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Unbound Gravel Sets Record Attendance and Pushes Bikes to the Limit

Carolin Schiff of Bremen Germany, wins Unbound 200 with a finishing time of 11:46:39. Schiff crossed the finish line solo, only accompanied by a rainstorm that chased her in for the last 20 miles.
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The 2023 version of Unbound Gravel was one for the history books. The event boasted the most significant field size in its history. Four thousand riders took to the Flint Hills to tackle various course lengths; 25-mile, 50-mile, 100-mile, 200-mile, and 350-mile XL distances. Though the competition is always fierce at Unbound, the most formidable opponent for this year was the mud and lots of it.

Photos: Garmin UNBOUND Gravel presented by Craft Sportswear.

Let There Be Mud

In the flagship 200-miler event, the mud started around mile 11 and continued unrelentingly for several miles. The unrideable section caused riders to run, walk or shuffle — any way to keep momentum. Unfortunately for many — this muddy sector was as far as they would make it, with mechanicals a-plenty. For those that made it through the mud unscathed, the front groups were selective and filled with anxious riders, not letting anyone get up the road.

Carolin Schiff of Bremen Germany, wins Unbound 200 with a finishing time of 11:46:39. Schiff crossed the finish line solo, only accompanied by a rainstorm that chased her in for the last 20 miles.

Elite Women’s 200-Mile Race

In the women’s 200-mile race, Jenna Rinehart opened an early gap of about two minutes. Unbound 2022 winner Sofia Gomez Villafane overtook Rinehart and gained about a minute by mile 40. Around mile 70, Carolin Schiff of Germany caught Villafane with Ruth Winder, Marisa Boaz, Sarah Sturm, and Alexis Skarda in pursuit. Schiff started to find her stride about halfway through, ultimately winning by more than 15 minutes.

Carolin Schiff of Bremen, Germany, wins Unbound 200

“I realized that I could maybe make it,” Schiff said at the winner’s press conference. “My team from Canyon was just pushing me at the aid station. They told me, ‘, Okay, you have a gap, and keep on going,’ and I did.

Keegen Swenson takes the men’s 200-miler win in a sprint finish

Elite Mens 200-Mile Race

The mud took its toll in the men’s 200-mile race, but a group of 10 riders, including many of the race favorites, made a clear break around mile 20. The group included Kiel Reijnen, Keegan Swenson, Howard Grotts, and Russell Finsterwald. Early on, Lachlan Morton and Ian Boswell pushed the pace to establish the gap further, disheartening any would-be chasers.

Near the end of the race, the group was whittled down to seven. As the group approached Commercial Street, the riders began showing their cards. Keegan Swenson started his sprint early, beat out the chasing pack, and one-upped his second-place finish from 2022.

Keegan Swenson of Park City, Utah wins Unbound Gravel, a 200 mile gravel race through the Flint Hills of Kansas, with a finish time of 10:06.4. Swenson finished second here last year in a similar sprint finish, after 200 miles of gravel and mud he claims victory in 2023.

“It’s nice to win this race,” Swenson said at the press conference. “Second was a great result last year, and I was content with it, but to come up that short after almost 10 hours of racing is a bummer to lose it in a sprint.”

Unbound 350-XL women’s champion Kristen Legan celebrates

Dont forget the 350-Mile XL

The 350-mile XL event was a battle of attrition and willingness to survive, with riders spending over 24 hours on the bike. XL racers experienced all the rain, mud, walking, and darkness they could handle. The men’s winner Logan Kasper finished in 22:54:25, and the women’s champion Kristen Legan finished in 26:06:35.

Full results for all categories can be found here.

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Frites and mayo forever
Frites and mayo forever
11 months ago

Love it. One day this could rival Paris-Roubaix in the legendary all-road drop bar race stakes.

Fake Namerton
Fake Namerton
11 months ago

PR is a much more prestigious race. It slots into the classics season where everyone entering is in or around peak form and the level is probably around 4 or 5 levels above pro gravel races. If anything Strade Bianche would be more likely to rival Roubaix.

