Lauren De Crescenzo to Laurens ten Dam: Five riders to watch at Unbound Gravel

Who you should look out for at this weekend's gravel extravaganza

Scenes from the 2022 Unbound 200
(Image credit: Life Time)

Over its gritty 17-year existence Unbound Gravel has become one of the premier events in the sport, and will see 4,000 riders lining up in Emporia, Kansas, USA across five distances from 25 to 352 miles this weekend.

It is also the second event in the Lifetime Grand Prix series, which includes the Sea Otter Classic, the Leadville 100 and Big Sugar gravel, among others.

The 200-mile headline event features some interesting names, including a number of former WorldTour pros and even a former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer in the form of Belgian Jan Bakelandts.

Here's our pick of five riders to watch this weekend.

IVAR SLIK (WILIER TRIESTINA)

Dutchman Ivar Slik wins Unbound

(Image credit: Life Time)

Last year's winner in the 200-mile headline event returns for another crack of the whip in 2023. The 30-year-old Dutchman became the first non-US winner when he sprinted to victory from a four-up breakaway at the end of a very, very muddy event. Slik spent 10 years riding on the road at Conti and ProConti level, retiring last year to concentrate on gravel. As well as Unbound, 2022 saw him take victory in the 200km Traka Gravel Girona.

LAURENS TEN DAM

Laurens ten Dam

(Image credit: LSRF)

Since hanging up his road wheels at the end of 2019, the Dutchman has well and truly immersed himself in the gravel scene, so much so that he even has his own event, the LTD Gravel Raid in Germany. Last year he was fourth at Unbound 200, the tail-ender in the front group led in by Ivar Slik. "I feel ready… let's rock n roll," he wrote on social media. Ten Dam enjoyed a long pro career on the road, beginning with Rabobank Conti team in 2002 and finishing at the end of 2019 when he left CCC.

CONOR DUNNE

At the end of 2019 and facing 2020 without a contract, Irishman Dunne said he would be 'hanging up my race wheels for good' and exploring new avenues. Since then he's spent time with family and become a presenter of cycling films for GCN, but now he has found a new string to add to his bow in the form of gravel challenges. 

A recent 280km Double Ridgeway effort in southern England has given him the taste, he says. Look out for him on the start line at Unbound next. "I've been wanting to give this a crack for such a long time," he wrote on Instagram. He will undoubtedly be filming for GCN too...

SOFIA GOMEZ VILLAFANE (SPECIALIZED)

Sofia Gomez Villafañe after winning Unbound 200

(Image credit: Life Time)

Last year's Argentinian women's winner has been enjoying a reduced early-season calendar this year, which she says enables her to put full focus on each of the races she rides. 

So far, she has already won at the Arizona Belgian Waffle Ride in March, the Whiskey 50 off-road event, also in AZ, USA, and the Sea Otter Fuego XL 100km event. It all adds up to a rider in-form, and her rivals will be eyeing her closely at this year's Unbound.

LAUREN DE CRESCENZO (CINCH RACING)

SBT GRVL 2022

(Image credit: Linda Guerrette)

Lauren De Crescenzo knows what it's like to win Unbound, which is exactly what she did in 2021. Impressively, she followed that up with second place last year behind Villafane, and will be back for more in 2023. 

Like Villafane, she is riding the Lifetime Grand Prix this year, and was 24th in the first round, the Sea Otter, which Villafane won. De Crescenzo has come on quite the journey, having suffered a traumatic brain injury in a freak training crash as a neo-pro in 2016. Since then she has won the Tour of the Gila (2022) and will be gunning for victory at Unbound too.

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