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UNBOUND Gravel Race Recap

As the second stop on the Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda, UNBOUND Gravel looms large as not only the World’s Premiere Gravel Race, but also as a key point in the series to garner points in a series punctuated with both mountain bike and gravel events.

It’s a gravel race, but is a mountain bike a better choice?

Much has been made of the chunky nature of north courses at UNBOUND, and as only the third time in history that the event has started headed north on Commercial St., there was a hefty amount of conversation among the athletes about how brutal the course would be. Would the punchier climbs and bigger gravel, combined with the inevitable mud, make the day a race of survival, or would the riders overcome the conditions with equipment and resolve? Would it be necessary to run wider gravel tires (like a 47mm or bigger) to tame the chunk of the northern courses? In the end, the answer was that the day was near perfect and the track allowed for fastest known times across all disciplines and distances.

Elite Men’s

In the Elite Men’s Race, all eyes were on defending champion Keegan Swenson. After dominating the LTGP last year, and starting his series defense with a win at Fuego XL at Sea Otter this year, Swenson was the odds-on favorite even when stacked against stout global talents like UCI Gravel World Champion Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Victorious), Olympian Greg Van Avermaet (Team Last Dance), South African Champion Matt Beers (Specialized Factory), and perennial favorites like Payton McElveen (Allied, SRAM), Peter Stetina (Canyon Collective), and Lachlan Morton (EF-EasyPost). 

Perfect Conditions Lead To An Early Break

Under cool temperatures, light winds, and perfect gravel conditions, the Elite Men started their 200+ mile escapade. Almost as soon as the pavement ended, Tobias Kongstad (PAS Racing) attacked and he was joined by Jonas Orset (Nordic Trailblazer). Although the two seemed destined for an extremely long day in the saddle, the move was eventually joined by Innokenty Zavyalov and Chase Wark (DRFT LESS), who was running his signature “gravel aero” bike with a disc rear wheel, deep section front wheel, and frame add-ons to slip through the Kansas wind. While the move seemed early for a 200-mile race, especially with the firepower behind, this quartet did have the advantage of being able to pick lines and have good line of sight on the trickiest sections of chunky minimum maintenance roads (MMRs). Staying out of the fray would prove pivotal to Kongstad as he somehow preserved energy to sprint later in the day.

Behind, the 160+ riders in the peloton were settling into their respective race plans for the day. For Swenson, that meant deploying his Santa Cruz Ht Sqd teammate Tobin Ortenblad to the front to keep the pressure on, but also to provide order. This tactic had been employed by the Santa Cruz riders before, most notably in last year’s Leadville 100, where Swenson would go on to win and smash the course record. Clearly Swenson was confident in his training and the requirements of racing in the Flint Hills.

The Break’s Gap Swells As The Favorites Mark Each Other

Working well together, Zavyalov, Wark, Kongstad, and Orset continued to open up the gap over rough sections of MMR like E. Kaw Reserve and Divide Roads, while in the main peloton the battle was on between Swenson and Mohoric to enter these critical tracts first. Choosing a (hopefully) good line and sticking to it is crucial in these moments and as an UNBOUND first-timer, Mohoric was seen flitting from track to track hoping for the smoothest possible run…a risky move that could lead to a sidewall cut or worse. This would be the case throughout the remaining MMRs of Rockton and Christy Rds.

Lachlan Makes His First Attempt

Through the first checkpoint in Alma at mile 70, the break’s lead had shrunk slightly, and shortly thereafter fan favorite Lachlan Morton made a bid to bridge the gap over to the break of four. Working smoothly and taking advantage of every aero gain possible, Morton would prise out a small lead over the 60-strong chasing pack, only to see it evaporate when he made a navigation error at mile 87. In his own words after the race, Morton admitted that this might have been for the best since chasing into a headwind was costing him energy he could use later.

Little Egypt Closes The Groups

Despite having close to a two minute gap to the chasers entering the roads around the Volland Store, the ratcheting pressure provided by Swenson and others meant that by the time the leaders exited the 2+ mile MMR of Little Egypt Rd., the break was over. This particular portion of the course has been critical in years past, and there was no doubt that the top riders knew that the action was about to go down, even roughly 100 miles from the finish. Through the neutral water oasis in Alta Vista, the pack remained together with no one opting to stop to top off.

Lachlan Goes Again, This Time With Help

On the next MMR, a rutted 2-mile track at mile 125, Thijs Zonneveld attacked and was joined by Haga and Morton, escaping a dwindling chase pack that still contained Swenson, Beers, Stetina, and UNBOUND newcomers, Sebastian Schoenberger (Felt Bicycles), Mattia di Marchi (Enough Cycling) and Kongstad, but lacked Mohoric and past winner Ian Boswell (Specialized/Wahoo), the former having succumbed to flats and a broken wheel, while the latter was spent from his efforts driving the pack for his teammate Beers.

