2024 Unbound Gravel 200 Race Recap

The Flint Hills of Kansas are simultaneously rugged, vast, and at times heartbreaking. The Unbound Gravel 200, might just be the best way to experience them. If you finish.

long open flit hils expanse with a group of riders and one chasing off the back

The Epic-center of gravel- Emporia KAnsas

Hey, Richard here, Marketing Director at Silca (aka @bicyclecrumbs on Instagram). As this is my first blog post for Silca, let me tell you a little about myself. I was born in Oklahoma but I grew up in Kansas. From the age of ten on, if you ask me where im from the answer without hesitation is Kansas. I grew up in a small town called Osage City, a footballs throw north east of Emporia KS.

Emporia is home to the largest, hardest, and most important gravel race on earth; The Unbound Gravel 200. I was early in the gravel seen, racing Unbound in 2014 and 2015. Then I moved to Portland in 2016. As you can imagine the race has changed a bit in the last decade. Back then it was a Saturday of racing. Now it’s a three day event with two days of Expo for cycling companies to show, launch, and sell all things Gravel. Growing from 34 racers in 2006 to an astonishing 5000 across all distances in 2024. Unbound makes Emporia the epic-center of gravel for one week every year. The best gravel cyclists in the world pour into town, from countries all over the world. Major new cycling tech is unveiled, and elite cyclist can rocket to stardom with just this single race win.

Now that i've laid out the facts. I'll hit you with my opinion. This race is special period and what I consider to be the best riding on earth. I love the Flint Hills of Kansas, everything about it is beautifully different. It’s rugged, vast, and humid. It can be absolutely brutal with wheel-jamming unrideable mud on its worst days, and life altering on its best. The eco systems change in front of your eyes as you ride, leaving town its nearly dead flat, 15 miles later you will see a view that you simply cannot get anywhere else. Then theirs the gravel, sharp and as the name would imply the rocks contain flint that has chewed through even the toughest tires. The talk of every year is what tires are the pros running. That coin flip of beauty and brutality is what I think keeps people coming back, and why this event continues to grow. If you get lucky the coin will land heads up when you are there.

Below is a ride-a-long photo recap of my day shooting the race with Bobby Wintle owner of District Cycles in Stillwater, hug giver and hype man of The Mid South in Stillwater Oklahoma and part owner of Merchant Cycles in Emporia. Bobby went to college in Emporia and has raced the event multiple times and distances including the XL. Together we set out to capture the race, bring the vibes, and for the first time for each of us, view the race from the front. I shot primarily with a 70-200 lens some of the shots are on the move others are when we stopped. I can say without a doubt it was one of the best days I’ve ever had centered around the bicycle. 

Race day 4:00am Emporia Kansas

If you have been following Silca over the last year you undoubtably know Travis. In 2023 he put together a series on our Youtube called Road to Emporia, tackling all that goes into completing this race, from training and nutrition to equipment choices. Unfortunately, last year after working two full days of expo and with a lot of mud on course Travis DNF'ed the 2023 edition. This year he was back for redemption. Phil and I met up with Travis for breakfast and to shoot this pre race portrait.

If you are not familiar with the Unbound Gravel 200 it starts early, with a 10mph cut off the last finishers will be on the road 20+ hrs (they always let a few squeak through after that too). The Elite Men starting at 5:50am. As Emporia is a pretty small town (24k population) lodging can be a huge issue, in an attempt to make it easier for everyone. They open up the Emporia State University dorms for racers to stay. On race day breakfast starts at 4:00am. For me this super early start time always caused stomach issues from the start of the day, adding one more thing that must be planned for when doing Unbound.

From breakfast at 5:00 a.m. I walked about a mile or two down to the start/finish to meet Bobby, and shoot the start line and call ups. This years Unbound Gravel 200 was the most stacked field ever in terms of talent. From the Gravel World Champ Matej Mohorič, to Olympic Gold Medalist Greg Van Avermaet. To second place at Cyclocross Worlds Joris Nieuwenhuis. Then there was all of the Lifetime Grand Prix riders from the most dominate cyclist anywhere Keegan to Silca athletes Chase Wark and Dylan Johnson. Unbound is unique in that it will bring out World Tour pros, and at the same time the vast majority of people out there are simply trying to finish the challenge of this event. 

