Arduous conditions leave Unbound riders with broken bikes, and countless hours and thousands of dollars wasted. Is Unbound worth it?

‘Amateur riders deserve to have a better experience’ says pro Sofia Gomez Villafañe calling on the organizers for reroutes and more services

Scenes from the 2023 Unbound Gravel
(Image credit: Snowy Mountain Photography)

Unbound Gravel is known for its demanding nature. It's a true test of tenacity, strength and equipment as riders battle challenging weather conditions, rough terrain and a remote locale. No matter what race distance one signs up for, a certain degree of self-sufficiency, bike-fixing-know-how and sense of adventure is required. Organizers even demand that riders in many of the race distances bring or hire a support crew to get them back to Emporia, should something go awry. 

These epic conditions have been building the legend of Unbound for years, and every year the event sells out. In fact, the demand is so high that a random selection process determines who will be allowed to participate in the event as organizers are unable to accommodate everyone. Going into race week, approximately 4,000 riders were registered for the 2023 Garmin Unbound Gravel presented by Craft Sportswear across its five race distances. It was the event's largest field size yet and a far cry from its humble beginnings of just 34 riders in 2006. Many of these riders would never see the finish line, however. 

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Anne-Marije Rook
North American Editor

Cycling Weekly's North American Editor, Anne-Marije Rook is old school. She holds a degree in journalism and started out as a newspaper reporter — in print! She can even be seen bringing a pen and notepad to the press conference.

Originally from The Netherlands, she grew up a bike commuter and didn't find bike racing until her early twenties when living in Seattle, Washington. Strengthened by the many miles spent darting around Seattle's hilly streets on a steel single speed, Rook's progression in the sport was a quick one. As she competed at the elite level, her journalism career followed, and soon she became a full-time cycling journalist. She's now been a cycling journalist for 11 years.