Hundreds of amateur gravel riders can now look forward to matching pedal strokes and fueling strategies at Life Time Unbound Gravel with an Olympic gold medalist as Greg Van Avermaet confirmed he received his confirmation for entry into this year’s signature 200-mile event.
Even Van Avermaet had to apply through the lottery process, his email arriving late in the evening in Belgium with a ‘Congratulations Greg, you’re IN’. It will be his first time racing in Kansas.
Hanging up the road cleats in 2023 did not mean that the Rio Olympic Games road champion was done with racing, and now he’ll get to prove his diverse abilities at Unbound Gravel 200 come June 1.
The 38-year-old proved he is as versatile as ever on any surface, riding to fourth overall at the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships in 2022, and just two weeks, after retiring from an 18-year pro road career, he won SGRAIL100, a gravel triathlon in Spain, which covered a 1,500-metre swim, 88km gravel ride and 10.5km trail run.
“I’m doing Unbound because I like the idea of the race, of course. It was not possible to make the combination with my road career because the schedule was full, so I was looking forward to it after my [road] career. The best way to do it, I think, is directly after because then at least you have a little bit of shape,” Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews after receiving his entry for Unbound.
“I’m looking forward to doing stuff like this. I will do some gravel races this year, see how it feels and do stuff I could not do during my road career, some off-road, triathlon maybe. I will have some fun, and of course, it will hurt a little bit in the legs, but it will be cool.”
Besides being an Olympic champion, Van Avermaet has won Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the latter twice. He has raced in North America a few times during his road career, with several appearances on the podium at Grand Prix Montréal, including a win in 2019 as well as a stage runner-up at the 2016 Tour of California and multiple podiums in 2013 at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge. For now, the bulk of his gravel pursuits will be based near his family and home in Europe.
“I will do some races on the European calendar, some from the Gravel Earth Series and the UCI series. For the moment, [Unbound] is the only one that is planned in the US. We’ll see,” he added.
The popularity of Unbound Gravel has seen many Europeans make the long trek to discover what the Kansas Flint Hills are all about. Last year Belgian breakaway artist Jan Bakelants, who retired from Intermarché-Wanty in 2022, competed in the 200-mile mudfest for the first time and finished 14th.
Now gravel veterans, Petr Vakoc of Czech Republic and Laurens ten Dam of the Netherlands finished in the top 5 for pro men. German Carolin Schiff, who raced for 10 years on the road, won her inaugural effort last year in the Flint Hills, with compatriots Jade Treffeisen and Svenja Betz finishing inside the top 12.
Van Avermaet is expected to have a Belgian friend make the trip to Kansas, former pro footballer turned cycling connoisseur Jelle Van Damme, who played for 20 years including stints with Premier League teams Southampton and Wolves and MLS squad LA Galaxy. Van Damme raced cyclocross in December at the two-lap Turbo Cross, part of Diegem Cross, and finished fifth, a race he called “epic”.
Over the winter, Van Damme has spent several weeks in Spain riding his bike, with some time training alongside Van Avermaet, Loïc Vliegen (Bingoal-WB) and Tim Declerq (Lidl-Trek), according to a report by Sporza. A long-time friend with Van Avermaet, the pair recently attended Velofollies trade show in Kortrijk, Belgium as BMC ambassadors and promoted the Nordic Gravel Series, where the pair are expected to race gravel in preparation for their debuts at Unbound Gravel 200.
This year the yet-to-be-unveiled Unbound 200 course heads back to the north, a direction last offered in 2021 with 2,926 metres of elevation gain and over 10 hours of racing, with self-navigation and self-support part of the adventure. That was also the year that total registrations across multiple ride distances jumped from 2,700 to 4,000, with approximately 42% of participants entered for Unbound 200.
To conclude the random selection process for four distances in Unbound Gravel, including the highly-revered 200-miler, emails were sent on Thursday to all lottery applicants to confirm selection, or not. The invited field for Life Time Grand Prix, which makes Unbound 200 the second stop of seven races, have automatic entries. Athletes in the 350-mile XL challenge, which begins the day prior to Unbound 200, were notified about selections in mid-December, and there is a separate process organisers use for the selection of Unbound Gravel juniors.
While the email confirmations are celebrated around the globe on Friday morning, Life Time continues the revelry later in the day with the launch of season two of the docuseries ‘Call of a Life Time’ on the Life Time Grand Prix YouTube channel at 6 p.m. CT. The six-part series provides never-before-seen race footage from the seven-race Life Time Grand Prix. One of 10 watch parties will be hosted by Merchant Cycles in Emporia, Kansas on Friday, starting at 5:30 p.m. local time.