5-year increments, and the first 25 per cent of finishers in each group will qualify for the first Gravel World Championships, which it is believed will based on the L’Eroica event in Tuscany during early October. This opening round will see 375 riders taking part, over 85km and 65km courses, with just a handful coming from outside the Philippines because of coronavirus restrictions. The new world order It may be far from cycling’s European hotbed, but the Philippines has a thriving cycling community and race scene, although it is largely road based. Gravel riding and racing has been something of a slow starter in Asia, and the nation is now leading the regional charge into this evolving sport. Gravel has been a breath of fresh air for cycling, and in recent years has also been a huge boost to the bike industry. Not only have numerous riders converted to the dusty side from road and mountain biking, there have been many new cyclists take up the sport, those who were perhaps intimidated by the elitism that can surround road racing. On the face of it, gravel may seem like any other cycling discipline, but its very nature and spirit make it quite different. The lack of traffic makes it safer than road cycling, it is more versatile in terms of what and where you are able to ride, and is more open and welcoming to newcomers. Mountain bike or road bike, how to saddle up after the pandemic Gravel bikes now come in numerous varieties, and some even have basic suspension and all have much lower gearing. This means that you can tackle many of the less extreme mountain bike trails, all be it at a slower pace and you can still zip along on the road at a respectable speed. As a single do-it-all option a gravel bike really is hard to beat. Even though the opportunities for gravel riding in Hong Kong are limited, several trails, such as those around Jardine’s Lookout, Pineapple Hill and some sectors of the Lantau network are suitable for off-roading. Where did gravel racing start? Riding and racing dropped handlebar bikes off-road is certainly nothing new. Go back more than a century and the Tour de France was raced on steel roadster bikes without gears, and for hundreds of kilometres a day on gravel, as there were very few sealed roads at the time. Now, the Tour and the other grand tours have awoken to gravel, and are starting to reintroduce sectors of gravel into some stages, which has proved to be a huge hit with fans. The Midwest factor Modern day gravel riding is widely considered to have originated in the US Midwest, and it can indeed be considered as the heartland of gravel riding. Although cyclists have ridden on gravel since the beginning, it was always more prevalent in certain parts of the United States because of the fact that there were far more gravel roads than paved options. As the sport grew in popularity, the industry slowly recognised the potential and began building dedicated bikes and equipment, although depending on the severity of the trail, any bike with lower gearing and wider tyres is suitable. Everything you need to know to start mountain biking What makes it different? The biggest and boldest gravel races are still mostly in North America, although more are starting to spring up around the world. Unlike in road racing or mountain biking, there are no strict rules or formats to adhere to, which why the new series is effectively breaking new ground. Larger events attract lots of racers and many have shunned the offer of inclusion and sanctioning by the world governing body, because they do not want to be bound by the regulations and set formats that come with officialdom. In recent years a few World Tour road racers have even turned their backs on the lucrative high-end side of the sport and switched to gravel racing, mostly hooked by its relaxed spirit.