Please note: This blog post has been updated to reflect this event’s current name.
Woah! The Unbound Gravel 200! Yes, I was very impressed all the way around with this event.
Throughout my career of racing bikes, I have participated in many long distance events. In addition to participating for the varied course venues, I also participate for the vibe of the events that make me and the other participants so darn happy! Race directors must pay attention not only to the racers and all the race logistics, but also to the community, as well as volunteers, supporting groups, and sponsors.
The Unbound Gravel 200 race directors succeeded at this, and to me, this demonstrates an event built on passion and not on business.
While driving into Emporia, Kansas after a 1100-mile drive from Victor, Idaho, the first thing my wife Tracey and I see are signs on businesses saying "Welcome Unbound Gravel Riders." Very welcoming. As usual, we did not build any extra time onto our “race-cation”, so we immediately had to head to registration at the Grand Theater in the center of town.
People milling about on bikes and walking around with schwag bags easily led us to the building where everything was taking place. We signed waivers, picked up our race numbers and cues, and picked up our schwag bags. All the volunteers were very friendly and helpful with our little pre-race questions. It was my first time at the event so I had a few. It was a flawless registration process.
I cannot forget to mention that at registration I received a JayP trading card. It seems as if each year they choose a handful of racers for various reasons, produce these trading cards, and distribute them throughout town. Every racer also gets a full set. I was told I was chosen for being "suspicious contender". It is a nice touch and I was honored to have a card of my own.
As a Salsa team member, Tracey and I had access to host housing from a local by the name of Randy, who left his cabin to us just outside of town. It was the perfect place to sprawl out and get ready for the race and to crash afterward. Randy did not even stay there so I did not get to meet him but I did talk with him a few times on the phone and he was so very friendly. Thanks Randy! You have a very special place out there!
Race start was at 6 AM. Downtown Emporia was jumping with 1000 riders and who knows how many other officials and spectators. It was quite impressive at that time of the morning. Sometimes I feel a little shy on lining up on the front at races, but I didn’t at this event. There were some welcoming familiar faces so I felt okay. The start gun went off and the lead out went very smoothly. Once we hit dirt, it was pretty much game on!
Pulling in and out of three different aid stations that day also showed some great organization.
As someone who remains fairly focused on the task at hand, I concentrate on exactly the next thing, and everything around me remains a blur no matter how chaotic. With that in mind, it was very easy to find the check-in where you needed to get your number scanned to receive your next 50-mile map. Of course, my lady was hovering right there and I would pick up her presents while being guided to the van. Tracey is by far my best and favorite support person ever: it remained flawless…hardly a word spoken but yet all the work being done in less then 30 seconds to get me back on course.
Other than the setting, all three checkpoints went the same: perfect, except for that Coke I realized I wanted, miles down the road after I left the last checkpoint.
The course: it was also impressive. 203 miles with about 12,000' of climbing (that I have no idea where it came from) on some of the dicey-est unforgiving gravel I have ever ridden. The open rolling views were also amazing. Lush green fields, as well as tundra looking brown ones, complete with running streams in the lowlands, and occasionally, some trees. I personally was never bored of the terrain, but with some Tour Divide days behind me, it had great similarities.
Did I say anything about the wind yet? It was WINDY. A consistent, constant 25 mph headwind/crosswind was at us all day.
After I flatted at mile 70, I pretty much rode by myself all day. Oh, and then there were the course markings. The website clearly states it will not be marked and you must use the cues. That is what I expected but in actuality almost all the turns were marked. I said almost and I was glad I paid attention and used my map! I was sort of surprised how many others did not...
Arriving back into downtown Emporia after a day in the saddle you could feel the energy hopping. The whole street was lined with spectators. There were a lot of people and I finally saw the finish banner, giving me great chills and a big smile, not only for finishing, but because there was a street party going on! Sick! I like to party!
Also, at the finish line, the organizers were there shaking each and every finisher’s hand. I also received a special print for finishing before sunset which was a nice touch.
I finished at 6:30 PM and mingled about the Salsa tent, congratulated other riders as they crossed the finish line, and then grazed through the food vendors booths lining the streets. I even got a shower in the locker rooms at the theater across the street.
Before you know it reality hit and we were at the breakfast feed awards ceremony the following morning. Having breakfast, chatting with Jim, the head organizer, and his partners was a great opportunity to get to know these folks, and showed me they really are about giving opportunities and sharing this event with everyone.
In the end Tracey and I drove away stating how friendly everyone was and appreciating all the “thank you’s” we received from the community for coming to Emporia.
Impressed I was.
Oh, and yeah, I had a good race staying very consistent the whole time and turning an unexpected second-place overall.
Although we drove 2200 miles total, directly there, raced, and directly home, it was all very worth it. Kudos Unbound Gravel! I hope to be back! If you are into long, endurance type rides, I highly recommend the Unbound Gravel 200. It won't disappoint!
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"I do not train,” Jay Petervary says. “I ride my bike a lot because I love to!" Jay first discovered cycling post-college, but was immediately prepping for a 500km multi-sport event. He’s logged many races in 18 years, everything from cross-country mountain bike to a cross-the-country time trial. Nowadays he rides for adventure, the longer the better.