While the chasers assessed their situation, the trio of Haga, Morton, and Zonneveld soldiered on, taking equal turns in an attempt to stave off the pack. Near the final checkpoint of the day, and in an attempt to invigorate his breakaway companion, Morton gifted Zonneveld his last gel, only to have Zonneveld flat shortly thereafter and drop out of contention with 50 miles to go. From here on it would have to be Haga and Morton to the line.

The Gap Is There, But Is It Enough?

Throughout the remaining miles to Emporia and through the last MMR sections, Haga and Morton fluidly drove the pace to the finish line. Flying past other riders that were competing in shorter distances at UNBOUND, the vibe became one of athletic achievement surrounded by gobsmacked onlookers. Amateur riders stopped and cheered, took selfies, and even attempted to latch on to the Haga/Morton train for one brief uphill sprint only to be summarily dropped and then exclaim “that was AWESOME!”

What was less celebratory was the cohesion of the chasing group. Now numbering 30+ but with some passengers that were running close to empty, Swenson and Beers were growing weary of driving the chase and in a momentary lull, five riders: Peter Stetina, Mattia de Marchi, Piotr Havik, Simen Nordahl Svendsen, and Tobias Kongstad jumped away in an attempt to bridge to Morton and Haga. This left pre-race favorites like Swenson, Beers, Payson McElveen, Russell Finsterwald (Trek Drftlss), Van Avermaet (who, showing remarkable grit, had spent 2 hours chasing after flatting twice) and a resurgent Dylan Johnson (Felt UN1TD) to chase.

The Home Stretch

Having completed the final MMR sections and last significant climbs, Morton and Haga cruised towards Commercial St., working well until suddenly they weren’t. On a short stretch of gravel near the finish Haga attempted a haymaker attack, easing off the wheel of Morton and then launching with full vigor. Ultimately, Morton was able to claw his way back to the wheel of Haga, but the truce was officially over…Morton would sit on Haga until the final climb of Highland Hill, the last climb through the Emporia State University campus. Having planned to launch an attack from the bottom, Morton was surprised when Haga did it himself and so instead matched Haga to the top of the climb before launching a massive counter attack. The attack didn’t stick, holding at just a few meters, and before the final turn on to Commercial, Haga recovered, dug deep, and moved in front again for a long sprint for home. But the distances of the final few blocks can be deceiving and biding his time, Morton waited to come around Haga until the final block, claiming his first victory in four attempts at UNBOUND Gravel.

Further back, the chasing groups ebbed and flowed, with riders attempting to close on the closest group of now four chasers (de Marchi, Piotr Havik (Classified/Ridley),  and PAS duo Simen Nordahl Svendsen, and Tobias Kongstad…Stetina having been dropped before the last MMR), but ultimately it was for naught. Swenson, Finsterwald, McElveen and LTGP rider Torbjørn Røed  made inroads, but their effort came undone when Swenson crossed wheels with his companions and crashed heavily and lost time. At the line it would be Kongstad claiming the third step on the podium, with Havik and de Marchi just behind. On the day, the top-10 was populated with 4 either current or former World Tour riders: Morton, Haga, Svendsen, Van Avermaet, and Schönberger.

So on a day that hinted at tough conditions, the opposite held true. A perfect racing environment for the crowd-favorite Lachlan Morton to strike out boldly on multiple occasions en route to the fastest time ever recorded at UNBOUND Gravel…9:11:47.

Elite Women’s Race

For the Elite Women at the 2024 UNBOUND, the terrain was completely new: not just from a course perspective as many were familiar with north vs south, but when viewed through the lens of history, it was an unprecedented first. By starting the women’s race in a “timing envelope” between the Elite Men and the rest of the amateur field, the Elite Women (and the world) were treated to what was possible when the women have their own race to contest. In a word, it was amazing.

The Sprint Out Of Town

Under near-perfect conditions, 60+ racers rolled out of Emporia on a mission to not only tackle the tougher northern course of UNBOUND, but also to show what an unfettered women’s race could look like. The answer was…fast. Averaging speeds in excess of 20mph, pre-race favorites like Carolin Schiff (Canyon), Hannah Otto (Pivot/DT Swiss), Heather Jackson (Herbalife), Geerike Schreurs (SDWorx), Sofia Gomez Villafañe (Specialized Factory), Paige Onweller (Trek DRFTLSS), and Lauren De Crescenzo (Factor Bicycles/The Feed)were a tightly packed group until a crash at mile 15 caused a split.

On To The First MMR

After some shuffling in the group, it was Emily Newsom (PAS Racing) that led the bunch on to the first MMR of E Kaw Reserve Rd. Shortly thereafter Leah Van Der Linden (Lauf) was active near the front but growing frustrated that no one was willing to strike out on their own. The group seemed content to mark each other and see how things played out throughout the rest of the day.

