At the second race in the LifeTime series we were finally playing my game. Unbound was on the menu and 200 miles or 320 km racing on straight roads doesn't scare me. In contrary to a mountainbike race like Sea Otter I dont loose any sleep over questions like: which bike would be the best, which tires to run, how does nutrition work or is the parcours too technical for me as a roadie? No, when Specialized asked me in December on which frame they had to apply this years paint job, the Crux or the Diverge, I immediately knew. The Diverge it was. I choose comfort over weight on a long race like Unbound and lan Boswell and me got first and second last year on Diverges, so why would I change anything, that bike is made for this job.
But hey, bikes are still a thing so here I talk you really quick through the setup I run which is exactly the same as last years. I run a diverge S works frame with Roval Terra CLX wheels and Specialized Pathfinder pro tires (42 mm without inserts) I use a Shimano GRX 2 by group set. Two by because I like the bigger range of gears and the smaller steps. As a roadie I am used to shift a front derailleur anyway. My gears are standard GRX (48-31 in the front and 11-34 at the back) and the bike has Pro components. I love the offroad Stealth saddle and the gravel handlebar with 20 degree flare. The width of this bar is 40 cm in order to be more aero on the hoods.
Yes, being aerodynamic is a thing in a long race like Unbound. If you can save some watts it will make a big difference on a 10 hr effort. But although I knew it would save me like 30 watts at typically race speed I didn't opt to use my aerobars. I dont think they are save to ride in a mass start event. I would like a level playing field so nobody running them would be my preference. There was a lot of discussion on "the e-mail list of the pro's" going on about it but I didn't want to bother myself too much about technical options. After all lan and me didn't use them last year and we pulled a clean 1-2. Raw power seems to work pretty well too in a race like unbound. So when 16 out of 19 pro's reacted positive on not using them I didn't bother anymore. I decided to not use them and focus on the race. 330 am. Raceday. My alarm went off and I was happy with my 6 hrs of sleep. That was already a lot more that last years so it felt like a win. After consuming a bunch of oats and coffee we drove the 30 minutes to Emporia where it was cool and dry at the start line. There were talks of rain on raceday the whole week, but the start was dry and that was the most important according to me. I hate to start in wet wetter, but once I am pedaling and warm I dont care anymore, I just go.
The Unbound starts is always very hectic. The pointy end of the race typically consist of 200 very nervous riders who are not fatigued yet. We sprint to enter every corner first and there are a lot of crashes in the first hour. Luckily this year I could avoid a big one next to me were for example Lachlan Morton was involved. Some other crashes I didn't even notice as they were several lines behind me. It is key to stay in the front of the race to avoid them.
As the miles pass people got more tired and therefore less nervous. Some really good riders punctured already at mile 20 and had to work their way back up in the field. I tried to stay cool, and just did what I had to do. Sit at the first 20 riders to oversee the parcours and possible dangerous points. I would sip from my bottle with carbs and start to eat after 75 minutes of racing. After 75 minutes I would typically eat a strip of Clif Bloks every 30 minutes to keep my energy tank fueled.
Just after I ate my forst solid food of the day I looked back and I smiled. I saw a long lint of suffering riders behind me and knew here the big elimination race would start. The good guys who punctured in the beginning of the race came back more or less easy, but of you would puncture now you would have a problem. I stayed in the front and focused on energy saving by not being caught out in an echelon as there was a little sidewind. By mile 50 or km 80 I started to recognize the good guys. Of course Pete Stetina was there, I knew lan Boswell would be chillin in the last wheel of the front group and my fellow Dutchmafia riders would be there for sure. Nathan Haas was there as Paul Voss who were former world tour riders. Suddenly I saw Brent Bookwalter, an old colleague too and we started a chat. He was getting tired and I wished him good luck. We were just 1/4 of the race in, not the moment to feel tired...