Many of the world’s best riders are lining up in Emporia, Kansas, for the Unbound Gravel event – round two of the Life Time Grand Prix.
Saturday’s Unbound course features 200 miles of rolling gravel and dirt roads through the Flint Hills in eastern Kansas. Riders have chosen a wide variety of race set ups to get the most from their bikes in the first gravel race on the Life Time Grand Prix calendar.
We got a sneak peak at what our favorite mountain bike racers will competing on as the Grand Prix turns to gravel including top riders like: Sofia Gomez Villafane, Alexis Skarda, Rose Grant, Keegan Swenson, Russell Finsterwald, Melisa Rollins, Dylan Johnson, and more.
Sofia Gomez Villafane: Specialized Crux – Life Time Grand Prix Rank: 2nd
Drivetrain: Shimano Dura-ace/XTR/GRX with double chainring
Cockpit: Aero package
Tires: Specialized Pathfinder with inserts
Keegan Swenson: Santa Cruz Stigmata – Life Time Grand PrixRank: 1st
Drivetrain: SRAM Red 48-tooth single ring & 10-50 SRAM Eagle cassette
Wheels: Reserve 40/44 with Fillmore valves
Tires: Maxxis Refuse 40c with inserts – 28 psi front 30 psi rear
Cockpit: Zipp 40cm Service Course SL bar and stem
Computer: Garmin Edge 530
Bike Bags: Zipp Speed Box top tube bag & Almsthre saddle bag
Extras: 3 tubes, Stan’s NoTubes Dart, 3 Genuine Innovations Plugs – Loaded, 4 CO2s and hand pump
Alexis Skarda: Santa Cruz Stigmata – Life Time Grand Prix Rank: 3rd
Drivetrain: SRAM Red 44-32t double chainring
Wheels: Reserve 34/37
Tires: Maxxis Refuse 40c with Tannus inserts
Stephan Davoust: Giant Revolt – Life Time Grand Prix Rank: DNF at Round 1
Drivetrain: Shimano GRX Di2
Tires: Maxxis Rambler 45c silk shield with Cushcore
Cockpit: Giant D-Fuse handlebar and seatpost
Bike Bags: Giant frame bag
Evelyn Dong: Juliana Quincy – Life Time Grand Prix Rank: 5th
Drivetrain: SRAM XPLR 46-tooth single ring with 10-44 cassette and k-edge chainguide
Wheels: Reserve Gravel 32
Tires: Maxxis Refuse with Mynsweeper inserts
Russell Finsterwald: Specialized Crux – Life Time Grand Prix Rank: 2nd
Drivetrain: Shimano Dura-Ace/GRX 48-tooth single ring with 11-46 cassette
Tires: Specialized Pathfinder Pro 42c
Cockpit: Specialized bar with Farr Bars aero package
Extras: Wireless speaker on stem for tunes to get him through the dark times
Kaysee Armstrong: Liv Devote – Life Time Grand Prix Rank:9th
Drivetrain: Shimano GRX/Ultegra double chainring
Wheels: Giant 35 carbon
Tires: Maxxis Rambler 40c no inserts
Dylan Johnson: Factor LS – Life Time Grand Prix Rank: 13th
Drivetrain: Shimano Dura-Ace/GRX double chainring with Quarq power meter
Wheels: Black Inc
Tires: Specialized Pathfinder Pro with tubolight inserts
Cockpit: Black Inc carbon bar/stem combo
Computer: Wahoo Roam
Rose Grant: Juliana Quincy – Life Time Grand Prix Rank: 8th
Drivetrain: SRAM Red with 44-tooth single ring 10-46 rear cassette
Wheels: Reserve 25
Tires: Maxxis Ramblers 40c with Orange Seal sealant
Melisa Rollins: Felt Breed – Life Time Grand Prix Rank: 11th
Drivetrain: SRAM XPLR etap AXS with Quarq power meter
Moriah Wilson & Keegan Swenson Life Time Grand Prix Round 1
Moriah Wilson (Specialized) turned in perhaps the most impressive ride of the day in Monterrey, California, being known as more of a gravel rider, she was able to drop a mountain bike olympian and a reigning mountain bike national champion on her way to the finish.
