What is Unbound, who's racing it and how to watch it

The second round of the Life Time Grand Prix takes places in Emporia, Kansas at the world's biggest gravel race

The leading group in Unbound Gravel 2021
(Image credit: Wahoo/Andy Chastain)

Unbound Gravel, formerly known as the Dirty Kanza, is a mass-start event that takes place in the Tallgrass Prairie and Flint Hills around Emporia, Kansas, in the middle of the United States. With five race distances on offer and thousands of attendees, Unbound has become the world’s marquee gravel event. 

The famous 200-mile course is a true test of endurance, self-sufficiency and equipment. In addition to needing to fuel oneself for 11+ hours of riding, the sharp flint rocks are notorious for slicing tires and dashing podium aspirations.  Along the way, riders also need to content with the undulating terrain, exposed sun-baked roads, headwinds and, if at all wet, tire-sucking mud. 

For those seeking the ultimate challenge, organizers added a 350-mile option in 2018 . The Unbound XL has been won in the past by riders such a Rebecca "the Queen of Pain" Rusch and ulta-endurance star Lael Wilcox and sees riders suffering for 23 or more hours. 

Now in 15th year, the Garmin Unbound Gravel has nearly 4,000 riders registered across five distances — its largest field size yet and a far cry from its humble beginnings of 34 riders in 2006.

Previous winners returning to the 200-mile event include former World Tour road pros like Peter Stetina, Ted King and Ian Boswell, who bested Dutchman Laurens ten Dam on the line in 2021. Fierce competition in this year's race will come from riders like Alexey Vermeulen, Life Time Grand Prix leader Keegan Swenson, Track world champion Ashton Lambie, challenge-seeker Lachlan Morton and many, many more. This year's field may be its most competitive yet so it's truly anyone's race.

On the women's side, previous winners include familiar names such as Amity Rockwell, Alison Tetrick, Lauren de Crescenzo, and retired cyclocrosser Kaitlin Keough. There are cyclocross stars like Sophie de Boer and Rebecca Fahringer; current and retired World Tour roadies like Laurens Stephens, Ruth Winder, Emily Newsom, Emma Grant and Lex Albrecht; world champion TT specialist Amber Neben; and off-road experts like Amity Rockwell, Kae Takeshita and Lae Davison. 

Contributing to the stacked fields of the 200-mile event is the fact that it is the second stop of the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix series, in which a cast of 60 handpicked WorldTour roadies, track world champions and MTB Olympians are competing for a $250,000 prize purse across six gravel and mountain bike races. 

And while the 200-mile course through the Flint Hills is the perhaps the most famous, the 100-miler has grown increasingly competitive over the past few years. News broke over the weekend that three-time former world champion, Peter Sagan, will be lining up alongside his Italian teammate, Daniel Oss. It remains to be seen if Sagan is there to race or simply partake as a publicity stunt for his long-time sponsor, Specialized.

Racing and riding aside, the week of Unbound is filled with parties, tech launches and an industry expo, all bringing some $5 million USD to the small college town. 

The Life Time Grand Prix

The inaugural Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda adventure race series kicks off on Saturday, April 9, in Monterey, California with a cast of 60 hand-selected international elite competitors. 

Over the course of next six months, these riders will travel across the US to contest six gravel and mountain bike events in pursuit of a $250,000 prize purse.

This season’s cast includes WorldTour roadies, gravel pros, mountain bike Olympians, track world champions, a pro triathlete and even, a former elite rower. 

The series’ goal is to increase cycling fandom in the United States, and showcase some of the best and unique off-road events throughout the country. 

With the extreme distances, challenging terrain, high altitudes, and a variety of racing disciplines to master, those who’ll emerge as the winners come October will have to be very well-rounded cyclists indeed.

The contestants

Sixty elite riders were handpicked to contest the series — 30 in the men’s category and 30 in the women’s category.  Riders had to submit an application to be considered for this series, detailing not just their race resume and why they wanted to compete, but also what they’re actively doing to grow cycling in the U.S.

The final selection includes some of the best elite cyclists in the US and beyond, including retired and current WorldTour roadies Lachlan Morton, Laurens ten Dam, Ted King, Logan Owen, Kiel Reijnen, Peter Stetina, Ruth Winder, Emily Joy Newsom and Amber Neben. There are also mountain bike pros like Keegan Swenson, Payson McElveen, Erin Huck and Lea Davison, and a host of gravel experts.

See the full list of athletes, here. 

How to Watch

All the events of the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix Series (opens in new tab) will be broadcasted globally on FloBikes (opens in new tab).

It should be noted, however, that FloBikes does require an annual subscription and that some coverage may be regionally restricted.

Read More

- Don’t miss our interview with former WorldTour pro turned pro adventurer, Laurens ten Dam, who’s the only European contesting the series.

- Canadian pro triathlete, Rach McBride, will see if they, with their Ironman-winning endurance, can give pure bike racers a run for their money.

- Track world champion, Ashton Lambie, is taking a break from velodrome racing to switch his focus to gravel racing, one of his first loves in cycling.

- 'A world away from the Tour de France’ - Pro cyclists are finding solace off-road, but why switch from WorldTour to gravel?

- Gas stations, hallucinations and a good cry in a field: A brutal untold story from Unbound Gravel 2021.

- Alexey Vermeulen: ‘As a privateer I am making more than I did in the WorldTour’. Over six figures!

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