The Kansas Flint Hills take center stage Saturday and Sunday for Garmin Unbound Gravel presented by Craft Sportswear. The renamed DK race was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and regrouped for its 15th edition in 2021 with six race distances, including the signature Unbound Gravel 200.
Pioneering the wave of gravel events in North America, Unbound Gravel is aimed at off-road endurance fanatics, starting with just 34 riders in 2006. Emporia has 2,626 registered participants this year, the majority having marked an entry through a lottery. process and seeking to achieve the finish for a custom lanyard and window sticker. They will also seek the bragging rights to join the “Race the Sun Club” (to be completed before sunset), or the “Breakfast Club” (which end between 12:01 am and 3:00 am on Sunday, the official deadline).
There is an abundance of retired professional cyclists, current WorldTour roadies, as well as specialists in cyclo-cross, cross-country mountain biking, track and other disciplines looking for thrills on the rocks. of pointy flint across the Tallgrass Prairie of east-central Kansas, there is no prize money.
2019 female champion Amity Rockwell (Easton Overland Gravel Team) returns for the fourth time, as is 2019 male winner Colin Strickland (Meteor X Giordana). Notable absent this year will be the male competitors of the EF Education-Nippo WorldTeam, which has adopted gravel for several years.
It’s just a test of every rider’s bikes, body and brain, but it’s not that simple. The route is not marked (bring a bike computer and know how to use your navigation tools), the points of service are limited (the 350 miles XL does not allow any assistance), and there is a “do not call us” policy for breakdowns and injuries.
The weather can be a major factor in equipment and nutrition choices, as well as mental components. This year, dry and hot conditions are expected, avoiding the peanut butter-like mud that was such a challenge in 2015 and the extremely hot and humid conditions of 2018. Wind, however, is still a threat in the prairie.
All routes will start northbound from Emporia as they did in 2019. The majority of riders, around 42%, will participate in the Unbound Gravel 200, which offers around 9,600 feet of vertical drop over 200 miles.
“Kansas is not flat, I didn’t see any flying monkeys, but I woke up the next morning feeling like a house had landed on me,” said 2017 winner Alison Tetrick, about the course on his website.
After an eventful and spontaneous start on Commercial Street, organizers expect Race 200 to begin after mile 26.8 of the E. Kaw Reserve, where “things will get real” on a four mile stretch of road rutted punctuated with deep holes on the sides and many small climbs. There are two technical descents indicated on the route map towards Alma, a community hosting the first of the two checkpoints.
Like two previous editions, 2019 and 2015, there are two checkpoints on the course instead of three – at Alma at mile 69 and Council Grove at mile 156, plus an ‘oasis’ of neutral water at Alta Vista at mile 126. There are breaks in the hours of rest at each checkpoint to keep everyone moving.
Along the 85 miles between checkpoints, the only official opportunities to refuel, repair and reorganize with support teams, the course is littered with rutted roads, rocky descents, a ghost town ( Volland, Kansas), water crossings, and some scenic prairie views.
The Flint Hills are famous for shredding tires and sun-baked gravel. Experienced racers know what to bring for the ride to keep them going, especially with the flint causing a high rate of sidewall cuts in the tires. Attention to technology can be as important as nutrition: a few tubes, CO2 cartridges, a hand pump, a repair kit, tire caps, a multi-tool and an extra chain link.
“In 2019 I had really bad luck with flat tires, I split a sidewall, I ended up having seven punctures. I was repairing an inner tube every 20 miles,” said Amy Charity, who finished seventh in 2019. Cycling news.
The top two runners from each of the women’s and men’s divisions of the 200-mile race will return this year, with a total of five of the women in the top 10 and six of the men in the top 10. Strickland broke the 10 hour mark for the race last time around, setting a new course record at 9:58:49.
The women’s field is filled with serious competition for defending champion Rockwell and runner-up Alison Tetrick, who has been all three steps of the podium for the past three editions.
Kae Takeshita, from Japan, returns with laser focus to the podium, having finished fourth twice previously (2018 and 2019). The 200 will suit her perfectly, as she was one of 11 runners and the only woman to complete the 341 mile Iowa Wind and Rock race in April of this year.