Divide Rd. Divides The Field

The women wouldn’t have to wait long to see what the next move would be and it came when Cecily Decker (Scuderia Pinnarello) pushed the pace on Divide Rd. and put pressure on everyone. Villafañe, who was following Decker, punctured at about mile 44, which caused a second group to form on the road with Villanfañe working hard to close the gap by mile 51. In the interim, Anna Hicks took a flyer off the front with Heather Jackson and Paige Onweller leading the chase. Throughout the miles just after the first checkpoint, Sarah Sturm was pushing the pace as well as Whitney Allison (Bike Sports Co), Heather Jackson, and Minori Minagawa (Fount).

With Little Egypt On The Horizon, The Race Starts To Heat Up.

At around mile 80, Minagawa was able to pry open a 15 second gap, which De Crescenzo jumped across to. The pair worked well together until a road hazard caused a pinching of the riders and while De Crescenzo was able to stay away, Minagawa was reabsorbed into the bunch. This left De Crescenzo to soldier on alone through Little Egypt, one of the most notorious portions of the course, where she established a solid lead. But the rough roads of Little Egypt weren’t good for everyone. Rosa Klöser crashed while riding 5th wheel and elsewhere, a mechanical for Villafañe saw her drop from the lead group while inadvertently and simultaneously causing Schiff to crash. Upon exiting Little Egypt at mile 108, the deck had been reshuffled: De Crescenzo clinging to a narrow lead, while being pursued by a group of now 11 riders: Sarah Lange (Velocio Exploro), Haley Smith (Trek DRFTLSS), Alexis Skarda (Santa Cruz HtSQD), Jenna Rinehart (Specialized/Mazda Orange Seal), Paige Onweller, Carolin Schiff, Geerike Schreurs, Heather Jackson, Hannah Otto, Sarah Sturm (Specialized/SRAM/Rapha), and Rosa Klöser (Rose/MAAP).

Setting Up For The End Game

As the racers left the neutral water oasis at Alta Vista, the status quo was mostly in place, although De Crescenzo was losing the grip on her lead, little by little. Rosa Klöser was faring no better as in the run-in to the final checkpoint, at mile 130, she crashed and suffered a rear wheel puncture. She fixed the issue quickly and regained the group, but the subsequent fix at the checkpoint cost her another 2 ½ minutes. She would eventually catch the lead group again, but was burning precious matches in the process.

With most of the major difficulties out of the way, at least in terms of chunky roads, it would be up to the climbs of Kahola and beyond to sort out the mix. Lake Kahola, a private lake northwest of Emporia features cooling waters, excellent views, and a significant climb. Locals know it, past riders of UNBOUND know it, and as someone that had trained frequently in the area…Paige Onweller knew it. Despite having recently returned from ankle surgery, the Kahola climb is where Onweller chose to apply the pressure and in doing so, dropped Sarah Lange and Alexis Skarda for good, and momentarily distanced Klöser.

From there is was a drag race back to Emporia over the relatively easy 20+ miles. The group of nine worked well together, perhaps sensing it would come down to a sprint. On the final climb of Highland Dr., it was last year’s winner Carolin Schiff that started the attacks, with Geerike Schreurs taking over over the top.

Sprinting For The Win

Turning on to Commercial St. no one knew quite what to expect…no one had ever seen this before…a 9-up sprint amongst some of the best gravel riders in the world, each going for the historic win in one of the purest women’s gravel races ever. In a separate, protected chute, Onweller led out the sprint, with Schreurs attempting to lead out her teammate Sturm, only to be overhauled by Klöser in the waning moments. Schreurs would finish second, followed by Onweller, Smith, and Jackson. It was a pivotal moment for women’s gravel cycling, for UNBOUND, and for all who witnessed it either live or online.

Results Shake Up The Overall In The Life Time Grand Prix

As the second stop in the Life Time Grand Prix, UNBOUND Gravel is a key opportunity to score points for the overall seven race series. With some unexpected results on Saturday, the outlook for the LTGP has gotten very interesting.

Women

On the women’s side, Haley Smith was the big winner at UNBOUND with her 4th place finish. This moves her into 1st overall in the LTGP, despite her considering not to race at all given some recent health issues. Hannah Otto’s 8th, combined with her 3rd place at Fuego XL at Sea Otter sees her claim the 2nd position, while Sofia Gomez Villafañe falls to 3rd after not scoring as many points as she would have liked. Paige Onweller and Lauren De Crescenzo also picked up key points.

