'It's like riding Unbound five days in a row' - how a former track champion is tackling a 1050-mile ultra gravel race
On August 18, 2021 Ashton Lambie became the first person to break the four-minute barrier in the 4k individual pursuit. This feat was trumped by Filippo Ganna last fall by just 0.294 seconds but Lambie remains one of only two people to have ever gone sub-4 minutes.
Lambie's short but impressive track cycling career saw him become a national champion twice, a Pan-American champ twice, world champion and world record holder. But in 2022 he decided to take a break from turning left to take on gravel racing. The Nebraskan native is no stranger to the dirt, having previously won the 100-mile Unbound Gravel race and at one point held the Trans-Kansas world record, when he completed the 400-mile ride in just 23 hours and 53 minutes in 2015.
The 32-year-old has now set his sights to an even bigger challenge: the 1,050-mile Flint Hills Ultra gravel race starting Saturday, May 27.
A free event aimed to showcase the best public roads the famous Flint Hills have to offer, the Flint Hills Ultra route traverses you through 14 different counties In the state of Kansas and two in Oklahoma.
“I think everyone should find rides that challenge themselves,” the former Individual Pursuit World Record holder tells Cycling Weekly. In the 1050 miles of the Flint Hills Ultra, Lambie, it seems, has found his.
“My background before I raced track was in brevets and randonneuring and I wanted to get back to that,” Lambie said.
While switching from four-minute all-out efforts to ultra distance events may seem like quite the leap, Lambie doesn't see it as such a big deal. Even his training hasn't changed all that much. He still does short intensity efforts and is in the gym quite often to 'stay strong and comfortable' on the bike — something very important for a 1000-mile race.
“You have ups and downs in any race whether its a pursuit or a gravel race its all about knowing that even though it hurts right now it's just this moment that hurts not the whole race and that it will get better,” says Lambie, seemingly very aware that he will hit some low points over the course of this race and confident in how he will push past them to success.
There are some long days and plenty of miles ahead for Lambie with an ambitious pacing strategy, aiming to finish in just five days.
"The longest day will be 260 miles and the shortest will be around 180, but it will average to 200 miles per day. Basically just doing Unbound five days in a row, which when you say it like that it sounds a little insane," Lambie acknowledges. "I don’t know if that will be a competitive time but I just want to finish in a time I feel good about."
For this effort, Lambie is forgoing the typical bikepacking sleeping setup of a bivy and is instead opting for hotels or cabins along the route. This allows him to simplify his equipment needs and take some of the stress out of finding places to camp and just focus on riding.
"I have done bikepacking trips like this before and it has worked really well for me. Taking a shower every night is a big thing. It also lets me carry a lot less weight and reduces the anxiety of should I camp here or should I go further and look for somewhere better," says Lambie.
With plenty of boring miles coming up Lambie is a big fan of audiobooks and podcasts to help pass the time.
“I can’t listen to music for 14 hours. As far as podcasts go, I really get into political podcasts and horror stories. It's a weird mix, but it definitely keeps me entertained! Pod Save America and Knifepoint Horror are my two go-to's,” Lambie tells us.
Equipment choice is very important for an event like this and Lambie has his Lauf Siegla dialed in with 650b Zipp Firecrest 303’s wrapped in 47mm Vittoria Terrano Zero tires. As expected some aero extensions make an appearance in the form of Zipp Vuka bars to give some added hand positions.
“For such a long ride the aero bars are more for comfort than speed. Compared to my track setup which is really aggressive like my elbows are almost touching, these ones feel like a couch,” says the former Individual Pursuit world champion.
There are some must-haves for this race for Lambie, the first being good bibs.
“You can deal with being hot or cold but bad bibs can make riding miserable,” says Lambie, a sentiment that many can surely agree with.
A bit of an unusual choice but one Lambie is quite passionate about is Bag Balm.
“Bag Balm is another must-have. It’s cow udder balm. You can get it at Tractor Supply but I use it as chamois cream, it's moisturizing, it's antiseptic, it's the best chamois cream I have used hands down. They are not a sponsor of mine, I just really like it.” Lambie reveals, emphatically showing some true midwestern roots.
If you follow Lambie on Instagram, you will know about his affinity for ankle socks, and he doesn't plan on changing that anytime soon: “Yes! I will be wearing ankle socks, I'm wearing them right now actually."
Having previously been a UCI world champion and competed in many UCI track events, as well as riding around on a rainbow bands painted gravel bike we asked Lambie if he had any intention of competing at the UCI gravel worlds. Lambie has this to say:
“I am not. I'm not really interested in doing UCI events anymore. I want to help grassroot races and organizers grow and make their events what they want them to be so that's where my focus is.”
To follow along with Lambie’s ultra race, you can follow his Instagram where he will post updates as well as his live tracker.