Unbound Unveils the Five Ride Lengths for 2023

2021 garmin unbound gravel race
Unbound Unveils the Five Ride Lengths for 2023Nils Nilsen - Getty Images

One of the biggest events of the gravel cycling calendar is undoubtedly the event now known as Unbound. One of the next biggest events is Unbound’s course reveal, which landed in inboxes just a few days ago.

The event’s marquee distance—the 200 miler—starts and ends, as ever, in downtown Emporia, Kansas before heading out on one massive loop on the area’s slice-happy flint roads, over its sea of punchy hills, and across its seemingly endless plains and prairies.

The course loop runs counter-clockwise from Emporia heading almost directly south for roughly the first eighty miles. After a twenty-mile eastward trek, riders will head north toward Emporia for the second half of the race.

The 200-mile route is a bit of a misnomer, however, as it actually clocks 205.3 miles with 9,101 feet of climbing.

Perhaps the most notable bit of the entire course, Texaco Hill, will see riders climbing from miles 40 to 43. The top promises one of the area’s most stunning views before shooting riders down what is known as “Water Bottle Hill,” a descent so rough, it often tosses water bottles out of their cages en route.

After about 140-miles, riders pass through the ghost town of Thrall before turning off on another twenty-or-so-mile eastward stretch. After that, it’s more or less straight north back into Emporia.

Five ride lengths at Unbound this year

But while the 200 is Unbound’s feature distance, this year boasts a total of five ride lengths (along with a sixth race solely for juniors), from a twenty-five-mile fun loop all the way up to the absolutely bonkers, leg-crushing, soul-snatching XL, which covers 352 miles and 13,539 feet of climbing.

Whatever the distance, don’t let the gentle rollers of the prairie fool you. These may not be mountains but, like most rolling terrain, riders get little time to recover between descents and climbs.

Still, with its endless horizon, limited traffic, and wide gravel roads, it’s no wonder Unbound is one of the most well-known gravel events in the world.

Unbound was started in 2006. Then known as “Dirty Kanza,” the inaugural edition was raced between thirty-four riders. It has since grown to over 2,600 riders with demand so high, inclusion is decided via lottery.

This year’s event will be held on June 3 and this writer is devastated that he had to defer his entry next year due to unforeseen work commitments. Whether you’re heading to Emporia in a few weeks or, like me, just want to stare woefully at the routes on your computer screen, you can check out each of the course profiles online and start planning for next year.

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