Andrew ‘Andy’ Lydic refers to himself as the ‘U23 Gravel World Champion’, and while that title is unofficial it is authentic. He raced both editions of the UCI Gravel World Championships with the elite men’s squad for Team USA and was indeed the best rider under the age of 23 who was not in the 19-34 age category.
Stepping up at the Worlds to race among the elite category turned out to be the highlight of a tumultuous 2022 season for Lydic, who moved to Spain that year to pursue a professional road career and realised that gravel could create an unconventional new path to a career in cycling.
“My whole mission is to use gravel as a platform to professional cycling. I want to get into a professional team or WorldTour team, from gravel-based results,” Lydic told Cyclingnews on his birthday in January about his planned career path, still only 22 years old.
“My whole gravel project is a pathway. I’d love to be able to create a stairstep behind me for guys who came into the sport and had a poor experience with amateur teams. Not to say I don’t love racing road, but I think there’s an untapped market. And I get to race gravel, I have fun.”
It was two seasons ago the unknown 20-year-old was added to the Team USA elite men’s roster at the UCI Gravel World Championships. He had finished 24th overall on the long course at Ranxo Gravel, so he qualified for the 19-34 age category at Worlds and used a petition process with USA Cycling to move on the elite roster at the inaugural Worlds, making him the third-youngest rider in that division.
“I wanted to race with the elites, and I was like, wow, this is a fantastic experience. I got to line up with Peter Sagan and Mathieu van der Poel. Superheroes – I got to race them. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” Lydic cheerfully stated. “I had a terrible race. I didn’t finish. Shortly after, I [realised] I had COVID.”
He returned to the 2023 Worlds in the elite field and finished among the leading 25% of the riders in 37th position.
“You get to step into these [gravel] races with the best racers in the world – the best cyclocross racers, the best mountain bike racers, and the best road racers all at once. So if you can show yourself as a young guy, I think there’s a lot of value that I can create for my name and my personal brand. I’m hoping that they [UCI] recognize in the future, even an under-23 jersey for this upcoming year. I’m still eligible for U23.”
He started a full 2024 schedule of off-road racing last weekend at the Low Gap Grasshopper series event in northern California, where he finished seventh. This Sunday he will take the start close to his Boulder, Colorado home at Old Man Winter Rally on Sunday.
“I’ve never done it before. It seems like it’s 45 degrees and totally fine, and some of the trails are a bit gnarly, or other years it’s like two feet of snow, and it’s just brutal for the whole time. So I’m interested to see how that actually plays out. It’s got a pretty decent prize purse.”
His biggest disappointment for the new season was not being selected among the 30 elite men to compete in the Life Time Grand Prix. He thought his application would be accepted, given his experience at such a young age.
“I’m bummed to not be in the Grand Prix, especially for Leadville,” Lydic admitted, adding he was on the clock to register for qualifier races to get into Leadville Trail 100 MTB later on his birthday. As a Life Time athlete Leadville would have been an automatic entry.
“Now I have to put some stress and pressure on myself. I’ve got to have good performances at these qualifier races to get me into Leadville. And then beyond that, the association with the others in the Grand Prix, I think is really cool. They get good media publicity and the guys talk to each other. I thought I deserved a spot there, but it goes to show that like racing, it’s about a bit more than just bike racing. And it gives me some fire to show up to those events and do really well.”
Bumpy road to gravel
Lydic came up through the ranks of Boulder Junior Cycling and had success at the Colorado Time Trial Championships and smaller criteriums and stage races. Started racing some gravel in 2021, taking a shot at SBT GRVL in nearby Steamboat Springs at the age of 19. He finished the 144-mile black course in 34th overall, out of 705 riders. The next year he was 26th overall on the black course, finishing just two minutes behind top pros like Peter Stetina, Cole Paton and Laurens ten Dam.
It was in 2022 he moved to Spain with a contract to race on the road, but it turned into a myriad of misfortunes, and a year he described as “turbulent, unstable”. His first, then second, Spanish amateur team folded during the season, while a third promise of a career opportunity just vanished come fall. He summed it up, “The amateur racing scene in Europe is a train wreck”, but he said it was a valuable experience.
“I was like, all right, I’ve done gravel races, Steamboat twice. I put in a solid result at the UCI Gravel race in Spain which afforded me the opportunity to race at the 2022 UCI Gravel World Championships. So I should try and figure out how I can race gravel, put together my own season because I didn’t want to kind of be at the risk of being on teams folding over and over and over,” he recounted. “I was in Europe pretty much for two years, and then came back to the US to race gravel.”
He said he sat in Girona, ’emotionally disrupted’ and thinking how he should continue to pursue his dream of racing his bike, without a team or even a resume full of results from the past chaotic year to land strong interest. What he did have was connections in Colorado and experience on gravel.
“So then I started racing for some personal sponsors, racing for BMC, ‘It Could Be Me’, and Northwave. In 2023 I started the season with the UCI gravel races. So I got pretty good results in those. And each of those out of the top three for under-23. I went back over for Gravel World Championships this fall, of course, and had a really good ride there.”
He still rides with support from BMC, Maurten Nutrition and a Colorado non-profit It Could Be Me, which works to improve the relationship between motorists and other users of the road by creating an environment of mutual respect.
This year he will compete at only a select few of the Life Time Grand Prix events, skipping Sea Otter’s Fuego XL and Unbound Gravel. His early summer is filled with six European races, beginning at Wörthersee Gravel in Austria and going to May 18 for another try at The Gralloch in Scotland, where he was 15th last year. Other targets include the US Marathon Mountain Bike Championships in June and a fourth appearance at SBT GRVL in August.
“I look forward to racing next season as the U23 gravel world champ and am excited to continue to create the future of gravel.”