Kasia Niewiadoma, who has stood on the podium of some of the toughest events on the women's road calendar, may have shot straight to the top step in the gravel world but has been quick to highlight that it has been no easy ride to the front of the pack.
“I feel like hearing about gravel beforehand I was like oh, sweet we’ll just ride for long and then relax and have fun but it’s insanely hard," Niewiadoma said after claiming victory at Big Sugar Gravel in Bentonville. "I feel like every single roadie should know that because I know at some points we were like 'oh, gravel is for people who don’t want want to really race' but it might be the opposite.”
Niewiadoma, who has stood on the overall podium of both the Giro d'Italia Donne and Tour de France Femmes, only stepped into gravel racing earlier this month, after noting how much the Gravel World Championships course played to her strengths. It was a savvy choice, as although it was just her first race in the discipline she claimed the rainbow jersey and her first UCI win since 2019.
The 104-mile (168km) Big Sugar, as her second race on the unpaved roads of the growing discipline, introduced her to yet another distinct style of gravel racing.
It took the Canyon-SRAM Women's WorldTour rider from the recently introduced UCI incarnation of the discipline – where the World Championships also attract a field heavy with riders from the road – to the well-established US racing scene, with its grassroots evolution and a field strong in discipline specialists.
“I think that they are strong [the other competitors]," said Niewiadoma in a media statement from Big Sugar. "They just race differently than how we race. No one was really fighting for position before the important sections and I feel like in Europe it’s one big fight before that.
"I was like oh that’s sweet I can just enter something first without fighting for it. I feel like in Europe we have so many girls so we become feisty. The girls were very strong out there for sure.”
Niewiadoma had taken off solo before the halfway mark to make it two for two in the discipline, but said the course was relentless with the technical nature of the up and down route making it "brutal" and "hard to relax".
“To be honest, the last 5km I was like ‘never again'. It’s super hard but I feel like yeah, always after winning and after a big sufferfest, it feels so satisfying that you want more.”
Not straight away, however, as the off-season now calls. That means Niewiadoma will have to wait for next year to see if she can make it three for three in the discipline.
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