Curve ambassador Kevin White was one of the thousands lining up to take on the recent Unbound Gravel event, in Emporia, Kansas.
Since its beginning in 2006, with 36 riders, it now attracts over 4,000 riders annually. Riders can choose between the 100, 200 or the XL 350-mile event. The racing is challenging, fast and dirty as riders take on the long straight gravel roads through the endless countryside and forever horizons that are Kansas. Kevin raced the 100-mile event alongside 1,450 other riders in very challenging weather conditions.
Kevin took 'his' Kevin along for the ride and shared some thoughts from the day, including his bike prep and pack.
Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas, has something for everyone. It’s a great event to challenge yourself with nearly 4000 diverse riders worldwide. Each year, the first weekend of June is filled with six events (Junior, 25, 50, 100, and 200 miles) and the XL (350 miles). After being inspired by many riders across the Curve Cycling community, I chose the 100-mile event to challenge my endurance and off-road bike handling while maintaining a higher tempo across 100 miles. This event did not disappoint, and I hope my experience helps others get out and try a gravel event near you!
Going into Unbound, I was excited to learn new skills and have time with many different riders while being as prepared as possible. As I lined up that morning, I was utterly taken away by the nearly 1100 riders in one event from all walks of life at the start line, where you could feel the energy and passion for two wheels from everyone. I expected the start to be fast, criterium fast, and I had been training to constantly surge to find a group as things settled, knowing that it may not settle until after 20 miles or more. The reality was somewhere in between. The front group kept a steady tempo, but the most important thing was to keep an eye on turns and stay wide, with early butterfly crashes in each corner. The first 20 miles also challenged my bike handling, as the only way to position yourself was on the outside, where the gravel was loose, and you could hit tractor tire tracks or washboards. I was fortunate to stay safe for the first 20 miles as the groups got smaller, and steep water features would continually cause smaller packs to form before the water oasis after mile 40.
As I approached the watering oasis, I had to decide whether to stop or not. In my planning, I carried as much water and fuel as possible, and I had 3.5 litres on the bike (two 750ml bottles and a 2-litre hydration pack). The weather was somewhat unpredictable for rain, but the temperatures were luckily staying low. This helped me make the quick decision not to stop and carry on but alone. At this point, I wasn’t expecting to be on my own, but I felt confident in my navigation on the sparsely marked course, and I knew above all, ride within yourself, staying at a high sustainable tempo. On that day, it was the right decision not to stop and keep going as it allowed me to focus on the terrain ahead, navigating larger water features and steep climbs in small groups. As I approached the steepest climb, the “Judge”, I did lose traction and had to dismount, which certainly can bring your spirits down. However, as I was returning to the saddle, I heard a “Ciao”, and I replied “Mamma mia!” as I saw Daniel Oss enjoying my response with Peter Sagan next to him. This lifted my spirits as I joined the group, and we continued to the Madison checkpoint. Ultimately this is what makes gravel events so special, and Unbound does a great job at having riders from everywhere working together and encouraging each other along the way. It’s certainly a moment I won’t forget, and in the miles ahead, riders would continue to lift each other’s spirits and carry onward.
For me, the miles heading to the Madison checkpoint were undoubtedly the hardest to navigate as we continued to descend with undulating rolling terrain. The Curve G4Ts held firm, and I was happy to maximise tire width at 42mm wide, inflated to 27 psi with foam inserts and loads of sealant! You found yourself hitting anything from full-size bricks, which caused a rider behind me to state, “I just saw my life flash before my eyes”, to wood planks and massive, sharp flint rocks. I would later find loads of sealant covering my rims but was fortunate to carry on with no mechanicals. I attribute that to luck, the low pressure, descending quickly but with care, and constantly focusing on keeping the upper body loose to absorb the terrain as much as possible and stay upright.