Olivia Dillon, a former Irish road racing champion turned gravel racer, has finished on the podium three times at Lost and Found in Calif., Including victory in 2018. She is looking to improve on her fifth place from there. two years in Kansas. , because a puncture made him lose the lead of the DK that year.
Shayna Powless is part of the contingent of three riders of the Twenty24 Pro Cycling road team, along with Jen Luebke and Natalia Franco. Powless finished third overall at the Cascade Gravel Grinder Omnium. Lauren De Crescenzo, a former professional roadie, recently proved herself by setting an Everesting record in 2020, just under 10 hours.
The three-day Oregon Gravel Omnium was won by cyclocross specialist Rebecca Fahringer, who was one of the few Americans to run a full cross country program in Europe and compete in the world championships. of cyclo-cross. Fahringer also won the Gorge Gravel Grinder, so he’s in great shape for Kansas.
Speaking of Oregon, triathlete Heather Jackson may be off the gravel radar, but not for very long. Jackson, American Ironman record holder (Ironman Arizona 2018) and Ironman Worlds 2016 bronze medalist, makes her first appearance at Emporia. She finished fourth at the Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City (Utah) last year.
On the men’s side, Strickland is the man to beat after his dominant performance in 2019. Just a few weeks ago, he failed to secure the expected victory in the first Gravel Locos, the former road pro Laurens ten Dam winning the boot trophy. The Dutchman will certainly be in the mix during his first Unbound contest.
Former WorldTour rider Peter Stetina is still a rider to watch, finishing second in 2019. This year he won the Gorge Gravel Grinder title.
EF Education-Nippo riders Alex Howes and Lachlan Morton, third and fourth respectively in 2019, are not on the start list. Morton is currently competing in the Critérium du Dauphiné, while Howes will be competing in the Tour de Suisse in the coming days.
Two-time DK winner Ted King, another former WorldTour rider, is back, looking to improve from seventh last time, a spot behind former Jelly Belly rider Joshua Berry, who is also returning. The duo went one-two in 2018, with King claiming victory.
2016 American Pro Road champion Greg Daniel, Trek-Segafredo teammates Kiel Reijnen (eighth in Kansas in 2019) and Quinn Simmons as well as Ian Boswell, Jacob Rathe and Travis McCabe will be among the professional ranks of American riders. American Matteo Jorgenson, who has just completed his first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, for Movistar, is registered to make his endurance debut on gravel.
The jokers will be the 2015 DK 200 winner Yuri Hauswald, current cyclo-cross racer Curtis White, 2019 gravel world champion John Borstelmann, 2007 American MTB marathon champion Jeremiah Bishop and Thomas Dekker, double Dutch national champion time trial.
Notable in XL and 100
In what organizers describe as an event for adventurers with a “penchant for pain”, the XL category was introduced as a test event in 2018, won by Matt Acker for the men, with the women’s division going to Rebecca Rusch, who has won the 200 Mile Race three times. In 2019, 64 men and 15 women took the start, with Jay Petervary winning the men’s title over Acker and Lael Wilcox winning the women’s division.
It will certainly be a massive battle over the massive 356 miles between two women – Amanda Nauman, who won the 200 mile in 2015 and 2016, and Wilcox. Recently on the “Groadio” podcast, Nauman said she was looking forward to getting into the longer endurance race.
“It’s a direct effort and I don’t feel at a disadvantage. I am delighted to see how it goes, ”she said. “I made 170 [miles] Tuesday of last week. The training isn’t entirely different from what I would do 200 miles, but I do it at different times of the day. At this distance, it’s on the verge of sleep deprivation.
Petervary will face 2017 DK 200 winner Mat Stephens and 2010 DK 200 winner Cory Godfrey.
A few riders have shifted gears from the 200 and downsized for 2021. Among the Unbound Gravel 100 riders to watch is Kansas native Ashton Lambie known for his cowboy mustache and a gold medal on the track. He finished sixth in the DK 200 in 2016, winning his age group (Men 29 and under). In 2019 he won the DK 100 and, 22 minutes later, for second place overall, Lauren Stephens, who is currently racing on the road for TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank and will be back at that distance.
Some of the new big names on record for the Unbound Gravel 100 include two-time US cyclo-cross champion Stephen Hyde and cycling legend Tinker Juarez, who won Sunday for the second year in a row in the 120-mile battle. from Badlands Gravel. .