Men

Last year, Swenson was able to run the table on points for the LTGP, but with a less than perfect day for him at UNBOUND, the race for the overall has gotten very tight. While still in the lead, Swenson has seen his lead narrow to Payson McElveen to only a single point, and Matt Beers, Lachlan Morton, and Brendan Johnston all nipping at Swenson’s heels. 

Those that will rue the day the most include Russell Finsterwald who crashed late in the race, Petr Vakoc who finished 40 on the day and now sits 9th in the LTGP standings, Peter Stetina who looked incredibly strong in the closing miles but ultimately faded, and of course Swenson who seemingly was able to snag points at will last year.

And for those that sat out this round, like Alexy Vermeulen (Enve/Factor/Chamois Butt’r), it’ll be interesting to see if his tactic pays off. Clearly Swenson not scoring highly doesn’t hurt his cause. Likewise for Cole Paton (Giant) and Howard Grotts (Specialized), both of whom are hoping for a strong second half of the season.

Newcomer Justine Barrow and Canadian Julien Gagne take the wins, Newsom 3rd.

High speeds and hot temperatures made for solid UNBOUND Gravel prep with just 2 weeks to go. LTGP rookie Jordan Schleck earned his first top-10 with 6th and Alex Howes finished 10th behind former UNBOUND Gravel winner Ivar Silk and perennial favorite Laurens Ten Dam. On the women’s side, Texas native Emily Newsom earns at spot on the podium with a hard fought 3rd place.

USA Cycling Road National Championships

Gravel riders fill Women’s top-5, Alexey Vermeulen switches from knobbies to slicks in West Virginia.

Vermeulen grabs 5th in the road race and 7th in the TT for the Michigan native. With Unbound Gravel struck from his race calendar, Vermeulen returned to high-level road racing hoping to make a mark and potentially grab podium spots with Paris 2024 off on the horizon. 

Former and current LTGP riders Ruth Edwards, Lauren Stephens and Lauren DeCrescenzo are 2nd, 4th and 5th.

Stetina’s Paydirt

Jackson, Legan and Van der Linden go 1-2-3, Morton 5th The innovative segment-timed gravel ride/race includes a women’s only prize list and mandatory hot dog stops!



THE GRALLOCH

Petr Vakoc hits the podium with a 3rd at the Gravel World Series event in Scotland. The women’s race won by Geerike Schreurs, who will be competing at Unbound Gravel in just two weeks.



RULE OF 3

It’s a race, it’s a ride, it’s the best Bentonville has to offer. Payson McElveen and Crystal Anthony both solo to win Ro3 in familiar terrain. LTGP riders Anna Yamauchi, Paige Onweller and Kate Cross in 2nd, 3rd and 4th.



Sturm and Stetina survive and thrive in The Traka 360, Vakoc wins the Traka 200

Pete Stetina took the win with a come-from-behind victory in the 360km Traka. The race takes in the surrounding rolling hills and small mountain towns that make Catalunya a favored locale for pro cyclists. Early mechanicals forced Stetina to adopt a different approach, picking off groups of riders throughout the nearly 12 hour event with the help of Rob Britton. They eventually finished 1-2, ahead of fellow North American Chad Haga, surprising all, including themselves.

Sarah Sturm finished on the podium once again, taking 3rd place behind winner Karolina Migon and Geerike Schreurs.

In the Traka 200km it was familiar face Unbound 2023 winner, Carolin Schiff with a commanding victory and Ellen Campbell in 9th

Petr Vakoc picked up the win in a close finish with Jasper Ockeloen. Eagle-eyed viewers may recognize Greg van Avermaet just behind in 7th with notables Niki Terpstra, Daniel Oss, Alistair Brownlee, former UNBOUND Gravel winner Ivar Silk, Lance Haidet and Ted King in the top-40. You’ll see those names back for Unbound Gravel in just a few weeks.

Johnston wins his 6th Marathon MTB National Title in sprint finish

Brendan Johnston came out ahead in the 89km race, winning his 6th Australian National Championship title in the MTB Marathon.

La Grind Gravel STAGE RACE

Paige Onweller wins in Emporia as she continues on her journey back from an early season injury.



Gomez Villafañe, Beers win at BWR San Diego

Matt Beers tops the podium while Sofia Gomez Villafañe captures yet another major race win.

Beers channeled his inner Pogaçar and maybe even MVDP, too by taking a solo flyer with more than 60mi to go, holding off a splintered chase group on the final climb lead by Alexey Vermeulen and Petr Vakoc. Obviously at home on more than just his MTB, this road-centric gravel race asks for high-speed climbing as much as slippery singletrack. Both former World Tour pros, Vakoc and Vermeulen were followed by Pete Stetina and Brendan Johnston in 4th and 5th.

With a 4th place, Stetina wrapped up the BWR Overall Series Title.

