By The Numbers: Return to Unbound 2022

The 2022 Unbound 200 was another incredible episode of America’s premier long-distance gravel event that came down to a 4-up sprint finish in the men’s race, while the women’s winner soloed most of the final 100 miles to earn victory. The 2021 event was held on the North course with strong winds and high heat being major factors in the race that ultimately saw Wahoo’s Ian Boswell win a 2-up sprint over Laurens ten Dam with a winning time of 10:14:27 to win the men’s race.  This year’s race had an even bigger and stronger field, with competitors taking on the South course with epic conditions including significant rain on race day that added mud and extra challenge to the course that had seen heavy rains and flooding in the days leading up to the race.

Being lucky is one of the factors for success in gravel racing that athletes don’t have complete control over. Various mechanical issues as well as flat tires and other wheel issues are quite common, and even podium finishing athletes have to effectively manage and deal with those issues in order to have success.

When and how you spend your energy can have a massive impact on your race result in an event like Unbound. Employing tactics can allow you to expend or save your energy in such a way that you might be gaining an advantage over your competitors either by your position on the course or in how you have expended your energy relative to how the competition has spent there. In gravel races, unlike in road races, there’s no team car close by to replace your wheel or bike if you run into trouble – you need to quickly assess and repair any issue you’ve got on your own. These situations have another massive impact on the tactics that you and your competitors can actually employ.

In the men’s race at Unbound this year, several of the riders in the final top 4 all had to manage varying degrees of mechanical disadvantage to make the final selection of 5 riders who were riding all together with just 20 miles to go.  The final group included Belgian riders Ivar Slik and Laurens ten Dam and Americans Keegan Swenson, Alexey Vermeulen and Ian Boswell. The five riders worked together to ensure that no more riders from behind would be able to work their way up to them. With just 2km to go, Ian Boswell put in an attack on the Highland Avenue hill which ended up dropping Alexey Vermeulen and Laurens ten Dam from the group…though Laurens was able to mount an effective chase back to the leaders arriving with just under 1km to go, where he launched a counter-attack to try and ride through the remaining 3 riders. Unfortunately for him, the other three all matched his move, and with under 500 meters to go, Ian Boswell launched his final attack in a bid for repeat glory. But 2022 was not going to serve as a repeat for Ian as Slik and Swenson surged past him in the final meters for a close victory going to Ivar Slik – the first non-American winner of Unbound since its inception.

The women’s race, while less tactical in terms of group dynamics, the finale was an epic edition that saw mountain bike racer Sophia Gomez Villafane push to a solo lead at the 100-mile mark and ride a heroic solo effort for another 100 miles to earn her first Unbound victory with a record time of 10:27:41 and a 9-minute gap over last year’s champion Lauren de Crescenzo. The women’s podium was rounded out by Emily Newsome, another 14 minutes behind the 2021 champion.

If you read my write-up of last year’s results with breakdowns from Ian Boswell’s winning ride as well as Wahoo strength and movement coach Jeff Hoobler’s finish, you’ll be pleased to know that Jeff improved his finish to a hard-fought 99th place finish and 1st place in the 55-59-year-old men’s category.  Below is summary information about Ian and Jeff’s race data as well as some added insight into their results at Unbound this year.

 Ian (2021)Jeff (2021)
Total Time9:22 (10:17)11:18 (13:08)
Avg Power258W – 3.6 W/kg (247W)160W – 2.5 W/kg  (143W)
Total Kj8,649 Kj (9,106 Kj)6,574 Kj (6,779 Kj)
Peak 5 second875W (1026W)562W (549W)
Peak 1 minute514W (515W)358W (315W)
Peak 5 minute423W (364W)253W (244W)
Peak 20 minute370W (314W)217W (219W)
Peak 60 minute324W (295W)206W (197W)
% FTP62% (63%) 55% (56%) 
% MAP32% (29%) 36% (32%) 
% AC6% (8%)9% (12%)

Looking at the big picture, it’s clear to see that both Ian and Jeff finished considerably faster than last year, and in doing so both held higher average power. Interestingly, though, because they pushed harder they expended less total energy due to being on course for significantly less time…though only by 200-450 calories total for both of them (just 3% & 5% less respectively for Jeff and Ian). The biggest overall difference that you can see is Ian’s 5, 20, and 60-minute peak power values were dramatically higher than in 2021…and were a result of having to stop and repair a flat tire that happened in the first hour of the race, and the long and hard chase back to the front group was quite a lot of work. The other interesting difference that is consistent for both Ian and Jeff from 2021 to 2022 is that both saw a 2-3% decrease in the amount of effort that was attributed to Anaerobic Capacity (AC) intensity which in both cases was shifted toward a 3-4% increase in work attributed to Max Aerobic Power (MAP) intensity. And just as a reminder – while a long-distance event like Unbound is composed of a majority of the work done over the course being attributed to FTP (63% and 56%), both Ian and Jeff did 37% and 44% of their efforts on the day relative to their higher intensity MAP and AC targets! 

That’s it for another edition of Unbound. Be sure to check out The Knowledge podcast by Wahoo to hear more sports science insights from our team at Wahoo, and of course tune in to Breakfast with Boz for awesome conversations with some of the most interesting people involved in cycling chatting with host Ian Bowell.

With over 25 years of experience coaching endurance athletes, Neal is head of The Wahoo Sports Science Division and oversees all of the coaches who create our customized training plans. He has worked with hundreds of athletes from amateur to top professional in his prior roles as Olympic Team Coach (2012, 2016, 2020) founder of APEX Coaching, and Director of Sports Science at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Those experiences helped him to develop cutting-edge sports science-driven testing and training methods used to help athletes of all levels perform better. Neal is an Elite USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach with numerous awards to his name, including the 2007 USA Cycling Developmental Coach of the Year, 2009 USA National Cycling Coach of the Year, and the 2011 Doc Counsilman Coach of the Year—awarded by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for the use of science in coaching. In 2017 he was named USA Triathlon Coach of Year. Neal has coached some of the biggest names in endurance sports and is the only coach in history to have trained an elite male and female athlete (Rohan Dennis and Evelyn Stevens) to the World Hour Record. Under his guidance, Neal’s athletes have won multiple Grand Tour stages and leader’s jerseys, Olympic Medals, and over 50 world championship titles in various cycling and triathlon disciplines - most recently Rohan Dennis’ 2018 & 2019 ITT World Champs.
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