The only checkpoint for the 100-mile race was the Madison checkpoint just before mile 70, where you could meet a support team with any supplies you provided them the day before. I opted to pre-mix a second 2-litre hydration pack, more gels and nutrition, Co2 cartridges and tire plugs in my kit. As I approached the station, I was fortunate only to need the new hydration pack. I also recommend using a quick-to-open container for your items. I only had a grocery bag that was tied up tight, which after 70 miles was hard to open, and I quickly could feel that my body only wanted to pedal, not open bags and put on a new hydration pack! At any rate, I was happy to have a fresh hydration pack with a new flavour powder mix, and at that point, I knew the most important thing was to keep the body moving and carry on.
For the final push of the race, there was sparse lightning on the horizon. However, the climbing was mostly finished, with flat, steady terrain ahead. The rain began, and I continued to work with small groups and follow my navigation, which was increasingly becoming harder to read in the rain. As I wiped my head unit clean of droplets, I inadvertently placed a waypoint to navigate to! A couple of things learned here, if you have a Garmin, hold the power button and press the lock screen when the rain begins to fall. Once the waypoint was dropped, I kept it simple and knew at the very least I could follow the tire tracks visible in the soft mud. Eventually, I did stop briefly, got navigation back, and put on a jacket as the temperatures reduced, and the rain fell harder. For me, it’s essential to be at ease on the bike and maintain confidence as you never know what obstacles are ahead, and you will always be faster staying safe and on two wheels.
The final push into Emporia was so inspirational to see residents cheering on all riders and standing in the rain, giving out water if you needed it. The conditions were becoming terrible quickly, yet you could see how important the race was to the community and how much it meant for everyone to be there no matter the weather.
As we navigated into the centre of Emporia, it was a bit mesmerising from start to end, and after riding in many small groups and on my own, I was surprised to see the race clock at 5 hours 55 minutes, meeting my goal of under 6 hours. While I had my goal in my head, I realised time is not the most critical aspect. Despite only being 104.6 miles, it truly felt like a journey, where I cherished being with so many diverse riders around the world and encouraging each other to the finish line.
The following days I enjoyed time with my family, who made this all possible, and I was able to enjoy rides in the Kansas countryside with my brother after surprising him with a Kevin of Steel that Rhino and the Curve team built up. We hope to make Unbound a family reunion each year, and I hope you will give a gravel event near you a try and continue to explore your own journey on two wheels!
Photography - Header and Pic 3 - Josie Alexander
Curve Kev Ti GXR
Sram F-EAGLE (44t x 10-52)
700x42mm Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready Gravel Tires
Stan’s Race Sealant and Regular No-tube sealant for top-up (Don’t use race sealant through the valve. It will clog, trust me).
Cush Core Gravel inserts and valves (I’m sure this saved me from numerous punctures).
Coefficient Cycling Road 38cm Handlebars with Togs thumb grips in the drops. (I haven’t fully converted to aero bars and enjoyed the extra leverage in the drops with Togs).
Apidura Racing Top Tube and Frame Pack (Careful on overloading the top tube pack your food can drop out quickly on rough terrain at speed).
7mesh Mk3 cargo bib shorts (Awesome to put gels in the leg pockets for a quick grab, even on rough terrain at speed).
7mesh Rebellion Jacket (Kept the ride comfortable the last hour and rolled up easy in the back pocket).
UWSE Outlander Pro 2L X 2 (Grabbed a new pack at the Madison checkpoint, stayed put and great fit when upright and the drops).
Quick link x1
Spare valve stem
Valve core remover
Multi-tool - with chain breaker
Tire levers (x2)
Co2 Pump x2 16g cartridges
Tire plugs (three different sizes)
Tire patches vulcanising/pre-glued
Fuelling strategy: every 20 minutes, eat something Dried mangoes, dried figs, macadamia nuts
12 gels and block chews (4 with caffeine)
3.5 litres of water capacity at a time (5.5 litres used throughout the race)
Follow Kevin and Kevin HERE