Twenty24 domestic elite team will field three riders to contest Unbound Gravel with Jen Luebke, Natalia Franco and Shayna Powless taking the start line in Emporia, Kansas. All three riders, who will make their debut in the 200-mile race, spoke to Cyclingnews following a course preview ride on Friday.
The trio rode parts of the route in a 25-mile training ride to get a feel for what to expect in the marquee event on Saturday. Luebke, 35, was third overall in the Gorge Gravel Grinder earlier this year and said she visualised what it would be like to ride gravel in a large big group.
“You won’t be able to see the road and [tell] what side you should be on, because we won’t be able to see that when we are riding in a big group," Luebke said. "So that was one thing I was thinking about when we were out there riding today. And then, I was surprised at what great conditions the roads were in. I know we’ll be riding some much chunkier, harder stuff, like on the far north side of the course. I was hoping to see one of these famous little washes that you are supposed to ride carefully through, but we didn’t get to see any of that close to town [Emporia], that’s farther out on the course."
Franco, 25, said she was mindful of all the sweeping turns and zig-zags along the route, in order to be in good position throughout the opening sections of the race.
“You probably have to be in a good position coming into them because in a big group your speed is going to be so fast. Just being in a good position may avoid crashes, and then losing wheels because of crosswinds, too. But I feel like I was pretty prepared for what I saw today," Franco said.
Powless, 27, won Southeast Gravel and True Grit Gravel this year. She agreed the conditions were optimal with hard-packed gravel and that she was looking forward to the technical sections in the later stages of the 200-mile race, but for the most part, the route was what she expected.
“I’ve been watching YouTube videos and seeing pictures from people who have raced here in the past, and it [the gravel roads] kind of looks like what I saw on videos and in pictures. It was like I expected."
Twenty24 supports a women's elite team while also remaining committed to developing the top junior riders across North America. The 10-rider team has focus on esport, gravel racing and the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour events this season.
Luebke said she has prepared for the gravel events by working on holding power over a washboard surfaces, all helpful for the upcoming Unbound Gravel 200. "You just have to keep pedaling," she said. "So on these chunky, hard parts later on the course I am hoping that will help. The hard, hard gravel conditions I have been riding in Oregon will benefit me late in the day on Saturday."
Luebke said she plans on playing a conservative game during the 200-mile race because her strong suit will be in the last 100 miles. Franco, on the other hand, said she will likely keep a steady pace during the event
"I’m not a big power rider on the uphills, I’m more one speed, just trying to stay steady. I feel like that is going to help in this long distance," Franco said.
Powless said she has more of a diesel engine with power and expects to do well in a longer gravel race like Unbound. "I can just go, and go, and hold a good, strong steady pace, especially for a longer gravel event," Powless said.
"I also have a pretty good punchy power, I would say, for short, punchy climbs, which there seem to be quite a bit out here with all the short, rolling climbs. I think the punchy power will also help in the beginning, especially with trying to stick close or near to the front and try to make a good selection."
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