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Monuments of Gravel

Amity Rockwell Q&A: Puking, all-time endurance, and the single most rad thing about gravel

We catch up with the reigning champ of Unbound Gravel on the eve of the 2021 race.

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Things are going eerily smooth in Emporia, Kansas, for Amity Rockwell, the defending champion of Unbound Gravel. There were no travel hiccups, she’s not doing photo shoots at 7p.m. the night before the race, and she has a proper bed to sleep in.

It wasn’t always like this.

“The first year I did this race I slept on a couch at a house GU had rented,” Rockwell said. “I was going to sleep in Colin [Strickland]’s car, but they found out, and they were like, ‘please sleep on our couch.’ I am a little less scrappy this time around.”

In 2019, the year that she won, she missed her flight from California, got into Kansas City at 3 a.m. and drove to Emporia.

“I slept all day Thursday. Friday was absolute madness. I was out shooting until 7 p.m. with Andy Chasteen Friday night,” Rockwell said of her sponsor obligations for then-sponsor Allied. “I had this absolute laundry list of things that went wrong. So I showed up to the start line like fuck it, here we are. I didn’t have time to stress about the small things, because the big things were so crazy.”

She went on to win.

This year, VeloNews caught up with Rockwell on the eve of the race now called Unbound Gravel.

How are you feeling?

Physically I feel strong. I feel like my endurance is as good as it’s ever been. I probably lack some racing sharpness, both in my racing acuity and in a punchy sense, from the lack of racing.

It’s a weird mental space you have to be in to go that hard, and I haven’t had a lot of practice in that recently. My endurance is all time. It’s so hard for me to achieve intensity without racing. I’ve never won BWR or Mid South, but those races are necessary in order to win Unbound, in a sense. But I feel like everyone in the same spot.

How do you feel about the stronger field this year?

Every year they say that. I don’t overly scrutinize my competition. Some of the first Grasshoppers I did, Katerina Nash was there. Ali Tetrick was there. From day one I have not got sucked into who is showing up, who is doing this.

It’s cool in that Tiffany Cromwell is here. I would love to meet her. I’m such a fan. But I don’t go look at her numbers or get into any of that.

What sections of the course do you think could decide the race?

There are definitely crucial moments. I moved into first place on a series of sharp steep hills, and that’s where I was able to pull into first place. It wasn’t so much an attack. There is no such thing as an attack at mile 170. If it were truly pan flat, my life would be harder. It’s nice to know those are at the end.

I think 200 miles includes so much variety, you can so much of everything. There is so much chance at play there.

What do you think about women recruiting help for Unbound in the form of male teammates?

This is such a relevant discussion. On one hand, there are no rules in gravel, and people can do what they want. But personally I would get no satisfaction from such a win. I would never plan to have a man work for me. If we are out here, and we are all racing hard, and I’m in a group of nine guys? Yeah, I will do a tenth of the work. And I will let them do their work like in any race.

The single most rad thing about gravel racing for me is that it is one big race. I don’t have to be a female cyclist out there, or in a separate category. I am just a person racing a bike out there, and that is super important to me.

I hope my attitude is the general one as this thing gets more serious.

The really nice thing about a race this long is that chances are it is about how strong you are, and you alone.

What do you eat at the end of the race?

I’m generally too nauseous to eat anything at the end of the race. Last year I tried to eat some gummy bears and I puked them up.

I take BCAA pills, specifically the GU ones. Those absolutely saved my ass in 2019, because I could swallow those every 45 minutes. I had so much energy. I don’t know what else it would be from. I had a stash of those in my top tube bag.

Do you often get sick from going hard?

I puked a ton after White Rim. Not during the FKT effort. I drank some recovery stuff, then projectile vomited everywhere.

I can run on low fuel. I come from a running background, where you try to eat as little as possible. That is not ideal, but perhaps that informs my thinking now.

Ted [King] got me on the maple syrup. It’s so good. It’s one of the few things I get excited about nutrition. Everything else is what I feel like I have to eat.

So this year, things are going pretty smoothly. You have Friday to rest.

It’s stressing me out that everything is going right this year. {Laughs.}

A part of me feels like I should win something else besides Unbound Gravel, just so that people will talk to me about something besides this race. I’m a little tired of telling the same old stories.

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