Saturday, January 07, 2023

UNBOUND Makes Changes To Event But Will It Matter?

 Tuesday afternoon news broke on "Velo News" that UNBOUND Gravel, a Life Time event, would alter start times dues to feedback received from elite and Pro racers over the Summer and via media stories post event last year. 

This author also called for a separation of the amateurs and Pros/Elites in a post published here last June. Not that Life Time, nor anyone connected to UNBOUND gave any credence to my opinions, or even knew about them, but this is important to what I wanted to say today. That is- "Okay, but you didn't go far enough!" UNBOUND is answering the critics, but what they have done isn't as effective as it could have been. 

The issues can be traced back to what this event eventually evolved into being about 8 years ago now. I described it in my June post thusly: "I made a comment that the Unbound Gravel was a "Pro road race on gravel at the front with a fondo that follows it.". Perhaps I should have said that there is a mixing of the waters between Pro, paid, sponsored riders and the amateurs, which is probably closer to the truth, at least at the start."

So, keeping that in mind, what has UNBOUND done to address this? (Again, it's linked in the first paragraph) Well, separating the Men's Pro/Elites by 10 minutes from the field and the Women's Pro/Elite field by 8 minutes is the big deal here. I would assume that this will work to keep most of the Women and Men Pro/Elites away from the remainder of the racers well enough. I have no problem at all with that bit.

But was that ever really a problem at UNBOUND? There has been voluntary seeding of the field since, oh....the early twenty-teens, and after about ten to fifteen minutes, anyone that wasn't a Pro/Elite rider was spit out the back. Certainly by the first big climb, that was true. And that wasn't any issue. Additionally, UNBOUND is vetting the Elite/Pro fields, so sneaking in shouldn't be an option for someone thinking they have what it takes but do not. Okay, maybe that's settled, BUT the mixing of the Women Pro/Elites with the male Pro/Elites? THAT was where the issues have always arisen with regard to UNBOUND. 

In my opinion, a two minute differential will not be enough to dissuade some male riders from pulling Pro/Elite women racers at that event. It could be by design, easily, I mean, just soft pedal for a bit until you find the woman you are working for, and then go. Or- It may be just women catching the back end of the Pro/Elite men and drafting and then you have that whole issue happening again. 

Life Time/UNBOUND needs to separate these elite/Pro fields by a LOT more than two minutes, in my opinion, but we'll see. 

Elite/Pro riders will not be able to use aero bars at UNBOUND
Some welcomed the news saying that this will cause less crashes in the earlier part of the event due to unskilled riders mixing it up with Pro/Elites. Ahh...... Don't hold yer breath on that! Elite riders and Pros are just as capable of screwing up on unfamiliar gravel as anyone else, and with big money, sponsorships, and with media filiming everything, the situation at the front will be aggressive and amped way above that of the amateur field. (Which will also still see crashes, just because there will be so many riders on those roads.)

In another inconsequential move, they banned aero bars for Pro/Elites. Not a big deal, but I get it. Less liable to have a catastrophic issue in tightly packed bunches of riders if they haven't got aero bars. Interestingly, the article hinted that no Life Time event may allow anyone to use them on gravel in the near future and gave the Leadville event as an example of that already. 

Again, good moves, at least in intention, but will they be effective? I have serious doubts, but we will find out in June.  

For a discussion on this subject listen to the latest podcast on Guitar Ted Productions Podcasts HERE.  


Phillip Cowan said...

I think it's funny we were just discussing this in the comments section Jan 2 and the announcement came out the next day. A two minute gap may ease the anxiety at the start a bit but it still doesn't address the male domestique problem. The faster pro ladies will close the two minute gap to catch the slower pro men. In addition there will be gifted amateurs who will make it up to the pro women's group. That said I don't blame the pro ladies for drafting off the guys. If it's legal and everyone else is doing it you're sort of forced into it or resign yourself to being an "also ran". Once again I think the pros need their own race and there should be an hour or more gap between the men and women's start.

Owen said...

@Phillip Cowan, the issue is not all pro ladies have male teammates to draft, so it creates an unfair advantage for those that do. Totally agree on more time between men's and women's pro starts.

@GT I've enjoyed your articles this week on "Looking ahead," thanks also for linking the New Yorker article on Strickland/Mo Wilson. Not to open an unwanted can of worms, but in terms of pro events I think it's time for organized anti-doping controls. I'm old enough to remember early MTB racing and those (including journalists and VeloNews columnists) who screamed bloody murder when UCI testers first showed up...until the positive tests started rolling in. I many be in the minority here, but in that respect I believe UCI sanctioning is exactly what's needed, if for no other reason than pro cyclists have continuously demonstrated a unique inability to govern themselves.

Phillip Cowan said...

@Owen. You're correct that not all pro ladies have male team mates to draft off of (privateers God bless'm). However there seems to be no shortage of speedy amateurs willing to pull for them. I suspect it may be a perverse form of bragging rights. Something along the lines of "ol'(insert pro's name here) couldn't have won without me, I pulled her for 50 miles".

Guitar Ted said...

@Phillip Cowan @Owen - Thank you two for the considered and thoughtful commentary here.

Doping Controls: Hmm..... Why do we have to race "for money", "for sponsorship", or "for a job/to make a living"? Couldn't we just race for the sport of it?

Point being that when money and prestige are both at stake, you get all the bad stuff coming out of otherwise decent people. (doping, cheating, poor behavior, etc) So, IF we are going to allow that it is okay to make a living off racing, then maybe yes- maybe then you do doping controls, BUT- Is the UCI/USAC the only way to do that? Yeah.... I don't understand why the default is that you HAVE to make money therefore you HAVE to be sanctioned by this organization almost no one likes. That is just weird and unnecessary.

Drafting: Yes! If it is legal, then you have no one to blame but yourself for not taking advantage of it, no one but yourself to blame for showing up at events that allow it, and no one but yourself to blame for your lack of developing a race that doesn't allow this.

Scoffers may say that "This is how they make a living and that women draft and some do not is unfair!" (See above point) Or they may scoff and say "But this is THE race!" Umm..... Where do you think "THE" race started from? Two guys that had an idea, that's all it was, and it wouldn't take much to start another event, just like they and so many other race directors and entrepreneurs have over the years.

OR- Accept that this is the way it is and do your best. If the race asks for feedback, (UNBOUND did this) then reply kindly and see what happens. Write an email or call up the race RD's and have a discussion. (In other words- keep it out of the press/social media) and hopefully all parties can agree to make an event that they can live with, but if not?

Again- do something about that and start another event or attend ones that are satisfying to your sensibilities.

This really isn't that hard to figure out, but we put ourselves in assumed positions and boxes that force certain outcomes. It doesn't have to be that way.

Nooge said...

Unfortunately even without any money on the line, ego and bragging rights are enough to make some people dope. There’s plenty of cases of people doping or otherwise cheating in Gran Fondos and Masters races. Sad but true.