Qualifying for the 2023 UCI Gran Fondo World Series Paphos, Cyprus by Sabina Hickmet

Qualifying for the 2023 UCI Gran Fondo World Series

Paphos, Cyprus
By Sabina Hickmet

Every year the UCI Gran Fondo World Series finals for cycling are held in
a different country around the world. This year, 2023, they are going to
take place in Perth, Scotland. I was lucky to take part in the 2016 edition
which was held in the Kalmunda Hills behind Perth, Western Australia.
Qualifying rounds for the world finals take place in countries such as
Japan, the USA, Isle of Mann, Denmark, France or Turkey throughout the
year. The top 20% of each age group at each of the 22 rounds get invited
to take part in the World Championship finals and compete for a world
gold, silver or bronze medal, not forgetting the coveted rainbow jersey for
the winner of each age group.
If you don’t qualify for the TT or/and the road race at one round you can
go to another somewhere else and try again.
This year, I chose not to do the home-course of the Tour of
Cambridgeshire, a relatively flat circuit, for a fourth time, and opted for
Cyprus, and the mountains behind Paphos, in April.
After an uneventful flight, I had to head straight to registration where I
found out the start pen had been moved – no notification on the website.
It was already beginning to get confusing when I was asked if I was in the
Expert group or the Sportive and was I doing the Combined or the
General Classification? What?? Normally you enter the race for your age
group and that’s that! The organisers in Cyprus were bigging the event
I checked into my quiet Airbnb on a small hill top location on the town
limits with a distant view of the sea.
I like to stick with what I’m used to eating for an event. I took my
breakfast oats weighed out into plastic tubs for the two race days and I
had also measured out the ‘During Ride’ carbs ready to mix into my two
water bottles with emergency jelly babies for my back pocket. A quick
visit to the supermarket and it was already home-from-home in the
I had plenty of room and time to assemble the bike once I’d removed the
bubble wrap and taken off the pipe lagging tubes I fit to protect the

frame. It was a bit tricky negotiating the twisting wooden staircase up to
my room with the assembled bike – when I left I had to clean some tyre
marks off the white walls! No way was I not sleeping with my bike.
Two ladies from a badminton group I belong to in Crawley were already in
Paphos so although in a different area, I could cycle in to meet them. I
also got some pre-event training in going up and down the 100m climb to
my lodgings a couple of times a day.
I was very grateful to have these people there and from being
acquaintances they became friends as they followed my journey from
start to finish, not once but twice.
Normally, at these qualifying races, you have one chance to qualify for
the TT or for the road race. In Paphos they made it a 3-stage event. As I
wasn’t doing Friday’s TT, I could aim to qualify at Saturday’s Stage 2 race
and have a second shot on the Sunday Stage 3 race, if unsuccessful on
the first attempt.
After the very strong winds of the previous days, Saturday dawned clear
and calm. I made the right choice of kit, CW jersey, shorts, mitts and a
sleeveless base-layer, which I would need in the mountains.
Cyclists from all around the world were taking part. Cyprus being close to
the Middle East attracted teams from Israel and particularly from Dubai
where the international cycling community formed big teams of mixed
nationalities. I felt a bit lonely in my CW kit and no team! There was also
a pro team from the US doing the Medio Fondo with paid pro athletes and
a big Irish team. The biggest and most numerous teams were from
Cyprus including T de F stage winner Ilnur Zakarin’s own team – he
finished 2 nd behind Brit Ross Fawcett. Team cars followed them round.
The younger Gran Fondo participants rolled out first behind the pace car
and then the Medio Fondo group. It was a bit twitchy following the pace
car for 20km to the start with accelerations and then bunching-up going
on and about 800 participants. I kept near the back to keep safe. Good
warm-up though.
When we got to the start we had the planned 2-minute stop. Everyone
just got off their bikes and went behind the low stone walls of the olive
orchards on either side of the narrow road for a quick wee. Never seen
anything like it! Obviously, I did too. I wasn’t going to get caught out with
90 km and 1,470m of climbing to go.

