Olympic champions are just like us, it turns out. They, too, enter into race lotteries, hoping their names will be drawn.
In any case, that is what happened to Belgian Greg van Avermaet, whose lucky number was drawn in the Unbound Gravel lottery late last month. The retired pro, an Olympic gold medalist and winner of the Paris-Roubaix, will be tackling the infamous Flint Hills gravel in the 200-mile race this June.
After 17 seasons at the top, Van Avermaet retired from the WorldTour peloton at the end of 2023 as a legend. Never far from the pointy end of races, Van Avermaet enjoyed a fruitful career with wins at some of the biggest Spring Classics, including Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and, of course, the prestigious Paris-Roubaix in 2017 when he entered the velodrome part of a group of five riders and came out on top.
Further career highlights include Olympic gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, winning Tirreno-Adriatico, the GC at the Belgium Tour, and clinching two stages of the Tour de France (where he also racked up a total of 11 days in the yellow jersey).
The 38-year-old's gravel career is still young but he's off to a good start. The Belgian finished fourth overall at the first official UCI Gravel World Championships and netted the win at the Spanish gravel triathlon, SGRAIL 100.
In the past few years, Unbound has seen an increasing amount of non-American riders making the trek to the middle of America to see what all the fuss is about, and competition is fiercer than ever before.
In 2022, Dutchman Ivar Slik became the first non-American to win Unbound 200 for the men as part of a Dutch contingent of racers led by Laurens ten Dam. A year later, Carolin Schiff from Germany became the first non-American winner of the women's 200-mile race.
These days, the start line is filled with former WorldTour roadies, mountain bike Olympians, former professional rowers and triathletes. While some past participants of note, including Peter Sagan and then-teammate Daniel Oss, ride Unbound purely for the atmosphere and fun of it, it sounds like Van Avermaet means business. And given his cobblestone pedigree, it'll be interesting to see how he stacks up against the gravel pros.
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