Heading to Emporia and nervous about your very first Unbound gravel an event? You’re not alone!
Whether you’re doing the 50 mile or the 350 mile, Unbound is a test of endurance, range and gear. In addition to having to refuel for very long hours in the saddle, the sharp flint boulders are known to slice tires and rush to the podium, or even finish, aspirations. Along the way, riders also have to deal with hilly terrain, sun-exposed roads, headwinds, and possibly tire-sucking mud.
I’m going to Kansas myself for the very first time, so I reached out to gravel pros with Unbound Gravel experience for advice on tires, nutrition, and mindset.
Best gravel tires for Unbound: “Puncture protection trumps rolling resistance”
“For an event like Unbound 200, there’s minimal pavement and every opportunity for potentially flat. These flint stones like to eat tires for breakfast, but there are some amazing tire options out there that don’t sacrifice rolling resistance for flat-protection,” said Alison Tetrick, former Gravel World Champion and 2017 Unbound winner. Weekly cycling.
“I recommend bringing a few different tire options for pending inclement weather. There can be mud and you want to be prepared for peanut butter mud mixed with flint stones. I suggest a wider tire with a very good sidewall.
Tetrick trusts Specialized Pathfinder 42mm tires at 38-40 PSI.
“My favorite tire for racing is the 42mm Pathfinder, which has a 120 TPI carcass. The sidewalls can handle sharp rocks and it has a smooth tread in the middle that allows me to roll with very little rolling resistance. is a fast tire that also offers traction to send it. But let’s be honest, I don’t send it,” commented Tetrick,
Former World Tour roadie and Last yearWinner of the Unbound 200, Ian Boswell, also relies on the 42mm Pathfinder, saying, “It performed well in every race I did last year, including Unbound. In fact, 3/5 of the best men in the 200 mile event were on this tire.
Boswell will operate at 40-45 PSI, depending on the day’s conditions.
Winner of the Belgian Waffle Ride Alexei Vermeulen and mountain bike Olympian Lea Davison prefer the Kenda Flintridge, a tire specifically designed to protect against local jagged rocks. Like the Pathfinder, the Flintridge features a slick center tread pattern for speed with shoulder knobs for grip.
“Fairly wide semi-slicks with sidewall protection is my advice,” said Vermeulen, who had terrible luck in the 2021 race when he flattened out four times throughout the race, ruining his chances. to compete at the front.
“I would say puncture protection trumps rolling resistance,” he added. “Having at least a 40mm tire will help a lot with pinch flattening and a comfortable ride. the back.
Water and nutrition: “Eat and drink early and often.”
Although there are refueling stations along the way, being self-sufficient is part of the rules. This means carrying your own water and food. And on a 100 or 200 mile day, you’ll want to carry a lot.
“How much water do I need?” A LOT,” Vemeulen said. “Honestly, you can’t carry enough to get through the race without refueling in my opinion. I typically fill my bottles with a high carb mix and then just carry plain water in a Hydrapak. Last year at Unbound I drank 2800 calories, ate another 700 ish and drank over 7 liters of plain water for the 200.”
Vermeulen strongly encouraged all riders, even those chasing podiums, to stop at the aid stations.
“Stop at the aid stations. Even the pros stop for a second. It’s worth going through the race feeling strong. Whatever you do, you won’t be able to fully replenish what you burn, so might as well give your body the maximum! Make a plan and stick to it,” said the Lifetime Grand Prix Series “I’m going to drink the majority of my calories and eat a mix of homemade rice cakes and chews.”
In order to carry all the water and food she will consume, Tetrick said she will start by carrying two bottles of water on her bike and an additional 50 ounces of water in a hydration vest.
“I get a new Camelbak Chase vest and bottles at the 2 aid stations from my support team. It can be very hot and humid there, and there are a few neutral stops to fill up on water,” she said.
“I highly recommend taking the time to make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day and trying to eat and drink early and often.”
Boswell’s plan is to consume 1-1.5 liters of water per hour. To do this, he will carry two large bottles on his bike and a Thule Vital 3 hydration pack, which holds an additional 1.75 liters.
