If there was any greater indication about just how big and important the Unbound Gravel event has become, it would be that it’s only days into the new year and already discussion and debates are brewing around the gravel race taking place on June 3 in Emporia, Kansas. Of course, that’s largely due to Life Time promoters releasing some new rule changes taking effect this year.
Already Life Time has announced the list of selected athletes for the Life Time Grand Prix . But beyond that there are some dates to keep in mind…
The UNBOUND 2023 lottery opens on Jan. 5 and will be open until the 15. Listen to the most recent episode from the Breakfast with Boz podcast to hear about the changes coming for 2023 to the elite field.
BUT ABOUT THOSE CHANGES
It’s only been a day since two new rules (below) were announced and already there has been some spirited debate about how they will impact the race and rider experience. Rule change #2 deemed that aero bars are now banned for Elite riders only as a safety measure. One counter argument was that by still allowing aero bars for less capable amateur riders was actually a counter-intuitive move for the sake of rider safety.
But it was rule change #1 that was eliciting the most debate with some opining that separating by time the Elite and Amateur riders would be despoiling the non-elitist atmosphere that has long permeated gravel racing.
Although not a rule change, the announcement that there will be added marshals at sections of the course that cross highways was welcome news. We still recall shooting photos at one such intersection last year while simultaneously acting as traffic cops to slow oncoming car traffic (before getting shoo’d away by emergency personnel for illegally blocking car traffic!) to help keep cyclists who were racing safe, but unable to see any cars over a rise in the highway. For us, this move is much more effective in promoting overall rider safety than banning aero bars.
The bottom line is that we can’t wait to find ourselves back in Emporia in June to participate in what is easily the greatest gravel race on the calendar. Casa Ramos here we come!
Change #1: The 200-mile elite field will no longer start with the amateurs
How will it work?
Elite Men will start 10 minutes ahead of the amateur riders. Elite Women will start 2 minutes later, 8 minutes ahead of the amateur riders.
Note: The elite field will be vetted. If there are any riders who we are unsure about, we reserve the right to reach out and ask them for credentials to start in this field
To preserve the race experience and ethos of the event for the 4,000 paying customers in attendance. Removing the elites from the amateur experience all together ensures that the experience is preserved for the person there to “finish” and to experience “adventure by bike,” while making sure all participants, elite and amateur, have the safest and best experience during the race.
Creates a safer riding environment for all. There are many riders now making a livelihood out of the amazing event that grew out of a parking lot in Emporia, Kansas. By removing the ability for out-of-their-league non-elites to get mixed in with the elites, this thereby removes some of the risk of folks riding beyond their abilities and causing dangerous scenarios. Additionally, there will be course marshals at every intersection with paved roads to increase rider safety.
Allows for more fair media coverage (equal media coverage for women) in that it creates the ability to understand where the women’s field is (for real-time race highlights, media coverage, etc.) – the women will also have a better idea about where everyone they are competing against is, and it will allow for more racing with the other women.
Change #2: Aerobars or bar extensions of any kind will not be permitted for the elite field
How will it work?
Since the elite field is much smaller than the larger rider field, event staff will scan bikes at the elite men and elite women start lines to ensure riders are abiding by this new rule
Removing aerobars creates a safer rider experience by mitigating the risk for crashing at high speeds
HEY, WHAT ABOUT E-BIKES?
Years ago we asked OG race promoter Jim Cummins about the legality of e-bikes being allowed in the race and he looked back at us in wonder, “e-bikes?!” Of course at the time e-bikes were neither as popular, nor able to go longer distances, as they are now. When we asked a Life Time rep on whether e-gravel bikes (and there are now plenty to choose from) would be allowed, we were told that as of now, no rule has been made.