Ian Boswell heads into the unknown this weekend as he prepares for Unbound Gravel. The 200-miler is just the second gravel race of the former WorldTour pro's career and easily the longest day in the saddle he's ever experienced but the one-time Team Sky and Katusha rider is excited about the prospect of locking horns with the likes of Laurens ten Dam, Colin Strickland and Ted King.
"Things are coming together. I did my first gravel race at The Rule of Three in Arkansas, and that was good. I was really trying to figure things out and the field was decent, even though a lot of riders were in Texas for Gravel Locos. It's a different world to the road scene and really this was my first action in a bunch since my crash in Tirreno-Adriatico in 2019. It's been a while," Boswell told Cyclingnews.
The American was forced to hang up his wheels at the end of 2019 due to a run of heavy crashes and concussions. He had forged a solid career as a mountain domestique and although he called time on his road aspirations he had had lofty gravel plans for 2020. They were ruined by the global pandemic with races cancelled or postponed but the 30-year-old has a full schedule of races on the cards this year, and combines his athletic ambitions with a job at Wahoo.
Now in Kansas for Unbound Gravel and set to ride a flashy new Specialized Diverge gravel bike, Boswell has seen firsthand the major differences between being a somewhat pampered road pro and the life of a gravel racer.
"It's just so different to road racing because of the conditions. In the Rule of Three the group split really early and I helped push the pace early on to try and make a selection before we got to the single track sections. The dynamic of racing between road and gravel is the complete opposite.
"At Sky, for example, I built my career off the back of setting the pace for others so there's a complete mind-shift when you go into a race by yourself and race for your own individual result. Matches that you burn early can really come back to bite you.
"Unbound is an event that really caters for experience. I know that some people have won it on their first go but if you look at Colin Strickland and Ted King, it really is an event that you learn from it each time that you do it. I'm going in a bit naïve in some regards and I'm just hoping that I don't run into a situation where I need to have a full bike overhaul mid-race," he told Cyclingnews.
The race will take the top-level men and women about 10 hours to complete. Boswell isn't used to that sort of duration on the bike but unlike on the road, where small gaps can stick for a long time, he expects that with so many variables and obstacles Unbound will be race right to the line.
"I can count on one hand the number of times I've ever ridden over seven hours. That's still three less than what's needed for Unbound, so the endurance side is still a bit of an unknown for me. It comes down to fueling and just saving energy for when you can.
"I spoke to a friend a couple of days ago and they basically said it's a great event, just 100 miles too long. People will come apart at the end because the pace is still race pace throughout the 200 miles. You just have to keep going all the way to the finish because you don't know what can happen. You can't just switch off if riders go up the road and get a five-minute gap because you don't know if they're going to blow up or have a mechanical. A five-minute gap can just disappear in an instance, so that's totally different from road racing. I'm just going to have to pedal all the way to the line."
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