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Nobody was more surprised at the victory than Boswell, himself, who retired from WorldTour road racing at the end of 2019.
“I’m kinda surprised,” Boswell said. “To keep making splits and in the last 10 miles I knew it would be between Laurens and me. I haven’t won a bike race in a really long time. Both he and I are at a different point than other guys. So we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Boswell and ten Dam were the two strongest riders to emerge from the 1,000-rider field, and the two pedaled toward the finish in Emporia after 206 miles of riding through wind and heat. The two dispatched Peter Stetina, Ted King, and defending champion Colin Strickland in the final 30-mile push to the line.
Boswell and ten Dam came into the streets of Emporia together, riding shoulder to shoulder through Emporia State University. Then, the two sprinted for the line down the long straightaway to the finish.
Boswell led into the narrow straightaway and never relinquished his spot.
“We both attacked each other on the climb before the school and neither of us got away,” Boswell said. “I led it out. I knew it was a headwind. It’s like the first bike race I’ve won since Nevada City in 2012 so I don’t even know how to judge sprints.”
The move came after a blustery day in the Flint Hills that saw multiple pre-race favorites wilt in the heat and driving winds. The pre-race hype around WorldTour riders faded early, as Quinn Simmons, Kiel Reijnen (both Trek-Segafredo) and Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) never really factored into the action.
Reijnen disappeared from the front group inside the opening 40 miles, presumably with a mechanical problem. And Simmons was caught up in a crash at mile 55 and departed to a nearby hospital to address cuts.
“I got really lucky,” Boswell said. “All of those technical sections I was the last person to make it every time. I’m not willing to take as many risks as other people.”
Jorgenson, fresh off his finish at the Giro d’Italia, rode two minutes off the back of the front group through the opening 70 miles.
Instead, a focused group of retired road pros-turned-gravel-racers amassed at the front, with Rally Cycling’s Robin Carpenter the only current pro road cyclist to make the early split. Present in the group were ten Dam, Strickland, King, Boswell, as well as former U.S. Pro champion Eric Marcotte, and others.
Pounding winds from mile 70 to 100 further whittled down the group, and as the riders headed into the race’s midpoint at Little Egypt road there were just eight riders remaining in the lead group.
That became just five by the time the group hit the neutral water stop at mile 125 in the town of Alta Vista. At that point, just ten Dam, King, Boswell, Stetina, and Strickland remained.
Boswell said his newbie status was evident throughout the race. This is his first attempt at Unbound Gravel and just his second major U.S. gravel race.
“I’m new to this whole thing. I’m still learning how this works. Colin flatted at one point and I’m like do we wait, do we keep going,” he said.
Having called a truce, the five entered the water stop together, making sure to fill bottles, pump tires, and take bathroom breaks. King pumped his tires and Stetina lubed his chain while ten Dam had a nature break. Strickland and Boswell filled their bottles, and while the two completed their tasks before the other three, they waited for all five to finish before departing down the road.
Strickland eventually lost pace, and Stetina attacked, dropping his companions over the bridge at Lake Kahola. But Boswell and ten Dam clawed their way back and were able to drop King and Stetina in the push to the line.
Boswell still trains and races, however he works full-time for Wahoo. In interviews he has been public about his focus on full-time work instead of cycling. Boswell said that isn’t likely to change with his Unbound Gravel win.
“This is probably the biggest win of my career,” he said at the finish line. “And on Monday I have to get back to work.”
Unbound Gravel 200
- Ian Boswell, Wahoo Frontiers, 10:17:24
- Laurens ten Dam, LTD racing-Specialized, 10:17:24
- Peter Stetina, Canyon, 10:18:35
- Ted King, Cannondale, 10:18:35
- Colin Strickland, MeteorXGiordana, 10:25:34
- Robin Carpender, Rally Cycling, 10:49:18
- Dennis Van Winden, 10:49:18
- Jeremiah Bishop, Canyon, 10:49:20
- Reid Foster, 10:57:32
- Brennan Wertz, 11:05:19
- Jasper Ockeloen, 11:05:20
- Dylan Johnson, 11:16:28
- Eric Marcotte, 11:22:57
- Andrea De Silvestris, 11:23:30
- Ivar Slik, 11:24:11
- Logan Kasper, 11:26:02
- Edward Anderson, 11:29:58
- Alexey Vermeulen, 11:29:58
- Logan Jones-Wilkins, 11:31:46
- Jay ShalekBriski, 11:35:10