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As the field rumbled into a section of loose double-track just 25 miles into the event, Stephens (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) accelerated through the mass-start field and slotted in to the sixth position in the bunch, which is comprised of both male and female riders.
“I heard a guy say ‘let her in’ and I slotted into a top-10 position, and the next thing I heard a crash behind us,” Stephens said. “That’s the first critical point. From there on I was with the lead group of guys.”
Stephens was the only female rider to make the critical juncture, and for the next few hours she rode with the lead group of men’s riders, building a sizable lead on the other women in the event. Stephens eventually lost the group on a climb out of a steep creek crossing, and for the remainder of the 100-mile event she rode with small groups to the finish line.
Stephens finished the race in 5:41:58. She was the seventh overall finisher in the 100-mile event, crossing the line 10:36 ahead of her her teammate, Emma Langley. Jessica Cygan of Colorado Springs was the third woman to finish, completing the 100-mile trek in 6:13:39. With her win she repeated her victory from 2019, the last time Unbound Gravel was held, then known as Dirty Kanza.
“To win it again feels really good. You’re see everyone around you and you’re like how is this going to break up?” Stephens said. “How are we going to get it into smaller groups. It’s cool because you keep riding and riding and eventually the groups get smaller and smaller, and eventually you get to the finish line.”
Stephens has yet to try her hand at the 200-mile Unbound Gravel, and she said that her commitment to the European road schedule would make a run at the Unbound Gravel 200 crown tricky. Preparation for that event would require a sizable uptick in miles, and a deviation away from the intensities required to thrive in the breakneck European peloton.
“Yeah, it would be really difficult to balance the two,” Stephens said. “I like to use these races for preparation because you can really simulate European racing, and 100 miles is closer to what we’re doing over there. 200 miles is totally a different animal.”
In recent years Stephens has blossomed into one of the top American riders in the European road theater, and she’s also become a skilled indoor rider in virtual racing. Last year she won the virtual Tour de France on Zwift.
With her focus on Zwift, road racing, and now gravel, Stephens said she’s still preferring the shorter events at the moment.
“100 miles is still long! It’s all about racing hard and enjoying it at the same time, and right now I love 1o0 miles,” Stephens said. “Maybe some day it would make sense, but right now I really like the 100-mile distance.”
Unbound Gravel 100-mile race
- Lauren Stephens, Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank, 5:41:58
- Emma Langley, Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank, 5:51:11
- Jessica Cygan, 6:13:39