Gomez Villafañe overcame an early flat and won by more than 15mins over Courtney Sherwell and young rider, Caroline Wreszin. This was Sofia’s 3rd victory at the BWR series after the Arizona and Utah stops, each adding to her other wins at Valley of Tears and last weekend’s Life Time Sea Otter Classic, Fuego XL MTB race.

TOP 10 WOMEN

  1. Sofia Gomez Villafañe (Specialized Off-Road) 6h 15m 
  2. Courtney Sherwell (Prova Cycles/QOM/Ekoi/Schwalbe/SRAM) 6h 30m
  3. Caroline Wreszin 6h 30m 
  4. Heather Jackson (CANYON CLLCTV GRVL) 6h 32m 
  5. Isabel King (SCOTT/SHIMANO) 6h 44m 
  6. Cecily Decker (Scuderia Pinarello) 6h 45m 
  7. Whitney Allison (Bike Sports) 6h 47m 
  8. Emily Newsom (PAS Racing) 6h 52m 
  9. Cassia Boglio (Liv Brazillian Butterfly Racing p/b Willing & Twin Peak) 6h 59m
  10. Rebecca Fahringer (Easton Overland) 7h 00m

TOP 10 MEN

  1. Matthew Beers (Specialized Off-Road) 5h 28m 
  2. Alexey Vermeulen (ENVE/Q+M) 5h 29m 
  3. Petr Vakoc (Canyon Integray L27) 5h 31m 
  4. Peter Stetina Canyon (Waffeleurs & Ale drinkeurs) 5h 32m 
  5. Brendan Johnston (Giant Off Road Team) 5h 34m 
  6. Torbjorn Andre Roed (Trek | Driftless) 5h 34m 
  7. Lance Haidet (Specialized/SRAM/Velocio) 5h 38m 
  8. Lachlan Morton (Ef easy pos)t 5h 42m 
  9. Kyle Trudeau (Slow twitch Goodlife Racing) 5h 42m 
  10. Carter Anderson (Ventum/Kuhl) 5h 45m

Whiskey Off Road, Epic Rides

Alexis Skarda scored some redemption after her aggressive racing at Sea Otter failed to result in the head-to-head throwdown she’d hoped for, finishing just ahead of Hannah Otto. Chilly but dry, fast conditions following the rain-out of the downtown crit meant for fresh legs and everything on the line.

Keegan Swenson continued his winning ways after a close battle with Cole Paton 2nd and Alex Wild in 3rd.

TOP 10 WOMEN

  1.   Alexis Skarda  03:44:21
  2.   Hannah Otto 03:44:23
  3.   Erin Osborne 03:47:58
  4.   Deanna Mayles 03:48:39
  5.   Michaela Thompson 03:55:15
  6.   Katerina Nash 03:56:12
  7.   Samara Sheppard 03:58:02
  8.   Ellen Campbell 03:58:38
  9.   Amy Chandos 03:58:42
  10.   Ellie Krafft 04:02:10

TOP 10 MEN

  1. Keegan Swenson 03:06:45
  2. Cole Paton 03:07:29
  3. Alex Wild 03:08:46
  4. Cameron Jones 03:09:25
  5. Sean Fincham 03:11:28
  6. Taylor Lideen 03:11:29
  7. Finn Gullickson 03:11:57
  8. Brian Matter 03:17:24
  9. Caleb Swartz 03:17:24
  10. Jerry Dufour 03:17:24

HIGHLANDS GRAVEL CLASSIC

Jenna Rinehart wins ahead of Maude Farrell and Flavia Oliveira Parks. Crystal Anthony 4th in the UCI Gravel Worlds Qualifier.

TOP 10 WOMEN

  1. Jenna Rinehart  
  2. Maude Farrell 
  3. Flavia Oliveira Parks 
  4. Crystal Anthony 
  5. Marisa Boaz
  6. Sammi Runnels 
  7. Danielle Ravnikar 

TOUR OF GILA

Lauren Stephens takes the Overall and Mountains Jerseys at the Tour of Gila, with two stage wins and never finishing off the podium. One of the longest running and most-difficult road stage races on the calendar, TTT, long climbs and altitude push riders to the limit. Victory confirms Stephens as one of the US top road riders even as she takes on the Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Sea OTTER CLASSIC

All of last weekend’s action from the Life Time Sea Otter Classic can be found on our @lifetimegrandprix YouTube Channel. Be sure to like and subscribe so you won’t miss any of our other event broadcasts coming at you this season!

LTGP Fuego XL Recap

The opening round of the Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda (LTGP) launched Friday with the 66-mile Fuego XL MTB race. Now in its third year and with an expanded prize list of $300,000 split equally amongst Men and Women riders, the LTGP pits sixty of the world’s best athletes against each other and against the backdrop of seven of the most iconic courses in the U.S. Last year’s overall winners, Keegan Swenson and Sofia Gómez Villafañe return in 2024, seeking to defend their titles. New for this year in the series is a slightly narrowed field, with separate start times for men and women across all events, and a revamped points system.

