Unbound Gravel 2022 route

The Garmin Unbound Gravel presented by Craft returns on June 4 with its signature 200-mile (322km) event across the Flint HIlls of Kansas. The mass start for men and women will take place in front of the historic Granada Theatre at 6:00 local time, which will include the majority of the 60 elite riders, men and women, vying for the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda series title. Unbound Gravel 200 is the second stop, and the longest, of the six-race series.

The route for Unbound Gravel 200 begins and ends on the pavement in downtown Emporia, but in between it's all sharp rocks, steep pitches in and out of gullies and rugged roads through the now infamous Flint Hills that wind through the Tallgrass Prairie in the middle of the US. The single-loop format follows roads which organisers describe as “quite primitive in nature”. Rain can turn the dirt roads into heavy mud.

This year’s route will head in a southbound direction from the start, into Greenwood and Chase counties. Due to some heavy rain and river flooding days prior to the start, parts of the Unbound 200 course were impassable. The original route was 204.6 mile (329km) in length, but after a slight modification to head east after the Eureka checkpoint rather than south, the updated route, as of June 2, brought the distance to 199.98 miles (321.8km). 

There are two checkpoints at Eureka (mile 77.3) and Madison (mile 164.3), where riders can receive outside support. There are also two neutral ‘water oasis’ stops, Texaco Hill (mile 41) and Hamilton (mile 119), where only water is provided and support crews are not allowed.

Course highlights

Race Director Ben Sachs unveiled the new course via Instagram video on May 18. 

“There’s really cool stuff throughout the course. Probably the most interesting section is the stuff around Texaco Hill [first water oasis], which in the previous courses like 2016 through 2018 that went a similar way, that was all jammed in the first 60 or 65 miles. I’ve sort of remixed things so that we go more ‘through it’ and come back into that cool high country, open range stuff later on," he said.

“I’m known as a sadist in chosing the roughest possible roads, and I dialled it back a little with this many people, I think, picking a little bit safer roads is a good way to go. I got as much climbing as I could. I minimized things like Rocky Ford, which was so slick and muddy (in 2016). There are some sections of rough roads."

Below are some of the course highlights provided by Sachs.

  • The opening section of 200-mile course heads west and skips sections that can be very muddy if it rains, which occurred in 2015
  • Riders will head south for the Towers Climb (radio towers) heading southbound to open range towards Camp Creek
  • At mile 27 there is a substantial river crossing at Camp Creek, a tributary of the Verdigris River
  • Once at Madison Road, there is more open range area where riders could encounter cattle. “Be very respectful, move slowly,” recommended Sachs.
  • At mile 41 is the first water oasis at Texaco Hill, and then the 200-mile course veers away from the 100-mile route, which it shared from the start
  • After the split, the 200-mile route has a rough descent on what people call “bottle hill”, a spot where people are prone to lose water bottles
  • Shortly thereafter is a spiky climb at Teeter Hill and then riders may spot wild mustangs just beyond on the ensuing rough roads headed south
  • There is another windy climb, “which you think is going to end and then it doesn’t”, and two more rough ascents that can create separations before some easy roads into Eureka, which brings mile 77 for the first full checkpoint at the high school
  • Previous courses have then moved eastbound from Eureka, but this year the route continues south to take in a “fun” punchy climb at Canyon Hill
  • The route then bends back to the east and begins its northward return crossing Highway 54 at Neal
  • There are sweeping roads in the northbound direction with tree cover going into Hamilton, where the second water oasis is located
  • In Hamilton, there is a convenience store for riders to purchase beverages and snacks, which is also used by the XL riders
  • Beyond Hamilton there is a new section at Willow Creek with a winding downhill section and the dirt does not turn into mud easily if it should rain, but does have ‘fist-sized’ rocks so riders need to pay attention
  • The course then makes a steady ascent back into hill country on a different side of the Texaco Hill ridge from earlier, and rejoins the 100-mile course
  • The route goes eastbound again with a new ‘spiky’ approach to Madison on T Road, called Judge’s Hill, or just The Judge
  • At about mile 153, beware of a two-mile stretch of low maintenance road outside Madison that is prone to mud
  • There is a checkpoint at mile 164 in Madison
  • From Madison, the route moves northbound over grass and double-track terrain on the county line for the 30-mile homestretch back to Emporia

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