EMathy
EMathy
11 months ago
Reply to  Fake Namerton

Well, for one, they are completely different races. PR is shorter and has less climbing. The cobbles are brutal (insanely so) but there are paved sections. I love PR. It is hands down my absolute favorite bike race in Europe, the only one I put on my bucket list to attend. PR also has full on teams with support vehicles, on course mechanics, the whole 9 yards. It’s a party along the course for a couple of days beforehand, but nowhere near the start or finish. Keep an eye out for retired Belgians in their little RV’s. They will ply you with beer, jokes and camaraderie!

Unbound is longer, has more climbing, mud, gravel, farm equipment ruts, and much less pavement. No teams, no on course support. You get your food and mechanical help at one of 2 support stations. Other than that you’re on your own. It’s a huge event/party at the start/finish before and the night after. The pro’s can be found hanging out and drinking with literally everyone else in the lead up and the night the finish. There are some random, and hilarious, locals who hang out on the course during the race handing out beers and whisky shots to racers as their annual Unbound tradition. The pros, understandably, don’t stop. Lots of other people do.

In terms of “the level is probably around 4 or 5 levels above pro gravel races” that is also untrue. It sounds good, but that’s not the case. When European based road pros on World Tour teams have attended (Emily Joy-Newsom, for example, at MidSouth and Unbound last year) they weren’t shoe ins for wins. Not at all. Lachlan Morton is a World Tour class racer who is doing these, and he isn’t walking away with them. It’s just a whole different animal.

Fake Namerton
Fake Namerton
11 months ago

I doubt this is going to get through moderation but it’s a real shame the promoters of this race couldn’t use the success to partner with the Kaw nation and retain at least the Kanza name (understandable why they’d remove the word “dirty” even though it is referring to the road surface). Could have raised some money for the tribe and created a very symbiotic relationship between cyclists and the community they ride in which gets overlooked. On top of that unbound is such a corporate meh name.

mud
mud
11 months ago
Reply to  Fake Namerton

They got what they wanted, a complete name change

Fake Namerton
Fake Namerton
11 months ago
Reply to  mud

More like the organizer didn’t want to pay the tribe a royalty and framed it this way.

EMathy
EMathy
11 months ago
Reply to  Fake Namerton

Because…you were there? No? Didn’t think so.

Hamster Wheel
Hamster Wheel
11 months ago

Kinda weird that 200 miles of flat straight road is the biggest race in gravel. Lifetime has its marketing nailed.

Chris
Chris
11 months ago
Reply to  Hamster Wheel

It is neither flat nor straight.

mattydubs
mattydubs
11 months ago
Reply to  Hamster Wheel

What the hell are you talking about? The last time I did it, it was definitely not straight and it was 11,000 feet of climbing.

Dinger
Dinger
11 months ago
Reply to  Hamster Wheel

If it were flat and straight (it isn’t), the surface and weather variability would still make this one of the toughest events you could find. When I race there I found surfaces sufficiently difficult that we had to pedal many of the downhills (which meant the uphills were also much harder) while navigating the ruts left by the rancher’s trucks and trailers, which is pretty hard when you’re cross-eyed 80 miles in on a 90+ degree day.

Jay Ess
Jay Ess
11 months ago

This is going through a boom just like Leadville did. This is the latest bucket list event for the so inclined, in 5 years it’ll be back page news just like Leadville.

Dinger
Dinger
11 months ago
Reply to  Jay Ess

That ship has already sailed. Leadville at its peak was not nearly as big as this race is. 6 years ago Unbound was selling out of entries in 10 minutes and it’s growing as fast as the organizers and the town+surrounding area can manage.

David Chomowicz
David Chomowicz
11 months ago
Reply to  Jay Ess

Yes and no having done Leadville (x4) and DK/UG (x7) both pre Lifetime . Both went from the cool garage band to big time to arena rock. Both great in their own way.

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