Sofía Gómez Villafañe doesn’t shy away from any hurdles, having earned a spot on the Tokyo Olympic Games mountain bike team for Argentina and then winning the insanely intense Cape Epic the next year with Haley Batten. In her first ride at Unbound Gravel 200 last year, the longest one-day race of her career, she won.
The 29-year-old embarked into gravel racing just two years ago, winning in her first outing at Crusher in the Tushar, located on familiar high desert terrain a few hundred miles south where she resides part of the year in Heber City.
But ride 200 miles at Unbound Gravel? That “silly 200-mile bike race in Kansas” was not even close to her radar at the time. Then Villafañe accepted an invitation to ride in the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix off-road series last year, and Unbound Gravel 200 was a requirement for competitors. She changed her reference to the event once she conquered the muddy edition, calling it “monumental”.
“I was here to definitely prove a point. I wanted to show that mountain bikers can go fast and go long,” Gomez said at the finish line last year. “I was going to be stoked to just to win a Life Time Grand Prix race, but to come out with the overall… it’s a true testament to the hard work I have put in.”
The 2022 women’s champion blitzed the women’s field with a nine-minute margin over the 2021 defending champ Lauren De Crescenzo. In the first 40 miles of the endurance battle across Kansas prairie Villafañe rode at the front of the race with many of the elite men, saying “because I had made this heavy hitter selection I was set up to win the biggest gravel race in the world”.
Villafane went on to finish second overall in the Life Time Grand Prix series, four points behind winner Haley Smith. She said she’s ready for a second crack at Unbound Gravel and has embraced gravel in a sport seeing dominance from mountain bike specialists like her and Smith. In fact six of the top 10 women in last year’s Grand Prix are mountain bikers.
“There is definitely a split within the MTB community when it comes to gravel. Half of the elite field is embracing gravel racing and the other half are extremely against it so it has been interesting to see how athletes have changed their schedules in 2023 to either race more gravel or commit to not racing any gravel,” Villafañe told Cyclingnews.
“That being said, for those that have embraced this new discipline, we find the transition from MTB to gravel a pretty…
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