It's hard to describe that early morning feeling at Unbound. It's feels nervous, there is a lack of eye contact and its clear, everyone will be more comfortable after the start gun . There were also over 150 members of the media, and in a way we were a different type of race within the race. Trying to get to photo locations before others, while navigating around the course. Bobby was driving what we called the Batmobile, I was sitting shotgun with cameras in hands.

Location one, mile 15 flat out Speed.

Our first location was at mile 15 looping around on muddy gravel roads, to get our first peek at the action. The peloton was at full speed and later we learned there were a few early crasher before they even left the pavement. Everyone fighting for postion, no one wanting to be in the back.

Two groups of two (including Silca rider Chase Wark) were off the front early with about a 45 second gap. Adam Roeberge was chasing trying to bridge up and make the move. While it might sound crazy I fully believe in the next few years one of these breaks will stick. Tobin was doing the work for the main group and Keegan was sitting second wheel. From there we blasted to our next section to catch the women for the first time.

Stop two: Wide Open Expanse Mile 45 ish

Our first glimpse at the women's field came at around mile 30, new comer Rosa Klöser and Danni Shrosbree were on the front. The group was still very big and only a few riders were off the back. At around 1500' of elevation the views up here were amazing and really puts into perspective just how vast the Flint Hills are. You can be on the same road for miles with zero roads that intersect. Following this was a roll through Eskridge, a very small town that has hosted its fair share of extremely hard gravel races in the 2010s. Most notably Maisies Pride, and another called Jagger. These races were notorious for their extremely rough roads, and this is the first time since 2019 the course has headed up north to tackle some of these same roads.

Stop Three: Mile 65 Chase on the front

After Eskridge, we found a great spot with rolling hills to catch up to the men, who had just gone through Divide Road, arguably one of the roughest sections of the course. The lead group of four were still off the front and looking back through the photos time stamp they had grown their lead to 6 minutes from the main group. Another group of 4 was in-between and would never catch the leaders and eventually gets swallowed back up by the next time we see them.

As the main field approached Keegan and Tobin were chatting while doing the work at the front, signaling that if they wanted to pull that breakaway back in, they would have to do it themselves. At this point all of the heavy hitters were still in the group. Though we had just seen both of Mohorič's teammates off the back on Divide Rd and not together. 

Stop four: Check Point one - mile 70

Check point one was in the town of Alma, the leaders already made it through right before we got there. But we did catch Dylan and Andrew Dillman roll through as well as the women. Pits at Unbound Gravel are chaotic, yelling for supplies, crashes from people trying to get into their crew. I saw no less than 10 full wheel swaps from flats in our short time there. The women rolled through still bunched up.

Stop Five: Mile 102 The Climbs leading to little egypt

After the checkpoint we went as quickly as possible to get ahead of the race leaders. Looping into the back side of the long climb leading into the Little Egypt section. The lead group of four was still off the front but that time gap had been shrinking from of a max of seven minutes now down to just two minutes. 

Stop Six: Mile 109 into the rollers

From the climb we skipped a head just 8 miles to where the riders pop out of the roughest section, and into a hard right hand turn, then a section of never ending rollers. By this point the group of four off the front has now been caught.

This right hand turn with the mix of the fast decent causes chaos as there were a number of riders taken out with flats and a number of chase groups from flats on Little Egypt. Gapped off the lead a group by 30 seconds was a group of Greg Van Avermaet, Ted King, Lance Haidet, 

We saw John Borstelmann lose his group with Ian Boswell, Tobin, and one other rider. Then maybe four more groups of four beyond that.

Stop Seven: The Final Punchy climbs Mile 142

We had to make a huge jump across course at this point. Going to the last big steep rollers right out side of check point two, in the town of Council Grove. Here we caught our first glimpse of 100 mile riders and where the pros will catch them.

As we sat and waited Bobby gave hugs to people who knew him from The Midsouth, we teamed up with Tilly an awesome photographer and largely this was our longest spot of the day. We met a farm dog named Jake called, his owner and Bobby hiked him across the field to take him home. Then the first works unfolded. As the Helicopter would fall and rise above the horizon hills, we saw two riders emerge. One of them unmistakably the EF Pink of Lachlan Morton. The main group was still 19 riders strong and all the heavy favorites were two minutes back. At this point Matt Beers and Keegan were on the front trying to reel in those who just came through.

