Dutchman Ivar Slik won the men’s 200-mile race of the 2022 Garmin Unbound Gravel presented by Craft, sprinting to the line in downtown Emporia, Kansas ahead of Keegan Swenson in second place and defending champion Ian Boswell in third.
Laurens ten Dam, who was the runner-up last year to Boswell in a two-up sprint, rolled across the line in fourth, seven seconds behind this year’s photo finish for the final two podium spots. Alexey Vermeulen, winner of the 2022 Belgian Waffle Ride California, was fifth.
“I was so happy, it was my big goal this year. So much can happen, you need a little bit of luck. I came here in the best condition. It is super cool to finish it off in a sprint of five,” Slik said after the victory, just his third gravel race of the season.
Slik finished second at Gravel Locos this year, then raced Rule of Three in Bentonville, Arkansas, a late puncture taking him out of contention in that contest.
Swenson took maximum points to continue to lead the men's division of the Life Time Grand Prix series, having won the opening round at Sea Otter Classic in the Fuego XC 80K. The deep mud on the southern route of the 200-mile course proved to have no major obstacles for the 2021 men’s champion of the USA Cycling Pro Mountain Bike Cross-Country Tour, however it was the sprint on the pavement and the big kick by Slik that kept him from going two for two.
A quartet of riders had made separation with under 36 miles to go, just after the second checkpoint - Slik, Boswell, Swenson and Vermeulen. The four leaders worked together, taking turns at the front with some flatter sections of hard-packed dirt roads, passing a long line of riders headed to the finish of the 100-mile event. Peter Stetina and Rob Britton rode together in the chase with Ten Dam close behind.
By mile 186, less than 15 miles to go, Ten Dam had worked his way back to the lead group, having passed Stetina and Britton.
After nine hours of racing and a route littered with mud and puddles in every pothole, the men’s field came down to a five-rider lead pack across the final 24 miles and through the final paved section through Emporia State University into downtown Emporia.
Slik raced in a special kit with large stars to pay hommage to the American stunt performer Evel Knievel and won in 9:22:04. It was a second appearance at Unbound for the 29-year-old Dutchman, who raced the past two seasons on the UCI Continental team ABLOC CT out of the Netherlands. He added custom aero bars to his equipment setup this time around and noted that was an advantage this time around.
“I’ve never been this dirty. That was awesome," Boswell said at the finish, covered in mud. "I think I’m more proud of this year than last year. Last year was for myself, it was smooth sailing, like I had no issues, no flats. There was no mud, no rain. This year I had a lot more go wrong, I guess. I had a flat really early and some other bike issues. I crashed in the mud.
"Once it was four of us, and Laurens came back, and it was similar to last year, everyone in that front group rode a great race. Like I said this morning, my hope was that someone would win that was the strongest rider. Ivan, gravelmeister, he’s freaking strong. He’s got a lot more power than me in a sprint."
How it unfolded
The 200-mile riders departed downtown Emporia, Kansas under cloudy conditions, the course already soaked from heavy rain storms earlier in the week, prompting organisers to modify the far southern section of the course late Thursday by taking out a few miles of impassable roads.
Riders encountered rain and wind on the middle section of the course, with the sun coming out to dry some muddy areas by the second checkpoint.
In opening 20 miles, a large lead group included Spain’s Freddy Ovett, Dutchman Thomas Dekker, Samuel Hunter Grove, Stefano Barberi, Brennan Wertz, Alexey Vermeulen, Lance Haidet and Keegan Swenson. Logan Owen launched a solo attack from the large lead pack at mile marker 41.3, and he was soon joined by Swenson.
When the 200-milers began their stops at the first of two checkpoints, mile 77.3 at Eureka, Owen and Swenson were back in a lead group with about 18 other riders. Ten Dan was the next rider to move out front after the aid station transition, with Stetina part of the chasers behind.
By mile 92, Paul Voss took a turn in the lead, but 12 miles later Ten Dam and Matta De Marchi had pushed in front of him, leaving 13 riders behind to chase about two minutes back. Ten Dam took a solo lead with 120 miles to go, and held the lead for another 15 miles.
By mile 147 a new group of five formed at the front - Boswell, Vermeulen, Stetina, Swenson and Silk. Ten Dam has fallen off the lead and was chasing one minute back. Just 30 laters Russell Finsterwald and Rob Britton followed.
After the second checkpoint at Madison, with just under 36 miles to ride, the selection of Slik, Boswell, and Swenson was made, who were joined a few miles later by Vermeulen, and then in the next dozen miles by a charging Ten Dam.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|4||Laurens ten Dam||0:00:07|
|13||Mattia de Marchi||0:19:48|
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