From 25 sub-10 hour finishes to epic mud, the 2022 edition of Unbound Gravel was one for the history books. VeloNews photographers were on the ground chasing all 200 miles of action in Kansas.
Unbound Gravel has grown in depth and scope since the first edition in 2006. This year, 1,200 riders participated in the 200-mile race, with another 2,800 riders spread across junior, 25, 50, 100, and 350-mile distances.
The start of Unbound is fast and chaotic, with top riders vying for position. With the depth of the field, more riders than ever jockey to stay in front and crashes are common.
At mile 28, Keegan Swenson led the lead group. The 28-year-old marathon mountain biker was a favorite for the win.
Dutch rider Ivar Slik, participating in his first Unbound, said that even though the race was his main goal this year, he knew anything could happen come race day.
“So much can happen,” he said. “You need a bit of luck, but I was in top shape and I did everything to be in top condition. It’s the best gravel event in the world. It’s fantastic. In the beginning we were part of a big group because it’s part of the Life Time series and the level is high. We had 150 in the peloton but people were getting tired with the hills.”
Boswell, Unbound’s 2021 champion, was in the mix throughout the entire day. Although the ex-WorldTour pro is a contender at every race he enters, the 31-year-old prefers to focus on the experience of racing versus the glory of winning.
Heather Jackson was in second place through the first checkpoint at mile 78. Lauren De Crescenzo eventually caught up to the pro triathlete, nudging her into third, but a crash into a mud pit left her with a broken wheel.
Jackson finished 26th.
Laurens ten Dam, who was second to Ian Boswell last year, attacked with around 200km still to go and built up a solid three minute lead at one point. He was later caught by a chase group that included Boswell, Keegan Swenson and eventual winner Slik and then dropped almost immediately.
Ten Dam battled back from a near three minute deficit to regain contact with the leaders in the closing few miles. The 41-year-old even managed a couple of late digs before the inevitable sprint took place.
A select group including Slik, Rob Britton, Adam Roberge, Pete Stetina, Payson McElveen, Alex Howes, and Ryan Standish approaches the first checkpoint.
Sofia Gomez Villafañe worked with small groups of men throughout the day. The Specialized rider finished nine minutes ahead of 2021 champion Lauren De Crescenzo.
Alex Howes at mile 113.
Howes’s EF Education-EasyPost teammate Lachlan Morton had to abandon after a crash ripped the Di2 junction box from his bike, turning it into a single speed.
Lachlan Morton had hoped to contest the win, but his time at the front ended early in the day after a crash left his bike unable to shift.
A large chase group remained intact deep into the race as different riders tried their luck with attacks.
Swenson, Stetina, Boswell, Vermeulen, and Slik after the mud.
Slik off the front in the final 25 miles. An elite group would come back together for a bunch sprint.
Slik had the legs to outsprint Swenson, and Boswell. The Dutchman’s win wrapped up a three-race US campaign that included Gravel Locos and Rule of Three.
Villafañe finished first among the women in a time of 10:27:41.
“I wanted to prove a point that mountain bikers can go long,” Villafañe told VeloNews at the finish line. “I think I also wanted to prove a point to myself that yeah, I am a freaking good bike racer. Throw me into the Cape Epic, the biggest mountain biking stage race in the world. Throw me into Unbound Gravel, the biggest gravel race in the world. I can win it, and this is helping me dig into my confidence.”
Villafeñe took a moment to remove her mud splattered sunglasses in the middle of her Unbound Gravel 200 victory celebration.