We made the call to stay here and wait for the women to come through as well. A choice we absolutely do not regret. As it's clear the massive group we had seen last, had be whittled down to a select 10 or 11 heavy hitters. Sarah, Hannah, LDC, Gee and a few more were all battling for position. Here Rosa Klöser clearly was dealing with a front flat and has fallen off the back by a a little over a minute.  

Lachlan Morton in the lead of Unbound 200 mile 142
Lead Women Unbound 200 long shot with field in foreground, women strung out in a single file line.

Stop Eight: Lake Kahola Mile 175

With the time inbetween the men and women at the last location, we had to go as fast as possible to Lake Kahola. The final climb of the day my expectation was an attack by Keegan. Being a hair late we just caught the main group coming through. At the time we had no idea where Lachlan and Chad were. The main group further reduced to now eight, including Keegan. GVA, Dylan, Payson, Beers and a couple more. We fully expected these men to bridge the gap if Lachlan was still off the front. (later confirmed with live coverage via Instagram)

Stop Nine: Americus Mile 187

We at the lake for maybe thirty seconds before sprinting back to the Batmobile, now it was a race to Americus unfortunately after nearly 160-70 miles of driving at break neck gravel speeds, our vehicle was running very low on gas. We made it one mile from town to sputter to a stop in a ditch. Running a mile or so to meet the rest of our crew in town (who also had a gas can). Once there again we missed the lead group. In the run I my 70-200 lens suffered some damage. So I swapped to a 50mm in town. 

Here in just 10 miles we had no idea how different the race would look. We missed the lead two, but on the front was both men from the Trek Driftless team, GVA, Payson and 3 more. Dylan Johnson and Matt Beers were now down 50 seconds and Keegan was back even more, bloodied up and dirty.

The women's main field was still intact about 9 strong with all the big names. LDC on the front and Gee on the rear. Alex Howes must have been having an off day so he stopped with us for a Coors Light, as at this point it was very hot. If the flint or mud doesnt get you, the heat will. Even we were trying to stay out of the sun as much as possible. We knew at this point if we stayed for the women we would miss the mens finish. We sat as a group got out some snacks and tuned into the instagram live feed to watch Lachlan take the win. Then it was getting back to Emporia to watch the women's finish.

Stop Ten: Finish Line Mile 202.7

We watched the second group of men come through the line. Feeling stoked for #Silca Athlete Dylan Johnson to chase back up and get 10th. We were in the car for 10-15 minutes getting back to town. Left with questions, the big one being what happened between mile 175 and 187. Keegan clearly went down. But why were Beers and Dylan off the main group. Later we learned Keegan did attach the final climb at the lake, but also crashed somewhere right after. 

The women came to the line in and 8 or 9 up sprint. Sarah led out Rosa, and our newest ambassador Gee, sprinted for second. It's at this point I would like to mention both Rosa and Gee were running Silca waxed chains! In the world where this win can make a career. It will be amazing to see where Rosa will go from here. Similar to when Amity took the win a few years back. There is no bigger way to burst onto this scene than with this race. 

Stop Eleven: Travis' redemption

As we have just seen a lot can go wrong in the last 30 miles of this race. We had tracking on Travis and were eagerly watching him tick off the miles. While grabbing a bite to eat, and downloading some photos. 

Through check-ins earlier in the day he was looking strong but had a slight rear wheel issue causing him to ride fixed for 30ish miles. At the first pit he took a spare wheel. Brendan reported at the last pit that he might have some eating issues which can be a bad sign. But just a little bit later we could see Travis dot coming into the line. I posted up for some photos and Travis rolled across the line beating the sun with a time right around 14hrs on the dot. It's pretty rad seeing Travis work hard and come back and complete his goal. Everyone who does Unbound 200 will have a stories. It's never easy, most say they wont come back right after. But give it a day or a week or a month, and that thought creeps in to give it another go. I know I still feel it. 

Below is the full album of selects from the day. I shot 2300 photos on the day, broke 1 lens, lost one hat in the wind, experienced something unforgettable near where I grew up and got to share that with an amazing crew. Thanks to Bobby for getting us around safely, and thanks to Silca for allowing me to cover this.  

Full Photo Gallery

Travis breakfast 4:00 am
Emporia sign 5:00am
Bobby under 4 time race winner Dan Huges sign

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.