June 17, 2021

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Robin Carpenter diary: Dodging rooster tails of tire sealant at Unbound Gravel

7 min read

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I have now experienced a pair of times to digest what just occurred to me in the Flint Hills of Kansas and I consider I can ultimately pull with each other a cohesive report without sounding like a distracted canine who keeps chasing distinctive squirrels. Critically, we have all been there article-race, adrenaline pumping, hyped on caffeine gels, hurriedly relating any and all occasions from the previous handful of hrs to any individual who is sort more than enough to pay attention to our demented ramblings.

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I arrived into Unbound with the sense that I had the physical fitness to do reasonably properly — I was hoping for a prime ten— but the rest was a series of nerve-wracking unknowns. I tried using to do a whole lot of investigation in the 3 weeks foremost up to the race I listened to a ton of podcasts, browse lots of articles or blog posts, and commonly annoyed all of my close friends who have raced it right before with plenty of questions. What was I meant to carry on the bike to repair service flats? How lots of bottles would I require? How would I be in a position to swap bottles and Camelback, re-up on foods, lube my chain, check out my tires, and exchange any used CO2s/plugs in less than one particular minute at the help stations? I was very anxious. In the end, quite a few factors went erroneous, but I assume that for the very first endeavor it wasn’t horrible.

The race started off at 6:00 a.m. on the dot in Emporia, just a several minutes soon after sunrise. I set my alarm as late as possible — 4:45 a.m. — and got commenced by making a speedy pancake breakfast and coffee. By 5:30 a.m. I was kitted up and rolled from the house I was remaining at in city, to the start out, about a mile away. I could notify anyone on the get started line was feeling giddy. I noticed some pictures of myself just just before the get started and let me tell you, my eyes were being bugging out. I seemed totally manic. The race started immediately after the concluding bars of the countrywide anthem and I straight away felt correct at house mainly because riders had been fighting for situation on the bumper of the lead car or truck in spite of the signal on the front very plainly demanding riders remain more than ten ft guiding. Would it genuinely be like this? 206 miles to go and persons were being going to struggle for the bumper in the neutral? Just one hour later on uncovered out that indeed, the first fifty percent of this race is lethal major.

Carpenter (left) with his eyes “bugging out” at the get started.  Photo: Wil Matthews

Rather of offering a really specific blow-by-blow account of the to start with 95 miles or so, I want to summarize, simply because each and every assortment was really related. Two things would conspire to possibly clear away riders from teams or catapult persons ahead. To start with, one had to be capable to decide their strains. I was instructed that the gravel was the chunkiest it has ever been this year now I consider it. We careened over the crests of hills only to uncover rutted, rocky doubletrack with deep rain gullies surrounded by rocks with razor-blade edges. If you were being as well close to the rider in front of you, you were being forced into negative lines with significant rocks and crumbly highway edges, jeopardizing flats and crashes. If you have been as well considerably back again, you ended up gapped by riders likely also sluggish or crashing in entrance of you. I watched Payson McElveen descend proper through a industry of arrowheads (flint rock) and instantly have a catastrophic rear flat. Riders pulled off left and ideal with sealant capturing into the air in substantial rooster tails of gooey latex.

The next set of range factors ended up, like any bicycle race, the climbs. If you are below the impact that the front team of riders 30 miles into a 206 miles race could meter their efforts, and attempt to conserve the legs a little bit, you’d be incorrect. There had been at least half a dozen points in the to start with 95 miles in which I was likely just about as difficult as I could. The climbs had been steep and numerous in the beginning, culminating with a “road” identified as Tiny Egypt.

Coming into Unbound I knew the road existed but did not know the place on training course it started off, ended, or truly what it appeared like at all. I was in a select group of eight riders, and it rapidly grew to become apparent that a little something was heading to go down. I led on the downhill to the final climb on this highway and was quickly handed by Peter Stetina who was seemingly identified to make it as hard as probable. I was owning difficulties finding the bike into the modest climbing gears and experienced also dropped the bicycle at the first help station, breaking the steel clamp that held my entrance shifter on to the bars. This forced me to experience solely in the drops and I just could not surge on the climb to make the remaining selection. I also was contemplating to myself that there’s no way I can go this tough with over 100 miles left to race and not blow up somewhere down the line. I crested the climb only about ten seconds guiding the front 5 riders but I could see immediately that they were being all driving with each other in total cooperation, making it unachievable to shut the hole. Did I point out that practically all of them had aerobars? (Really don’t get worried I will not go there now) In hindsight, I feel I could have pushed myself a very little tougher on the climb to manage make contact with, but I was not positive what was coming future or exactly where the future respite would be. That’s the place practical experience came in. I have immense respect for the work that the best five had been able to set out, and I’d be dishonest if I did not say I was to some degree upset to skip that break up. On the other hand, I’ve read much more than a couple of stories of persons heading perfectly around their restrict and obtaining to limp to the end line, hemorrhaging placings all together the way.

At this position in the race, it was a battle not with other riders for posture or ability, but with myself, seeking to determine out what form of pace was sustainable for another 6 hrs, what I experienced remaining to eat and drink for the following 1 hundred kilometers, and trying to keep the bike from further more falling aside. I rode with Eric Marcotte for a even though just before I flatted on a seemingly benign segment. This ended up becoming a big blessing. I bought to stop in the shade for around eight minutes trying to correct a flat. This tiny respite had a big influence and I felt so considerably fresher afterward. I was caught by a team of a few which integrated the recent European Beach-Racing champion (glimpse it up) who I was capable to do the job with, on and off, for the relaxation of the race. Seeing as the relaxation of the course (110 miles) was almost completely headwind or cross-headwind, this was a major benefit. Eric had carried on forward when I flatted and he did not fare properly. We caught him pretty much fifty kilometers later and he seemed unquestionably haggard. He was shortly dropped from my group.

The relaxation of the race was rather straightforward. We traded out guys from our compact chase team as some flatted, some caught us, and some ended up dropped. From mile 160 to the end I was with two some others, and at that position, the working day grew to become a quest to make it to the finish devoid of bonking, flatting, or acquiring caught by everyone else.

Riders were being preventing for position on the bumper of the direct car inspite of the indication on the front really clearly demanding riders keep much more than 10 feet powering.  Picture: Wil Matthews

At about a mile from the line, in town, I questioned my trio-mates if it was all the identical to them, would they head just rolling in for the slight placings? I was greeted largely with silence. Jeremiah Bishop offered to rock-paper-scissors for who would choose sixth. Dennis van Winden didn’t say a phrase. Evidently, it was on! I led out the sprint from a way out, and just scarcely held off van Winden, traveling into the complete shoot so quick that I virtually crashed and didn’t even get one of the “finisher” lanyards. A volunteer yelled at us to gradual down, which I was trying to do in very a hurry. I don’t consider there ended up much too a lot of people finishing the 100 or 200-mile event at 35 mph!

I felt — and nonetheless feel — extremely pleased with that trip and how I was capable to manage myself for the length, the terrain, and the stones on those people roads. I only experienced a modest flat and felt like I was riding technically audio all day. I experienced a big trouble with dropping the bicycle in the help station and my shifting by some means was unreliable even in advance of that. But I managed through the working day, and did not let it affect my functionality much too a great deal. I will say even though, using 140 miles in the drops has my back in a negative way, even a few days afterwards!

A large thanks is owed to my team, Rally Biking, for their assistance in this adventure, as well as Felt Bicycles, who ended up equipped to provide me with a prototype gravel frameset just months ahead of this party.

I’ll be again.

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