Course Conditions

Conditions for this year’s Fuego XL opener, held in and around the Laguna Seca Raceway, were close to ideal. Low initial temps, combined with a tacky and fast track, were sure to produce fast times and the riders did not disappoint with the first seven finishers in the men’s field and the entire top-ten of the women’s field eclipsing the winning times of their respective categories from 2023.

Men’s Elite

In the men’s field, all eyes were on 2x defending champion Keegan Swenson who commanded many of the events last year. Those with the champ in their sights included South African Champ Matt Beers and Howard Grotts (fresh off a win in the Absa Cape Epic), last year’s LTGP runner-up Alexey Vermeulen, and LTGP rookie Petr Vakoč (2nd at Unbound Gravel in 2023). Also included in the mix were athletes not in the LTGP, but seeking to make their mark on individual events like Taylor Lideen and Cameron Jones. 

After call-ups for last year’s top-5 athletes (as well as California local, Alex Wild who was 5th at Fuego last year), the men’s field rocketed away towards the long first climb that leads to the infamous Corkscrew of the Laguna Seca racetrack. A new entrance to the singletrack saw Swenson leading Vermeulen and the entire pack of what quickly whittled down to just 12+ riders. With this section of the course being critical (a tight and twisty sector with loose conditions providing no chance to pass or make up for a blown corner), it was clear that Vermeulen was banking on his MTB upbringing to ensure a smooth start to the day, but Swenson seemed to want to control the narrative.

Race Favorite Out Of Contention

While the singletrack was hero dirt in places, the upper ridgelines and fast, double track featured extended sections of soft, loose sand. Leaving room to the rider in front would help with visibility, but could easily bite if the dust obscured any easily hidden rocks or ruts. Russell Finsterwald, 2nd the previous year, later suffered a large slice across the tread of his tire at an inopportune time, removing him from contention. 

Barely 15 minutes into the race, the lead pack had taken shape with the aforementioned Swenson and Vermeulen, Beers, Vakoč, Brendan Johnston, Bradyn Lange, Payson McElveen and others. Over the next two hours, Beers and Johnston would lead the charge of this group, with Swenson and Vermeulen keeping a close eye on every move, expending energy at key points to position themselves for the singletrack. Elsewhere, Finn Gullickson, Bradyn Lange, Sean Fincham, Toby Roed, Marcis Shelton among others constantly fighting to make contact, Howard Grotts managed to close a sizable gap on the climb after the first feed to make the front group of a dozen favorites. 

RATCHETING UP THE PRESSURE 

The start of the second lap saw a strung out paceline with Swenson riding second wheel in defense of his title and while the group swelled slightly early on in the second lap, it was about to be torn apart. With roughly ten miles to go, Swenson applied pressure and whittled the front group down to the trio of himself, Vermeulen, and Beers. But even that trio wouldn’t stay together as Keegan distanced himself on the last descent before the final singletrack climb to Lookout Ridge. Beers was gapped and despite a huge effort to close the margin, he was ultimately overhauled as Vermeulen countered clawing out a 20 second advantage to Beers, but Swenson had flown. They would finish in that order, although the closing miles saw a furious chase by Cole Paton and Brendan Johnston to round out the top-5.

Race Notes

Like Finsterwald, Bradyn Lange suffered a massive sidewall tear that required two car-sized tire plugs to repair, but managed to cling to a top-20 spot and the 16th place LTGP points. And showing the promise of the future generation, two young riders held their own in the front group for much of the day: Marcis Shelton, 20, of Mill Valley, CA and first-year LTGP rider Finn Gullickson out of Boulder, CO.

Women’s Elite

In the women’s race, despite reveling in the separate start – a feature at every LTGP event this year, there was a feeling of familiarity in the air…namely who was going to dethrone the defending champ…Sofia Gómez Villafañe? Strong riders like Hannah Otto, Haley Smith, Alexis Skarda, and even Villafañe’s teammate at the Absa Cape Epic, Samara Sheppard, all stood ready to try and wrest the crown and LTGP series points away from Villafañe.

From the start, Villafañe sought to stamp her authority on the race by attacking in an effort to be first to the singletrack. The result was more than anyone bargained for including Gomez-Villafañe herself, with a substantial gap of over two minutes to the chasing groups of Alexis Skarda, Hannah Otto, Jenna Rinehart, Samara Sheppard, Erin Huck, and Haley Smith. Eventually, from the chaos of the initial effort, a chasing group formed behind the defending champ with Sheppard, Otto, and Smith taking turns to try and reel in Villafañe.