It was all a bit weird. Then you got on your bike and as you went through
the gantry, your timing chip was activated – it didn’t matter when you
started – and clocked off when you got back to the same place a few
hours later. It was more of a TT effort, you against the clock. Not the first
over the line in your group. The fastest chip time counted. And TT effort it
was indeed for me as I had no wheels to follow. The climbs split everyone
There were 8 climbs, two averaging 6% with recovery downhill bits in
between and the rest 4%. I just stuck to a steady HR, the sun getting
hotter and hotter on my back and my forearms. It was cold when we
finally got to the top before the long, very fast descent back to close the
loop where we’d started. It was all on open roads with traffic in both
directions – not that there were many cars apart from the team cars.
The route took us through small villages, past vineyards and olive groves,
through gorges and wonderfully scenic roads. The best memory I have is
at a right hand bend going into a village, a local family had put out a table
with olive oil bottles to sell and the donkey was watching us go past.
There was also a feed stop at the top but I was on a non-stop strategy.
Not taking any chances! I did have to stop later when my chain came off,
I got it back on really quick but lost a bit of momentum to go up the next
It wasn’t easy, never is, but I was happy with my time which put me 5 th
woman overall and 1 st in my age group. Mission accomplished, I had
The next day, I didn’t have to race but as I was there and had paid the
exorbitant 200 Euros entry fee, I felt, despite the sore throat I’d woken
up with, it would be a shame not to cycle through some more of the
beautiful Troodos mountains.
Sunday was warmer, so I just had a thin Crawley Wheelers jersey on.
Although a shorter course, with a 32 km timed section after 16 km behind
the pace car again, there were nearly 1200 metres of climbing. Maybe
because I wasn’t feeling well or on tired legs, I really suffered and I had
to dig very deep to get to the end. The whole stage was up, or so it felt.
The first climb was over 8km long and the final one over 6km with a
mountain top finish.
In one area, the course wasn’t properly marshalled or signposted going
through a small village. Quite a few of us went off course losing a good

ten minutes or more having to go back up a hill and return to the village.
By then, the church service had just finished and the congregation were
gathering in the narrow street outside. We had to pick our way through all
these people dressed in traditional black clothing. They weren’t budging!
No one was quite sure if we were on the right road. It was soo narrow
and cobbly. It then took us over some pretty desolate mountain scenery.
I was so grateful I didn’t puncture! There was nothing for miles along this
tiny country lane which was quite gravelly in places.
When I finally crossed the line, I remembered to hand in my timing chip.
The organisers hadn’t got any portaloos organised and there was no
where to go as we had ended up in a tiny village. Sustenance was a bit
poor – water and local oranges and bananas. But we did get a finisher’s
medal. Hurrah! And I qualified a second time in first place in my group
despite the extra time I lost.
It was all very fast downhill to get back to Paphos, no more climbing.
Somehow I took a wrong turn and carried on fast downhill until I saw
another competitor coming the other way saying to turn round. I had an
extra 334 metres of climbing to do. I was close to tears. And I was so
tired and it was soo hot!
I limped back to Paphos and met up with my friends who were in a
restaurant close to my accommodation. It was such a relief to have
someone to share what I’d been through. And to eat! I didn’t realise how
hungry I was. I had a big bowl of pasta and they bought me a huge ice
cream for pud. It was just what I needed.
Prize-giving was a bit later on the beach with a big buffet – unfortunately
I wasn’t hungry. It took a very long time going through all the different
age groups, for both men and women multiple times for all the different
categories. Normally, at these qualifying events, you get a podium and
medals for the first three. In Paphos you got medals for, to name a few
categories, Sportive, Gran Fondo, Medio Fondo, Expert, Combined, Stage
2, Stage 3, Overall, Yellow jersey, TT… There were quite a lot of
complaints with the times, which were acknowledged and some of the
category wins. I was awarded a trophy which I didn’t actually win but
managed to find the rightful winner, another Brit a few days later and
returned it. I also didn’t get the medal or jersey I was supposed to have
got, so I queried it because no one else had been faster than me in my
group making my final medal haul 4 plus a finisher’s medal and 2 rainbow

jerseys with no less than four appearances on the podium. I’m still
confused what all the medals are for! Even the organisers were confused.
It would be really great to have more Crawley Wheelers members take
part and work together in the UCIGFWS events. It’s a great way to travel
with your bike and do something amazing with people from everywhere.
And you never know, you may qualify and race in a world championship
Tour of Cambridgeshire coming up soon!
For more information

Thanks to Balfe’s Bikes Gatwick for pre-race bike prep
Thanks to K2 Crawley for letting me train when the British weather wasn’t good
enough to go outside

What is a Gran Fondo?
Gran Fondo, “Big Ride”, is a long-distance amateur bike ride with origins in Italy.  The
format was born in 1970 for amateur cyclists who didn’t quite make it into the professional
ranks, but still enjoyed racing, winning and becoming local heroes.  It has since spread
around the world, encouraging amateur cyclists of all abilities to participate, compete and
have fun on paved roads. This doesn’t mean that former pros don’t take part!
What are the Age Categories?
Age categories range from 19 to 70 and increase in a range of five years.
For men and women: 19-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-70 and 70+
Women over 50 and men over 60 race a slightly shorter distance, Medio Fondo, men and
women under 50 ride the full distance. The distance depends on how much climbing there is.