Where to start. If you’re reading this, then you’re likely a big enough fan of the sport that you’ve seen how challenging Unbound was this year. The mud, the intense heat and thunderstorms that followed… it was carnage for a lot of people. I’m not going to share a recap (I’ve already waxed poetic on how hard it was for me, blah blah blah, on social media), but I’ll share a few takeaways and what the prep and equipment looked like. Hope this post adds to your day :).
First, the bike:
I waffled between wanting to ride my suspended Hakka (the purple bike with the baby fox fork) and my rigid bike (the cream hakka with, well, a rigid fork). In the end, I decided that there weren’t enough rough sections to warrant the suspension and opted for my rigid bike. In the end, I think I made the right choice for this specific rendition of Unbound.
I opted for a Dura-ace crankset, which allows for larger gears than the GRX. The course is relatively flat, and I knew I would be near the bottom of the cassette for a lot of the day. Again, I think I made the right choice here. A lot of people were running single rings, but the double was perfect for me.
I agonized over tire choice. I couldn’t decide between Refuses (essentially a slick tire) or Ramblers (knobbies), but the epic rain the afternoon before the race made up my mind for me. Ramblers it was! I chose to run 40c Maxxis Ramblers in silk shield at 27 and 28 psi front/rear. I did have one flat, but it was certainly rider error (I sent a tech section to bridge a gap – which worked, until it didn’t, haha). At the time I wasn’t able to find the hole, so I hit it with a CO2 and it held. Then I forgot about it and rode the next 160miles without changing the tire (oops). Later on in the evening, I found an inch-long sidewall slice. If I hadn’t been riding such a durable, flat-resistant tire, I’m pretty confident this slice would have gone all the way through the casing and would have required a boot. Very thankful to have been on the rubber I was. I was also running Tannus Armour inserts and using Race Day Stan’s sealant. The combo of all three (silk shield, race day sealant, and inserts) likely saved my race.
Honestly, I’m super impressed with how my bike handled the mud and gnarly terrain/weather. Sure, the gears were unhappy at times, and my tires completely packed up and stopped spinning, etc., but I didn’t suffer any serious mechanicals and my bike held up through all of my poor decisions out there. Very thankful for that!
I’m so grateful to Drew and Lespy, and all the team sponsors, who helped me get through that day. You guys are the motivation for me making it to that line. Especially knowing that Lespy wasn’t able to finish despite trying every mechanical fix in the book… I knew it was up to me to make their efforts worth it. Thank you guys for everything.
Second, some takeaways:
The separated pro women’s start was essential. I’m so glad we got to have that. The mud pit at mile 10 meant that we were impeded by a lot of traffic ahead of us, but for the most part, I think it was a massive leap forward in safety and opportunity to give us our own start.
Yes, mud is part of off-road riding. I am laughing at the Instagram people telling me to go back to my Peloton (LOL) because I dared voice an opinion about the Disaster Zone. I personally was annoyed at the mud because, well, who likes to have sludge and grime in every nook and cranny for 12 hours? But it did not negatively impact my race. It likely benefitted my result, to be blunt. However, I don’t think it was good course design to have 5 miles of glue-like mud starting at mile 10. Yes, gravel is about epicness, but it’s about organic epicness, not orchestrated epicness. If I were planning a sick gravel day, I wouldn’t intentionally include a KNOWN disaster zone before I set out. But an unexpected one, or one created by weather DURING the event, that was encountered along the way? Sign me up! I genuinely feel for all the people out there who weren’t able to finish or who suffered destroyed equipment so early in the event. Just my two cents. Agree or disagree, but don’t tell me I’m soft because I’ll have to go out and prove you wrong :).
99% of people out there riding/racing are amazing. So kind, so encouraging, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie. I am SO grateful to the people I got to ride with – who literally kept me going when I was pretty sure I was going to keel over. You all rock.
I was not in the race for the win, and I’m honestly dissatisfied with my performance, but I simply didn’t bring the game I needed to have to race with the very front. Performing and peaking at Unbound is an enormous feat, and it’s one I wasn’t able to execute on. Hats off to the ladies that did. Talk about impressive!
Third, the prep:
Last year, my prep consisted of an extremely concentrated high-volume block that ended with Unbound. Because of the race schedule we’d planned, our only option was to get our legs under us and roll “training camp” legs. This year was different. Unbound was the final weekend of a three-week racing block that started in Belgium for an MTB stage race and ended here in Emporia.
Before this race block, I hit 2.5weeks of training really hard, and then had about 5 days to rest and absorb before the stage race. 4 days of intense racing in Belgium went very well – I felt the strongest I had yet this year. But then on the way home, I ended up with some gnarly food poisoning and spent a few days puking up my guts. It was looking really dicey that I would be able to race BWR Vancouver Island, as I still hadn’t had a real meal until Friday, but I managed to eat a bit and decided to line up. I have no clue how BWR went as well as it did, given the circumstances. The body is a mystery. 7hr39min of racing, and the strongest physical performance I’ve had in ages. I felt amazing, which is so confusing to me.
Then, ‘twas Unbound week. I don’t think I was able to fully recover from the 220km BWR in the short time frame (6 days in between races), but I gave it my best crack. Long story short... struggle bus from start to finish, but I finished. That was all I could ask of myself on the day.
All that to say, my prep was both good and bad. I may have pushed it one week too far with the racing, given the volume of racing hours in these three weeks, but sometimes you have to roll the dice to figure out what works. 7th on the day, but honestly who cares?? Unbound remains, for me, a monumental spectre on the calendar and I think it’s a triumph for anyone to line up there in the first place, whether you finish or not.
What’s next? Well, I might start updating the blog more frequently again (we’ll see, I do a lot of writing for school these days). One week at my parents’ place, one week at my own home, and then I’ll be off to Truckee for some altitude. I’m racing Tahoe Truckee Gravel the first weekend in July, and I am honestly stoked on that one. It will be a grand time, and the perfect tune up before Crusher in the Tushar. See you there!