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Preview: Unbound set to take Life Time GP back to gravel

200-mile U.S. mixed-surface classic has a new course for 2022

Gravel Unbound Photo by: Life Time Events

Unbound Gravel is back in Emporia, Kan., and bigger than ever. It features a massive field of 4,000 riders and a new course for 2022.

This year, Unbound is also part of the Life Time Grand Prix Series presented by Mazda, a six-event calendar mixing cross country mountain biking and gravel events for a total prize purse of $250,000. The year’s first event was at the MTB-centric Sea Otter Classic.

All the racing will be broadcast live on FloSports.

Gravel Unbound
Gravel Unbound. Photo: Live Time events

Grand Prix versus Returning Champions

Unbound is now an iconic event all on its own. For 2022, it is also the second event in the new Life Time Grand Prix . This mix of single-event and GP series goals could make for interesting racing, at race strategies, in Kansas.

RELATED: How to watch Unbound Gravel in Canada

Andrew L’Esperance started the Life Time series strong with a fifth at Sea Otter. He’ll go long to defend that place at Unbound.
Life Time Grand Prix

The Life Time GP kicked off in California with the 80-km Fuego cross country race at Sea Otter. Unbound is the first gravel event in the series. It’s also a massive change in distance, from 80 km to 321 km (200 miles). Further, Unbound will be the first event to mix a major field of Life Time and non-Life Time athletes.

After a thrilling start to the season, Life Time GP’s debut season has, unfortunately, been marred by tragedy. Moriah ‘Mo’ Wilson, the winner of the women’s race at Sea Otter, was  murdered just weeks before Unbound.

The current Life Time leaders are predominantly from mountain bike backgrounds. Sofia Gomez Villafane, Alexis Skarda, and Lea Davison arrive with impressive results, from Olympic appearances to Cape Epic victories, but less experience racing drop bars – or aero bars. On the men’s side, current men’s leader Keegan Swenson, as well as Russell Finsterwald and Canada’s Andrew L’Esperance in fourth are, again, used to racing fat tires.

BIKE CHECK: Andrew L’Esperance’s team-issue Ibis Haka MX

Ian Boswell wins 2021 Unbound. Photo: Life Time

Switching from winding singletrack to straight gravel roads could give the gravel and road racers, like Canada’s Rob Britton and Lex Albrecht, a chance to move up the series standings.

INTERVIEW: Rob Britton’s transition from Pro road to mountain bike and gravel racing

Reigning champions return

Complicating the pro race picture is the fact that the returning Unbound Gravel champions, Ian Boswell and Lauren de Crescenzo, are not included in the Life Time series. Both will be looking to defend their title, while numerous other non-Life Time riders will also be looking for victory at Unbound. The mix of motivations – from single event victory to series standings – could make for some interesting alliances as the peloton breaks into groups in Emporia.

Unbound XL, the 350-mile (563 km) ultra-endurance event that runs parallel to the standard 200-mile event, also sees 2021 champions return to try to retain their title. Both Taylor Lideen and Lael Wilcox will take on the overnight epic.

Unbound Gravel 2022: new year, new course, new categories

Every year, Unbound sees small adjustments to the course. For 2022, the U.S. gravel classic is unveiling an entirely new course to the south of town.

“The new course has been a labor of love for us and we’re incredibly excited to unveil it,” said Ben Sachs, Race Director at Life Time. “After two years traveling north of Emporia, riders will appreciate the fresh change of scenery on a challenging yet freeing course which creates that exhilarating, unique-to-the-flint-hills feeling of being ‘unbound’.”

While all eyes will be on the front of the pro field, Unbound is still a community event. Organizers continue to expand race categories, which now include non-binary, age group, fat-tire, singlspeed and tandem events alongside the pros. New for 2022 is the addition of a para-cycling category.

“Now more than ever, gravel is home to inclusivity,” noted Kristi Mohn, Marketing Manager at Life Time. “We are very excited to continue inviting riders of all backgrounds to join the community. Athletes and spectators can expect to see this reflected throughout the weekend at the expo, group rides, and start line and from industry partners and support crews – all are truly welcome.”