Near the end of the first lap, it would be Skarda, the reigning U.S. National Marathon MTB champion that would throw down the gauntlet and bridge a near 2 ½ minute gap to Villafañe, joining her just before the climb to Lookout Ridge. The two would roll through the start/finish, trying to keep the four chasers of Sheppard, Otto, Smith, and Huck at bay, while a second group would ebb and flow with riders like Sarah Sturm trying to bring things back together.

Save It For The Second Lap

As befitting a long, tough day in the saddle, the second lap would be pivotal, and this is where the defending champ would make her race winning move. Skarda, showing the effects of her massive bridging effort, began to come off the wheel of Villafañe and while the chasing group led by Sheppard was making inroads on Skarda, they weren’t going to catch Villafañe, who had opened a race-winning gap. She would go on to win by close to four minutes, but not over her companion for much of the second lap, Skarda. Rather it would be her Cape Epic teammate (and first-year LTGP rider) Samara Sheppard that claimed the second step on the podium.

Finishing closely behind her was Hannah Otto, moving up significantly from her 9th place finish last year to 3rd this year, and LTGP overall winner, Haley Smith in 4th. Skarda, who had staked it all on her epic bridge to Villafañe, faded to 5th.

Also in the top-ten and new to the LTGP were Erin Huck in 7th and South African Hayley Preen in 9th.

The Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda now moves to the second stop in the series, Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas in early June. Between now and then riders will have the chance to retool and think about how best to topple Villafañe and Swenson, both of whom have dominated in either MTB or gravel disciplines. With everything from a 200 mile Unbound Gravel to the high altitude crusher or Leadville 100 on the horizon, will someone from the LTGP roster challenge them, or will it be someone that keys on a day of glory outside of the series? Tune in and follow along to find out!

The @lifetimegrandprix YouTube Channel is home to all things LTGP. Be sure to subscribe and check out the last two seasons of “Call of a Life Time” and new for 2024 – extended race coverage immediately following each race weekend. 

The first show drops Sunday, April 21 – Stay tuned! 

With the Sea Otter Classic in just one week, all eyes were on the challenging, technical roads in Northern California’s tough Sonoma coastal mountains.

Lauren De Crescenzo and Keegan Swenson win “The Growler”, a new 140mi professional road race, created by the Bike Monkey, the promotional group behind the long-running Levi’s Gran Fondo. 

De Crescenzo took off with 80mi to go on a day marked with constant, cold rain, winning by 12mins over Lauren Stephens with Sarah Sturm in 3rd. 

Belgian Lawrence Naesen pushed Swenson all the way to the line, losing in a tight sprint to the US Gravel National Champion overall winner of the ‘22 and ‘23 Life Time Grand Prix. LTGP rookie, Petr Vakoc continues his successful spring campaign with 3rd just 17 seconds back.

TOP 10 WOMEN

  1. Lauren De Crescenzo
  2. Lauren Stephens
  3. Sarah Sturm
  4. Flavia Oliveira Parks
  5. Emily Newsom
  6. Heather Jackson
  7. Maude Farrell
  8. Sophie Von Eckstaedt
  9. Isabel King
  10. Leah Van Der Linden

TOP 10 MEN

  1. Keegan Swenson
  2. Lawrence Naesen
  3. Petr Vakoč
  4. Ian Boswell
  5. Griffin Easter
  6. Pete Stetina
  7. Matthew Wiebe
  8. Matthew Zimmer
  9. Elouan Gardon
  10. Nick Spano

ICYMI: Round #1 of the Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda BEGINS ON FRIDAY

Take a look back at the previous two editions of the Sea Otter Classic, Fuego XL endurance MTB race in two episodes of “Call of a Life Time”, the widely acclaimed docu-series chronicling riders competing in the ground-breaking off-road race series. 

With the new season starting up, make sure you follow our new approach to bringing you world class race coverage by following @lifetimegrandprix on YouTube

Gomez Villafane and Stetina take BWR UT

Continuing to build on her run of victories this spring, following Valley of Tears and BWR AZ, Villafane took the win with a huge gap over Courtney Sherwell and fellow LTGP rider Emily Newsom

On the men’s side, Pete Stetina grabs a big win over Canadians Roberge and L‘Esperance in chilly temps on the truncated course in Cedar City, UT

BWR Utah Women’s Top 10*

  1. Sofia Gomez Villafane, 5h 19m 03.53s
  2. Courtney Sherwell 5h 32m 14.25s
  3. Emily Newsom 5h 32m 58.89s
  4.  Hannah Otto, 5h 33m 48.50s
  5. Caroline Wreszin, 5h 37m 42.37s
  6. Cecily Decker, 5h 39m 39.71s
  7. Whitney Allison, 5h 40m 02.14s
  8. Eva Poidevin, 5h 45m 21.15s
  9. Cassia Boglio, 5h 46m 59.34s
  10. Diana Penuela, 5h 49m 04.68s

