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The Garmin Unbound Gravel presented by Craft Sportswear returns on June 3 in Emporia, Kansas. Back in 2006 only a 200-mile route through the Flint Hills was offered for adventure seekers, and now the Life Time group, which organises its third edition this year, has expanded the offerings to six total distances.
The signature race of Unbound Gravel is still the 200-mile event, which begins and ends on the pavement in downtown Emporia. It delivers tyre-slicing flint and chunky rocks across washed-out gullies, punchy climbs and sun-drenched prairie in the middle of the US. The single-loop format follows roads and paths which organisers describe as “primitive”. Weather plays a big role in the off-road battle as well, with rain that swells small creeks at stream crossings and turns dirt to heavy mud, or the wind creating chaos with dust and “liquid hills”.
The 2023 route for Unbound Gravel 200 is one mile longer than last year, coming in at 205.5 miles. The prairies are deceiving as mountain peaks don’t pierce the skyline, but the relentless rolling hills bring 9,100 feet of elevation gain.
This year’s route again moves in a counter-clockwise direction from Emporia, skirting Interstate-35 as it leads riders south-west for a series of stiff climbs. Texaco Hill rears its head just 42 miles into the route, where there is one of two ‘water oasis’ locations. No support crews are allowed at an oasis, as it is just for hydration; and the second oasis in Madison has a store to purchase snacks.
Then it is off towards Eureka and the first of two checkpoints. This is where support crews are allowed at the local high school with 79 miles covered. The route turns west for approximately 17 miles and then begins to head north passing Walnut Creek and Rocky Ford for the lowest elevation of the route. That means it is mainly uphill for the next 48 miles, with a final water oasis in Hamilton.
With 60 miles to go, the longest stretch of climbing goes over a different section of Texaco Hill. From the top it is about 20 miles to checkpoint number two in Madison at the Madison City Park. The final northward push to the finish back in Emporia is 37 miles away, with…
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