Unbound Gravel Race - ( Randy Egues Men's "200 mile" Race Report )
On the first Saturday after Memorial Day, the “Gravel World” convenes in the town of Emporia, Kansas (Pop. 25,000), in a celebration of all things gravel. 2020 saw the cancellation of the event due to the “C” word, and the rebranding of the event as Unbound Gravel (formerly Dirty Kanza), thus the town was electric come June 3rd. The event offers five different routes touring the Flint Hills, 25 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles, 350 miles (No, that is not a typo), and of course the coveted 200-mile route. My entry into the event was a product of “careful what you wish for…” as when I put my name in the lottery, I did not own a gravel bike, as I traditionally race mountain bikes. Fast forward to June 5th at 10 minutes till 6 AM, and I find myself lined up on Main Street with over 1000 self-proclaimed gravel aficionados, including the likes of Ted & Laura King, Ian Boswell, Laurens Ten Dam, Payson McElveen, Colin Strickland, Amity Rockwell, and a host of other current and past World Tour, and domestic professionals, prepared to take on 200 miles of gravel… and then they said “Go”!
A “neutral” rollout through town, over the highway, and straight onto the infamous gravel of the Flint Hills, were carnage ensued. The first 20 or so miles of the event are nothing short of chaotic, with riders sliding across the gravel at every corner, flat tires, unplanned dismounts, all set to the melodic tone of gravel bouncing off carbon frames. The early selection points made short work of many a cyclist, as I personally witnessed one rider cartwheeling her way down a descent, and event favorite Quinn Simmons have is day come to an end within the first 2 hours of racing, due to injury. I was fortunate to make it through unscathed.
Over 12 hours, I participated and what I can only describe as an eating and drinking contest, while pedaling my bicycle through the Flint Hills and eventually back to Emporia, mostly in good, or at least like-minded, company. There are 2 rest points on the route, at which Rachel was kind enough to replenish my supplies, as you can never eat or drink too much at Unbound.
There were moments where I felt in love with my bicycle, which quickly turned to moments when I wanted nothing more than to get off my bike and toss it in a cow pasture. Fortunately (or unfortunately), neither of those feelings were permanent.
12 hours and 206 miles later, I arrived to a hero’s welcome on Main Street, Emporia. The streets were packed with people consuming food, and libations, while providing those of us who elected to take on Unbound the energy needed for that last push across the finish line. The atmosphere was electric, and I do not think the spectators were going home short of the 3AM final cutoff.
I have fallen in love with gravel, its sense of community, and thus I look forward to future gravel events. The “Mullet Protocol- Business in the front, Party in the back”, (as coined by Ted & Laura King) adopted by gravel events such as Unbound provides a much-needed inroad into the sport of cycling for people of all walks of life. Perhaps I am a gravel guy now…
Randy Egues finished the day with 206.2 gravel miles under his belt and a 4th place podium amongst professional cyclists. ( Results Below )