Going toe-to-toe with cyclists like WorldTour veteran Nathan Haas and Paris-Roubaix winner Nikki Terpstra might not be something Adam Blazevic was expecting this time last year, but the introduction of the Trek UCI Gravel World Series changed all that.
The 23-year-old Australian has been diversifying between disciplines since he started racing when he was 10, so there were no surprises seeing him on the entry list for the second race in the new gravel series during the month of May. in Nanob, Western Australia.
But what happened next was certainly unexpected, with the Giant Australia Off-Road Team rider beating race favorite Haas – whom he later referred to as “a little hidden talent”.
“I knew I was in really good shape and could be at the front of the race but I didn’t know where that would be, especially when I saw Haas was racing, I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a tough day out’,” Blazevic said. Cycling news.
However, that didn’t stop the Melbourne-based rider – from the 228-kilometer Grafton race to the previous weekend’s Inverell National Road Series – from leaving a mark early in the 125-kilometre gravel event.
“There was no planning for my solo like that at all,” Blazevic said. “It just happened. There were some little hikes down that road and then I did one just to see what would happen and I think they might have chased a little bit, but then they didn’t really jump on it.”
“For me, I was like ‘OK, that’s good’ because I knew I had done a lot of practice and I had done Grafton the week before, so I knew I could ride the race alone like that, until they caught me, and then I still had Playing cards once I got caught. I actually did really well because I was kind of, you know, in control of the race at that point, but I still knew they could come back and it would be fine.”
What worked best was that it wasn’t a band that came back, just Haas who had to go to great lengths to bridge the gap on his own. When Blazevic pushed the pace for the final climb, there was nothing left of Haas.
This meant that Blazevic started on his own again and was no longer a hidden talent, but now the winner of the UCI Gravel World Series.
Will Europe change things?
Winning in Australia, on home soil, was one thing, but Blazevic was now heading to Europe, as part of a plan he had before taking the first step on the podium in the small Western Australian town of Nanob.
Blazevic, like many Australian cyclists looking to become professional, has iced his plans to head abroad to race in the past two seasons as a result of strict border closures and quarantine rules during 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this year was one of the attempts to make up for some of that lost time.
Giant Racing said Blazevic, who will also be racing Krimesy in Belgium with his NRS team. “Western Australia should have seen how it went for me.”
Blazevic had ventured outside for cyclo-cross racing in 2017, lining up in the World Cup and World Championships as the U19 champion, then back to racing in the U23 class during the 2018-2019 season. The jump from the only Australian cross scene to appear recently to those in Europe was big and at the U19 World Championships in Beles, he came in 51st. When he was 20 in 2019 he competed in the U23 class at Beaugensee and took the place 61.
Not surprisingly then with this experience that Blazevic – although he may have had Nannup as proof that he was in good shape and the race was right for him – was not counting on being ahead when the race moved to Europe during the next Tour in France at 5 June.
“After Western Australia it changed a little bit… I thought maybe I’d be able to aim a little bit more. But after going to France you can see some of the riders that showed up, and again I wasn’t entirely sure how well I would have done in that event,” said Blazevic, Its a bit of an understatement, but then you know that event ended up well too.
Riding with road pedals and boots on his TCX Advanced Pro gravel/cyclo-cross bike, as he did on Nannup, and adding leaner tires to get the most out of the road portion, Blazevic was once again happy to put in some hikes to try and break things over the climb. Although not everything was quite planned this time, not least because of the early and late mechanical compromise, but “that’s just part of off-road racing,” Blazevic’s sobering response was.
There was clearly no room for disappointment, with the result still third behind Total Energies Terpstra and Piotr Havic (Westland Well Vooruit).
“I was really happy. I never came to Europe and only, the first race after being here for a week, went and got a result.”
Poland and beyond
The Australian, who studies mechanical engineering, is now training in Girona and then heading to Poland for the next round of the series on June 18 – the 1,950m 100km race in the Izerski Mountains. Gravel Adventure offers a steep climb early in the race, which begins and ends in Świeradów-Zdrój, and the track in southwestern Poland includes a small amount of muddy and narrow singletrack.
After Poland, the series heads to the US, with the Highlands Gravel Classic on June 25 in Fayetteville, Arkansas and the Jingle GX Gravel Race in Amana, Iowa on August 6. However, Blazevic will not be pursuing gravel racing there, racing instead for the Australian road team in Belgium.
However, he will turn his attention back to the gravel when the race returns to Europe, continuing to take on Gravel Grit n Grind in Sweden and Houffa Gravel in August, before returning to his home country of Victoria to take the second round held in Australia – Gravelista in Beechworth.
Blazevic said there isn’t much difficulty planning for training to suit his ambitions on the road and gravel, as Grafton’s race to Inveril is clearly on the road this weekend before Nannup does any damage, but the race itself is very different.
“At the end of the day, the strongest ride will be to win a gravel race, even if they have problems,” Blazevic said. “The race is full of gas, no rest all day. It’s not like a road race where you take a break and sit down. The race is just starting.”
With a combination of mutual discipline skills and the ability to go “full gas” over Gravel World Series distances, Blazevic clearly found a niche in the cycling world that capitalized on his strengths. But is the point of working in the relatively new field of gravel racing?
“I want to become a professional riding my bike, that is the goal for me,” Blazevic said when asked to outline his dream scenario. “I just don’t know what that would look like now.
“Race on the road is going to be really cool. Whether it can be done off-road on gravel, I’m not sure yet, but I would say the biggest goal for me is to try to ride my bike full time. But obviously, you know, it’s a big deal. Very difficult. So, I have to keep working hard and see what happens and see what happens this year.”