Garmin 2023 Unbound Gravel completed!
Wednesday 7th Jun
This was possibly the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike….
But, I made it! An epic journey and adventure has come to a close: I finished the 100miles Unbound Gravel race in Kansas in 6hrs and 44 minutes.
Epic it was: I slept in a tent with a deflating air mattress on a completely drenched field on the local camp ground in Emporia for 4 nights, enduring heavy thunderstorms every single day, I had to fetch my food from the famous fast-food chains since there was basically nothing else around (more generally, there is not much there in Kansas tbh :-)), air horns of the passing trains went into the ‘little hours’ of the night in such a way that you would wake up (if I was able to sleep at all due to the deflating mattress…), and above all, I was pretty nervous for the ride on Saturday!
That being said, I had so much fun! Aside the actual riding, I engaged in some heavy networking - not only on the camp site (kudos to Brandon from Texas for abundantly stocking me with food and drinks, and for using his Joe the Blower pump :-), but notably during the Bike Expo in Emporia in the days before the race. I met so many ‘pro-riders’, famous YouTubers, and other happy people. Laurens ten Dam, The Vegan Cyclist, Pete Stetina, Thomas Dekker, Ben Delaney, Lochlon Morton, just to new a few. And obviously all the nice people of Emporia and the Unbound organization: big kudos to you all! You were so warm and welcoming: truly amazing.
In terms of the race: all went well, until it went to hell.
I was doing just fine until we hit the famous mud-fest section at mile 11 (or 10) which brought all of us to a hard stop. Although I initially managed to continue riding (through the grass on the side) and encouraged the riders in front of me to continue and not stop (read: shout), we all came to a halt at some point. At that moment I believe I was well within the first 20 riders of the 100 miles race and I overtook many of the good riders such as Tiffany Cromwell (pro-rider for SRAM/Canyon) and Ben Delaney just to name a few - on Ben’s YouTube post you see me passing him at 14:57 of the clip :-)).
Unfortunately, it didn't stay like that. Soon the mud clocked my entire bike and shoes, and all I could do was walk, with the bike on the shoulders as you were unable to even push your bike. The wheels simply wouldn’t turn. I learned that the famous wooden paint sticks are a useful tool to have on you when doing a gravel race. I now know. I learned it the hard way.
Due to the overall eagerness to get on the bike as quickly as possible, I started riding well before this was doable or possible and in that process, I ruined my rear derailleur and chain. The chain came off 5 times, completely slammed between the frame and the chain ring, and I barely managed every time to get the chain back up. The bigger issue was the derailleur: it came loose at some point, which also explained why the chain came off, as the tension was completely gone.
I sincerely dont know how I did it, but I managed to get all things to work again after a 10 min mechanical pit-stop on the side of the road with all riders passing me again. Did I already mention that by that time the temperature was well above 30 degrees in the blistering sun, making me sweat like a good ol pig?
The build-up of angry and frustrated testosterone made that the next hour I was flying though! I believe I averaged a good 35kms or so on that next part, until I realized I couldn’t continue like that if I were to finish at all, and to bring the body and bike home in one piece. So I backed down a bit, and tried to find a good group to ride with. However, finding such a group was hard and in fact, I didnt manage to find one. The rest of the day I essentially rode alone, which was frustrating at times when all you can see are the endless roads and are suffering in the (strong) headwinds. I forced myself to have happy thoughts! Thinking about Pedal to Empower helped as well!
In the end, I crossed the finish line as 6th in my age group, and 39th overall. In the intermediate points, you can see that I went from 151 after the mud-fest, to 73th at mile 40, to 54th at mile 64 and then 39th at the finish. As we say in Dutch: a proper inhaalrace.
I am left to wonder: “what if” I managed to stay with the front group after the mud-section……. ? :-)
Ah well, for a first timer, it was great, and I am really happy with the end result. My legs felt (and still feel) fine, it just the rest of the body that hurts. I have 2 bad-ass blisters on my feet due to mud-walking. Little vulcano’s on each foot, but I will survive. The (lower)back pain is also gone. What remains is happy thoughts.
I want to do it again…..
PS: a big shout-out and thank you to my sponsors! We managed to raise nearly $900 in total (=EUR 815), which very concretely means we can donate 5 Buffalo Bikes to World Bicycle Relief/Pedal to Empower to provide to women and girls in need. Bravo!