Wilson rode strong in the front group all day coming into the final climb with US marathon national champion Alexis Skarda (Santa Cruz HT Squad) and Argentine olympic rider Sofia Gomez Villafane (Specialized) before turning the screws opening a gap that she held to the line.
Gomez Villafane held on for second just in front of Alexis Skarda.
In the men’s event Keegan Swenson (Santa Cruz HT Squad) controlled the race from start to finish. Swenson’s early pace created the first selection trimming the field to a select group of seven with Russell Finsterwald (Specialized), Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz HT Squad), Andrew L’Esperance, Cole Paton (Orange Seal), Lance Haidet, and Alex Wild.
The relentless pace trimmed the lead group even more until Swenson, Wild, and Finsterwald coalesced at the front. On the final climb another acceleration from Keegan Swenson decided the race with Wild dropping off first followed by Finsterwald.
Funk Bottoms Gravel entered its 10th official race excluding last year’s pandemic virtual race. Saturday morning started early as the field has grown from three entrants in the first year to a capped 250 entrants in 2021. Volunteers and support staff on little sleep from marking the course the night before, start rolling in around 4am to prepare for registration, a 7am start for the 200k race, and the 100k race starting an hour later. Many familiar faces return while plenty of new faces arrive for the self-proclaimed Ohio’s toughest gravel grinder. The 100k course this year featured 66 miles and 8200 feet of vertical climbing with less than 9 miles of the course paved. If that’s not enough for you then you can register for the 200k which sends you out for two laps of the aforementioned terrain.
The weather on this Saturday morning called for fairly mild temperatures in the 70s with possible pop-up strong thunderstorms throughout the day. The course was in fantastic shape and some fast predictions were casually discussed among the race organizers. The threat of storms kept quite a few riders away and there were around 60 DNS entrants in this year’s race. However as 7am approached and the neutral roll out began, the largest field of 200k racers for FBG took to the course and an hour later the largest field of 100k racers took off after them.
Under mostly cloudy skies and mild conditions, the field looked enthusiastic and excited to tackle the course that was ahead. The first 5.5 miles of the course are a gradual climb, which may give riders a false sense of security about what their day might look like. After the first real descent is an almost immediate steep climb of nearly 500 feet in under ¾ of a mile, and it’s at this point you can really start to gauge what your day is going to look and feel like. When you’re not climbing on this course, you’re descending steep gravel roads which leaves many riders white knuckled. While it’s difficult to count the hills on the course as there is a frequent joke that FBG put’s hills on top of the hills, there are roughly 6 steep climbs in the first 25 miles before rolling into Killbuck for a much needed break at one of the local convenience stores to refill supplies on this self-supported race.
Every year the race coordinators vary the Funk Bottom course for new and interesting sights and challenges. This year’s route included 1.5 miles of new gravel roads never ridden in previous years. One of the favorite sections among the riders is “Bigfoot Road” where a 15-foot tall Bigfoot holding gun has been carved out of a tree. To the surprise of the racers a few miles before the secret checkpoint, some Gravel Angels decided to set-up an oasis dressed as clowns. This was a much-needed comical break from the relentless grueling hills.
A not so secret checkpoint this year was at mile 52 again in Killbuck where the first riders from the 200k managed to pull in just over 3 hours into the race. With mild temperatures and a little bit of rain, most of the 200k racers opted to not stop at the only aid station provided by the race and continue to push through the final 15 miles of the first lap back into Glenmont. A little less than an hour after the first 200k riders came through; the 100k field started rolling through the checkpoint. The faces of the riders ranged from enthusiastic that they were nearing the end of the course, to agony and asking for the shortest bail out option to the finish line. For the next few hours, the strung out field of 100k riders continued passing through the checkpoint. As the last of the 100k riders made their way through the mile 52 checkpoint, the aggressive pace of the 200k riders on their second lap lapped some of them.
A group of about five 200k riders pulls in together back into Glenmont finishing the first lap. Initially it appears that this group might stick together for the rest of the day and the race could be in for a close finish. Shortly into that second lap however, a surge by the leader breaks that group up and by the second time through the mile 52 checkpoint, there was well over a 1-minute gap between each of the first five leaders.
