De Crescenzo: When you sign up for Unbound you're signing up for pain and problems

Lauren De Crescenzo at 2021 Unbound Gravel 200 on her way to victory with 55-mile solo break
Lauren De Crescenzo at 2021 Unbound Gravel 200 on her way to victory with 55-mile solo break (Image credit: Life Time)

Lauren De Crescenzo is prepared to defend her title at Unbound Gravel 200, but despite feeling physically and mentally stronger than last year, she’s taking a decidedly relaxed approach as she faces what she deems a tougher field.

“Race-wise, I am feeling confident. I know that I am at a higher level physically and mentally than I was last year. My team and I really take a comprehensive approach when it comes to how we can improve at every angle. I'm excited to try and defend the title, but I'm not going to put unnecessary pressure on myself,” said De Crescenzo on the eve of the event.

“The start list is stacked with talented riders and anything can happen at a race like Unbound. But I enjoyed the challenge of training for the event, and no matter what happens on race day, the work that goes into the event will make me a better cyclist.”

De Crescendo targets many of the marque gravel races across the country each season, but she is not among the field of 60 riders taking part in the Life Time Grand Prix series, of which Unbound Gravel 200 is the second of six events. She said she takes on a more long-term approach to her gravel racing career and noted that she still has a lot to learn in the discipline.

“I'm proud of the team and program I've helped create and the athletes and staff that are a part of it. We have some big long-term goals in cycling that we are targeting. But I go to each race ready to learn. I feel I'm working towards my doctorate in cycling. So much goes into it all, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love racing my bike,” said De Crescenzo.

Winning Unbound 200 last year made De Crescenzo one of the most well-known athletes in gravel racing and she said that it has set her on a new trajectory as a professional athlete. 

“This race is special to me because it changed my entire life. Last year after Unbound, my team matched my CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] salary and I'm happy that this year I wasn’t teleworking for eight hours a day leading up to the race. Now I can dedicate the right amount of time to prepare for my races. Plus, I won't be getting married six days before the race like I did last year!” said De Crescenzo, a former epidemiologist at the CDC and research fellow on transportation safety, who celebrated her victory last year while on her honeymoon.

She has taken full advantage of her new pro schedule with the Cinch Rise team and has already had a successful start to 2022 taking the general classification win on the road at Tour of the Gila. She said her combined road and gravel season will have helped her preparation for Unbound.

“In terms of event prep I feel like I have a leg up this year because I competed in some big races like Tour of the Gila, Valley of the Sun and the MidSouth gravel race. Last year, with my work schedule, I was only able to compete in local races on the weekends,” said De Crescenzo.

As De Crescenzo lines up in an attempt to defend her title in the 200-mile event, she remembered that what drew her most to this marquee gravel race was the camaraderie among its thousands of participants.

“Unbound pushes you past the brink of what you think you are capable of, but with thousands of riders out there, there's a sense of all of us being in it together. When you sign up, you are signing up for pain and problems,” De Crescenzo said.

“But after struggling out there all day, there comes a sense of euphoria as you cross the finish line and a sense of accomplishment that lingers on long after. I've used difficult experiences in my life to push myself to be better. Unbound is one of those bench-mark experiences for me as I know it is for so many others in the gravel community.”

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Marshall Opel started out as a young road bike racer in Montana, and found success as a junior racer for both the junior and U23 US National team. He has swapped racing for writing, and has covered gravel rides across the US extensively in the past three years.