Monday, June 03, 2024

Unbound Gravel Race Reactions

Image courtesy of Life Time/Unbound
 Unbound has happened and what do we see now that the dust has settled? Here following are my observations, opinions, and thoughts. 

Well, that wasn't so bad, was it?

The hand-wringing by social media and some cycling websites about Kansas mud was all for naught as two, mostly dry days ahead of the event saw limited rain which, in hindsight, was a blessing. I was out South of Emporia Wednesday and the dust raised by 60-ish riders on the GCHoF group ride was alarming me. That dust was there during the event but muted and the mud was minimal. 

And the chaos predicted in town was not all that bad either. The finish line chutes, which were separated by a barrier between Pro and not so Pro, were removed after the Pro events finished up and for all intents and purposes, for a majority of riders, the event looked like any other recent Unbound event. (Even I got that prediction wrong)

Image courtesy of Life Time /Unbound

And as far as Emporia was concerned? It all seemed to be okay, for the most part. Certainly there were probably some issues, but nothing major to be reported, as far as I have seen. 

So, no big deal, right? Maybe.... Some Pro riders were grousing about issues after the event, but given that most of them did not win, you'd expect there to be some of the negativity. 

Conditions for this event were near perfection. Temperatures were moderate, there was partial cloud cover for a lot of the day, and winds were light, albeit in rider's faces all day with it switching directions. That said, I don't think you'll find this year's weather will ever be beaten as far as it being so little of a factor in the event's outcome. 

How About That Women's Race?:

The highlight of the day was the Elite Women's race which had 56 taking the start and the majority of the number sticking together for the first quarter of the event. Eventually there was attrition, but there was still a healthy amount of women still in the running with 25 miles to go. It all came down to a group sprint of 9 riders, an unprecedented thing, and many marveled at that. Rosa Klöser was the eventual winner there.

The men's elite race started with 135 total and attrition was the name of the game, as it often is in these longer gravel events. It all came down to two men at the finish with Lachlan Morton pulling ahead at the line for the win. 

Image courtesy of Life Time/Unbound

How About All The Hoopla?:

This event has upped the ante every year since about 2010. This year was no exception with a big helicopter following the lead groups all day in the skies above the Flint Hills. Gotta wonder what the fuel bill for that carbon footprint was. 

Like last year, there were UTV's festooned with cameras and other UTV's filled with eager photographers zooming from point to point to capture all the action. I found it interesting to follow @unlearnpavement (Bobby Wintle) on Instagram as he and his comrades followed the women's event throughout the day. Watching closely, I noted a few things.

Pit Stops: Holy cow! One to up to four individuals giving athletes attention at the two designated aid stations. Watching the choreographed actions of the support people was fascinating, but it also reminded me of why we (Jeff Kerkove and I) stopped having a supported aid station stop after Trans Iowa v1 in 2005. Jeff knew that support was based upon sponsorship and money. Those without both, or one of those, was at a distinct disadvantage. Of course, being that Unbound has "Elite" categories, one would expect that all contenders had this sort of support, or.....did they

It's all about who has the money and resources, right?

Then there is luck. Some had it. Some did not. The current gravel world champion (UCI) did not have the luck, as he cracked a rim and had to retire from the event. The women's Elite winner had the luck, coming back from a flat and getting a wheel change at an opportune time. This was also fascinating to me.

How does the gravel world champion not make it and the women's winner does? Well, there may be several factors at play there, but one thing I noted was that some riders who flatted had inner rim liners, like the ones MTB riders use now. This essentially allowed for a "run flat" feature which, albeit slower, kept the riders that were using them in the hunt. The women's winner, who was running one of these inner liners, got a wheel change at the support station, and this saved her race. Note that in typical self-supported events this sort of thing would have been a race killer, if not a race ender, so Unbound is kind of unique in that way. More like the old 24hr events, with the big supported pit areas, not so much like the older long distance gravel events. 

What about those who were in other classes?:

You didn't see much hub-bub over other classes at Unbound. A little coverage of the XL, a mention of the two 100 mile distance winners, Male and Female, and....... Yeah. Endemic cycling media doesn't care, really, about anything else than Elite/Pro level racing. This is not on Unbound, as they had a media resource center and would have gladly provided results and images, but it seems that no one really cares. 

For kicks I decided to look up who won the Men's class in the 200. That would be a man by the name of Mike Barton who finished in 10:07:45. This would have netted him 68th in the Elite men's field. A field stacked with current and former Pro Tour roadies. (Noted that former DK200 winner, Ted King, came in 35th in the Elite field.)

I'm an advocate for the "everyman" in gravel, and so my opinion is that a focus on 191 Elite athletes over the literally thousands of others there at Unbound is a bit of a case of "unbalanced" coverage. But I may as well be a "man yelling at the clouds" when it come to that. Kudos to "Gravel Guru" and others that actually did interview and cover some of these folk's experiences.

Fair and Balanced:

I found an article, finally, that I was a contributor to, published on "Bike Radar" and authored by Josh Patterson. It is about how this event became the biggest gravel event in the world today. You can (and should) read it HERE.

That's a wrap on Unbound. Your regularly scheduled blog will return for tomorrow.

1 comment:

shiggy person said...

The separate finish lines were a key safety change.
Last year the elite men had a 4-5 rider sprint that was basically weaving through finisher for other distances.
Was truly scary and they were lucky, no crashes
So glad the women didn’t have a similar experience this year.