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28-04-2023 | Frank Jansen

Gravel Fondo Limburg's 'influencer box' causes commotion

Next weekend, the Gravel Fondo Limburg will be held. The first UCI gravel race on Dutch soil this season. The organization is currently the target of strong criticism regarding the starting order. Critics say there is both age discrimination and course forgery.

Photo: Björn Eerkens

Starting order

It's all about the starting order. In smaller UCI gravel fondos there's usually just one box. In front of that, there's a special priority box of 25 riders. In larger gravel fondos, like the Gravel Fondo Limburg, the organization has the right to create several waves using the expected average speed. In many cases, age is being used for that. 

A UCI gravel fondo never produces one winner but multiple winners. One overall winner (the fastest time) and winners by age category. This is different from a normal UCI gran fondo, which (officially) doesn't produce an overall winner.

When it comes to the priority box, it is up to the organization to decide who get access, but from explanations from the UCI it appears that it is primarily intended for the fast riders.

Gravel Fondo Limburg, however, has decided to allocate a spot to several ex-pros, journalists and even influencers in addition to some top riders. Riders who have no real chance of winning.


This course of action is extremely unfair, according to critics, because top riders who are not in this box are already minutes behind and thus have no real chance of winning. Among them is journalist Thijs Zonneveld of BEAT Cycling, who has already made his complaint on Twitter. He suggests there was talk of arbitrariness: 'No idea who I ever done, but oh well.' Among others, he is supported by Jasper Ockeloen, who by the way is in the first box.

Ockeloen argues that this works differently in gravel racing in the U.S.

'I also find it strange and not right that not all competitive racers are at the front and that they are split by age. Let all ages ride together, let elites be in front, split up the results afterwards. Just like in the US."

Zonneveld rightly points out that the disadvantage for him as a 40+ person is even greater. After all, the older you are, the further back you are. Riding to the front, especially in a gravel race, is near to impossible. In the torrent of criticism, words like age discrimination and course forgery fall.

Laurens ten Dam (who is in the first box) tells us by phone that he finds it a difficult problem. 'Let me first of all say that Thijs just belongs here, along with a few others. However, I also understand that as an organization you want influencers to start at the front, because that is good for publicity.' Making an elite license compulsory as is done at 3RIDES in Aachen could be an option, according to Ten Dam. 'But then I would also have to start from the back, because I don't have one. What could also work is starting with a long and wide strip of asphalt, possibly with a climb in it, so the people who are not at the front can ride to the front. But an even better system is just having some kind of application process where you submit your recent results, as is done at La Marmotte.'

Organization's comment

Zonneveld's team BEAT came out with a statement on Twitter yesterday. It shows that the organization does not plan to change the starting order. The organization said the same thing to us: there is no room for discussion. They state that "such priority boxes are always discussed." And that is exactly where the problem lies. The problem is caused by the organization itself by putting riders in the box who don't belong there based on their cycling performance.

We have asked the organization why influencers get priority over elite riders. We haven't received an answer to date.


There is another argument as to why there is so much criticism of the "influencer box," which is safety. In the group of 25 chosen ones, there are a number of riders who are definitely not going to compete for the win. They will soon be overtaken by a chasing pack with many riders who still want to ride to the front. In combination with sometimes already technical course, this is a guarantee for dangerous situations.

The organization said the starting order is fixed and striclty limited to 25 spots only. But if these spots are so scarce, you could argue that you shouldn't allow influencers to begin with.

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