“Carrying that extra weight on your body weighs you down so finding a comfortable bag is very important, the lower the better. It’s also the easiest way to make your pit station stops quickly for a refueling or exchange of bags,” he said.
Suspension, Aero Bars, Double Tape?
Hour after hour, a rough and bumpy road can take its toll on the body. As such, many will resort to suspension, double tape or even aerobars for a bit of comfort. But it’s not for everyone.
“No to aerobars. Just no,” Tetrick said definitively.
“Aero Bars are an absolute no,” Boswell agreed. “I don’t think aero bars have a place in a mass start event for safety reasons.”
But both being specialist athletes, Tetrick and Boswell will have suspension built into their Diverge gravel bikes.
“I ride a Specialized Diverge, which has the Future Shock 2.0 in the helmet. This bump-absorbing mechanism provides 20mm of travel, which is so beneficial when the day gets longer and fatigue sets in,” explained tetrick.
“I love this technology because it doesn’t sacrifice performance or handling on the bike, but gives me the confidence and comfort to ride as smoothly as possible throughout the day.”
Boswell also appreciates that extra 20mm of cushion, saying, “In most events you can get by without [suspension]but 200 miles of the Flint Hills will make you appreciate that little extra cushion.”
Vermeulen, a former WorldTour racer turned six-figure gravel privateer, says he likes to keep things minimal. No suspension, no aerobars. However, he will choose a comfort handlebar tape.
“I will use a lot of the ESI tape which is silicone and has great damping characteristics,” he said.
The body: control your controllables
We are only a few days away from the event, so should we reduce one? Go for a shakedown ride? Stretch, rest, eat differently, etc?
Relax! The last thing you want to do is stress yourself out.
“Control your controllable elements. You have worked hard and done your best to prepare for this big day. Personally, I don’t taper off before the race, but I try to keep doing everything to make sure I’m as prepared as possible,” said Tetrick, which mainly means staying hydrated. A shakedown lap is commonplace for most racers, and Tetrick invites everyone to come join her, Chamois Butt’r and GU Energy Labs for a shakedown lap on Friday.
Boswell and Vermeulen take their shakedown races to the next level.
“Last year I did a 100 mile race on the Wednesday before Unbound, it worked for me but it’s very individual to each person, their preparation and how they feel heading into the event “Boswell said.
“I’m a bit weird, I like to be a bit tired before races,” Vermeulen revealed. “I feel better and I run better than if I took things very easy before the event. For example, before the first ever Grand Prix, Fuego 80k, I ran a 3.5 hour road race the night before…and I loved it!
Both men like to stretch a little before the event, even when they wake up pretty damn early.
“A fast-down dog is always a good way to check how your body is feeling and get some blood flowing,” Boswell said.
The state of mind: you have understood it!
It’s easy to stress about all the gear, traveling to such a remote location, and any flats or mechanics one might encounter. How do you keep calm and just enjoy the Unbound Weekend?
“It’s a big deal,” Boswell said. “Don’t change the way you do things just because it’s the big show. The work and practice you did in the week or month before Unbound will guide you well. Do what you know and have practiced.”
“My final piece of advice, Unbound is really a race against yourself. Yes, there are thousands of other people around you, don’t worry. Focus on your day, your diet and your gear. If you can take care of yourself, you are 95% of the way to a great day!”
Tetrick echoed Boswell’s sentiments, stating that she too is focused on herself.
“I just want to have fun, to challenge myself in a sport that has made me a better person. So if I’m not having fun, I have to find a way to change that,” she said. .
“Bad luck happens. All sorts of things can happen there. I use Selene Yeager’s mantra, which is ‘progress forward, take care of yourself’. If you move forward, which might even work with a destroyed tire or a cramp in the quadriceps, you can remind yourself that you are always moving forward.”
“And then you can take care of yourself by speaking positively, eating and drinking, or just realizing how lucky you are to be there on your bike all day. You signed up. You agreed the challenge, and how amazing. You have that.