Not to the surprise of the race organizers, past Funk Bottoms champion Ben Meer won the 100k in under 4 hours separated by less than 2 minutes by Paul Martin, with the 3rd place finisher just another few minutes behind. A late entrant Julia Priet won the Women’s 100K and posted an amazing time. For the next few hours, riders of all categories would continually be pushing across the finish line.
Jeff Pendlebury defending his title from the 2019 200K was the first 200k participant to cross the finish line set a new race record with a blazing time of 8h 32m 11s. Fresh off her win two weeks prior at the Mohican 100 Jen Toops won the Women’s 200K. All 200k participants are greeted at the finish line with a finishers award; this year being the Funk Bottoms Gravel pint glass (hopefully full of ice-cold Yuengling).
All in all, it was a fantastic day for racing for everyone involved. Special thanks to everyone who participated in this race and makes the day what it is. Funk Bottoms Gravel truly brings out the most determined riders for Ohio’s toughest gravel grinder
Mens 100K Open 1) Ben Meer* (Johnny Velo Racing) 3:55:41 2) Alex Lundbeck (Paul Martin) 3:57:36 3) Maxwell Matsanoff (Audi) 4:03:41
Womens 100K Open 1) Julia Priet (Bicycle Face) 4:51:38 2) Emily Miller (VeloFemm p/b Litzler) 5:24:48 3) Christina Condon (West Coast Cycling) 6:10:02
100K Single Speed 1) Josh Kunz* (Trans-Sylvania Productions) 4:32:04 2) Nicholas Campbell 4:52:21 3) Tucker Cavanaugh 4:56:42
Stage race sponsors include: Lauf, Enve, TrustCache, and Giordana
New for 2020, the Extreme Grit Stage Race, was an event most won’t forget any time soon. The three day event put on by GRO races took place March 12th-14th near St. George, Utah and provided some tough conditions for racers. Stage 1’s sunshine quickly turned into heavy overnight rain showers for stage 2’s gravel race that lasted until the morning of stage 3.
Stage 1- Self supported untimed MTB or gravel ride
Stage 1 was a self supported 45 mi gravel/mtb route which left from Red Rock Bicycle shop in St George. Riders were required to check in before and after the stage to get a 10 point credit towards the overall general classification. The route climbed north-east of town on gravel roads with breathtaking views and some fun single track at the end if you chose. The weather was perfect… but not for long
Stage 2- True Grit Gravel 84 mi course (shortened to 44mi due to weather)
With the lots of rain overnight and into the start, stage 2’s gravel race was slated to be a brutal day on the bike. Temps in the 40’s and not a dry track anywhere to be found; racers had to harness their grit and determination to get this one done. Due to the weather, Fortunately (or unfortunately) the stage was shortened to 44mi for rider safety. The portion cut out would’ve had racers heading into some remote areas near Motaqua and with the conditions, the race director decided to shorten the stage. The diversoin had racers head down HWY 91 back to Santa Clara. After seeing frozen finishers come in, I don’t think anyone was complaining about the mileage cut.
A close race in the women’s pro/open gravel epic with stage racers taking the top three spots and only 3 points separating them going into the final stage. Allyson Sepp took the win with a time of 3:59:08 and earning 600 points for the overall. Sparky Moir finished only 26 seconds back taking the second step with a time of 3:59:34. Rounding out the gravel podium was Suzie Livingston coming in at 4:12:10.
Stage racers in the open/pro men’s division, dominated stage two taking the top seven positions. A close finish between the top three but taking the win was, Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette, finishing in 3:16:02. Second place went to Spencer Johnson, 3:16:05. Timothy Rugg 3:16:08. This will be a very close race heading into the final stage with only 3 points separating the top three.
Singlespeed stage racer Josh Kunz took the gravel win with a time of 3:52 and putting him in the lead going into the final day of the stage race. Aaron Label, who wasn’t in the stage race, took second with a time of 4:29:15. Stage racer Dominic Cilento took third with a time of 5:02:39.
A large field of masters men started the gravel epic. Two races not in the stage race took the top two steps on the podium. Taking the win was Preston Edwards finishing in 3:22:22 and Daniel Hoopes taking 2nd with a time of 3:32:01. The only stage racer to make the podium was Todd Tanner crossing the line in 3:37:00 and earning 598 points. Mark Llinares was the next stage racer to finish placing 5th and Jeff Sumsion took the 6th place spot. Only a few points separate the racers heading into the final stage.