BWR Utah Men’s Top 10*

  1. Peter Stetina, 4h 53m 48.30s
  2. Adam Roberge, 4h 54m 33.58s
  3. Andrew L’Esperance, 4h 55m 14.26s
  4. Julien Gagne, 4h 55m 14.54s
  5. Torbjorn Andre Roed, 4h 55m 14.69s
  6. Joe Goettl, 4h 58m 31.09s
  7. Kyle Trudeau, 4h 58m 34.07s
  8. Cobe Freeburn, 4h 58m 35.21s
  9. Bjorn Larson, 4h 58m 38.57s
  10. Griffin Easter, 4h 58m 40.78s

*LTGP Athletes indicated in BOLD

UNBOUND Gravel TRAINING CAMP

LTGP athletes Kristen Legan and Heather Jackson joined the Life Time team in Emporia, KS to put on the annual UNBOUND Gravel Training Camp — where riders from across the country come to learn from the best about how to tackle the World’s Premier Gravel Race. 

Boulder-Roubaix

LTGP rookie and Boulder native, Finn Gullickson took a wind-shortened version of one of America’s original mixed-surface races.

Moab Rocks

Deanna Myles and Michaela Thompson finish in 3rd and 6th overall respectively behind uber-decorated and longtime pro, Katerina Nash

PoDcast Mentions

Hannah Otto and Kristen Legan, both featured in this year’s Life Time Grand Prix, join hosts Kristi Mohn and Kathryn Taylor on the Girls Gone Gravel Podcast

 WEEKEND ROUNDUP

With not much racing over the weekend, check out Jenna Rinehart’s chilly, winter ride while searching for the Easter bunny and a MONSTER ride from Payson McElveen in Northwest Arkansas

FROM THE GROUND UP

From the Ground Up Project got underway for it’s 3rd year at a skills camp in Bentonville, AR and lead by LTGP perennial favorite Alexey Vermuelen.

ABSA CAPE EPIC

LTGP Rookie but well-known to his fellow competitors, including 2nd place at UNBOUND 2023, Petr Vakoc also raced Cape Epic, finishing top-10 overall for the second time. Whether it’s road racing, gravel or MTB, Petr can do it all!

Podcast FEATURES

Listen in as athletes and organizers from the LTGP give the inside scoop on 2024’s season.

 Absa Cape Epic Wraps up

Matt Beers and Howard Grotts (Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne) claimed the overall title after 603km (375mi) and 16050m (53,000ft) of climbing. Beers becomes a 3x winner while Grotts takes his 2nd Cape Epic title, 6yrs after his first.

On the women’s side, LTGP riders finished strong behind the dominating performance of the Ghost Factory Racing duo, Anne Terpstra and Nicole Koller, who won all 8 stages and captured GC. Sofia Gomez Villafane and Samara Sheppard of Toyota-Specialized-NinetyOne finished 3rd Overall

LTGP rookie Jordan Schleck (Team Amani) paired up with Lachlan Morton (EF/EasyPost). Schleck, represents the off-road portion of an exciting the latest generation of African riders showcasing their talents. Morton, a Cape Epic veteran who last joined Keegan Swenson, often spends early-season time with the Amani squad in Kenya attending their camps and competing in the Migration Race, part of the Gravel Earth Series.

ORANGE SEAL PRO CUP

LTGP athletes Bradyn Lange and Sean Fincham had good showings at the Orange Seal Pro Cup in Temecula, CA, with Lange securing a 3rd place and Fincham 6th in the Elite Men’s XCO

RATTLESNAKE GRAVEL GRIND

LTGP athletes Lauren Stephens and Emily Newsom went 1-2 in the Rattlesnake Gravel Grind in Sweetwater, TX. 

Dry and Dusty conditions for MidSouth Gravel

Lauren de Crencenzo takes top step in the women’s race while 2024 rookie Torbjorn Roed sprints for the win

Life Time Grand Prix Athletes Headline Cape Epic

Cape Epic kicked off over the weekend with reigning LTGP overall winner Sofia Gomez Villafane joining ’24 rookie Samara Sheppard. But they’re not the only story: the renowned MTB stage race has 10 LTGP riders competing from across the globe.

DEFENDING CHAMPS OFF TO A HOT START TO 2024

Swenson and Gomez Villafane are off to a fast start in ’24 with wins at Valley of Tears. LTGP rookies Chase Wark and Finn Gullickson rounded out the men’s podium while veterans Jenna Rinehart and Emily Newsom rounded out the women’s.

SOLO WIN IN NORMANDIE

LTGP rookie Lauren Stephens solos to win stage 3 of Tour de Normandie on her road bike.

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