The prestige of an Unbound Gravel 200 win is drawing an ever-growing field to the start line in Emporia, Kansas, with an influx of riders from around the world and varying disciplines. What used to be a US-centric off-road contest is now a glaring global spotlight for the pinnacle of the discipline.
The 200-mile (322km) race, which first ran in 2006, crowned its first international victors in 2022 with Dutch rider Ivar Slik and Argentina-born Sofía Gómez Villafañe making the leap to the top step. It has also been clear from the strength of the international riders coming in early to fine tune setups in North America, such as Gravel Locos, Stetina’s Paydirt, BWR Vancouver Island, Iron Horse Bicycle Classic and other events, that the local players are going to have a battle on their hands to wrest the winners’ belt buckles and titles of King and Queen of Unbound back onto home soil.
There is a long and strong list of US gravel ‘ninjas’ who are expected to contend for victories, but there is also an influx of riders who have recent success in the new UCI Gravel World Series or staked their claim in one of the growing array of off-road races in Europe, Australia or South Africa. A few WorldTour roadies, men and women, have also been drawn to Kansas to try their hand at a race which has played such a crucial early role in the development of the sport.
Narrowing down the contenders is never an easy […]