Kathy Judson from Colorado finished with a time of 5:31 taking the lead for the women’s masters division.
Stage 3- True Grit Epic 50 mile MTB
Saturday was stage 3 and the original True Grit MTB course was on tap. There was plenty of debate about trail conditions before the start but the race director reassured everyone that the single track was in great shape, but there was mud on some road sections in the first 10 miles. Some mud was right! Those that decided to try and ride though the quagmire they soon found themselves grinding to a halt. Their wheels and bikes were completely packed with a concrete-like mud that snapped off a few derailleurs and cause some dnf’s before the race really even started. The best option was to pick your bike up before getting into the mud and just walk (and find a puddle soon after to wash your shoes).
The singletrack on the other hand was in primo shape! There were a few puddles here and there but nothing like what was expected in the pre-race debates. Race director Cimarron is a local and knows the trails well so her info about the singletrack conditions was accurate. Everything was fast and hard back and if you could get past the mud roads, you were rewarded with one of the best days out there.
Stage racer, Marlee Dixon (Pearl Izumi/Pivot Cycles), pulled out of stage 2 due to weather conditions to focus on Saturday’s 50mile MTB race. Unfortunately this took her out of the running for the overall stage race, but paid off as she took first place in the women’s pro/open division, with a time of 4:42:09. Taking second place, was non-stage racer, KC Holley, finishing 2nd at 5:03:20. Stage racer, Sparky Moir (Pivot Cycles/MRP/Ergon) started second place in the overall stage race standings and finished stage 3 with a time of 5:08:29. Allyson Sepp (Black Diamond Apline Lodge) was the next stage racer to finish crossing the line in 8th place with a time of 5:24:48.
In the men’s pro/open division it was non-stage racer Brennon Peterson who took the 50 mile MTB win an impressive time of 3:33:20. After a win in the gravel race yesterday, stage racer Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette took 2nd place finishing in 3:56:01. Taking the third place spot, was non-stage racer Spencer Glasgow crossing the line in 3:59: 02. Stage racers Anthony Toops finished 4th and Spencer Johnson finished in 6th place.
Taking the singlespeed win was stage racer, Josh Kunz (KSD), finishing in a time of 4:38:25. Non stage racers Driz Cook and Stve Ipsen finished 2nd and 3rd place. Stage racer Dominic Cilento finished stage 3 in 5th place.
The masters men’s race was close with non stage racers taking 1st and 2nd. Mike Gaertner took the win, 4:14:30 and Andy Compas finished 2nd, 4:18:06. Stage racer Dave Harris took the 3rd position finishing in 4:20:06. Other top stage race finishes include: Todd Tanner taking 5th place and Ted Peddy finishing in 7th.
Taking the top three steps in the masters women’s division were non-stage racers. 1st place Donna Winters 6:03:06, 2nd Christine Graham 6:20:03 and Third Theresa Morningstar 7:44:46. Stage racer,Kathy Judson, from Arvada, CO finished in 4th place with a time of 8:08:15.
Overall True Grit Epic stage race results
Out of the 9 registered to start the women’s open/pro division only two ladies finished all 3 stages. Taking the overall win was Sparky Moir with a 2nd place on stage two and a third place on stage 3 totalling 1207 points. Finishing a close second was Allyson Sepp with 1203 points.
In the men’s open/pro division, it was Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette taking the overall win, with a 1st place on stage 2 and a 2nd place on stage 3 totaling 1209 overall points. Timothy Rugg took second with combined points of 1196. Stewart Goodwin was a close third totaling 1192 combined points.
Josh Kunz pulled away with the singlespeed win, taking a 1st place finish in both the gravel and MTB stages earring a perfect score of 1210 points. Dominic Cilento took 2nd place with 1204 points.
In a stacked master men’s field, Todd Tanner finished 1st, totalling 1204 points with a 3rd place on stage 2 and a 5th on stage 3. Dave Harris finished 2nd overall with 1199 points, and Jeff Sumsion 3rd with 1196 points.
Kathy Judson was able to finish all three stages earning the win in the masters women’s division.