Last week we took a look at the power it took for Ian Boswell to win the Unbound Gravel 200, and this week we’ll look at the incredible ride by Lauren De Crescenzo who won the women’s Unbound Gravel 200 by nearly 20 minutes.
Lauren’s story is one that’s much more about an individual effort and having the most power on the day – it’s a story of teamwork and perseverance, of surviving an “emotional rollercoaster” and two flat tires, and completing a comeback that started far before the start line at Unbound Gravel.
This is what it took for Lauren De Crescenzo to win the Unbound Gravel 200.
With cool temperatures, a breeze of a tailwind, and some 12 hours to go, the start of the Unbound Gravel 200 was relatively tame. But the fight for position was on from the first few miles, and De Crescenzo and her Cinch Cycling teammates did what they could to stay near the front as the race split in the first few gravel sectors.
Pay attention to these numbers from the first hour of De Crescenzo’s race – they will look very familiar by the end of this article.
Kilometer: 1 to 34
Average Power: 194w (3.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 220w (3.6w/kg)
I was fascinated to learn that De Crescenzo used a specific pacing strategy during the race, all in terms of power output. For the flats and on the downhills she used her “base zone of 190w,” in headwinds and on shallow climbs, she used her “‘high-medium zone’ of 230w,” on normal climbs she targeted her “low threshold zone of 270w,” and on the steep technical climbs she used her “high threshold zone of 330w.”
In addition to these power targets, De Crescenzo trained and raced her “short and long surge zones of 440w and 370w, respectively,” to attack and drop her competition.
The first part of the race felt like a criterium, De Crescenzo said. She ignored her power meter and did everything she could to stay with the front group. In the first few hours of the race, De Crescenzo suffered her first flat; but she was able to fix it with a quick plug.
At the first aid station at kilometer 110 (mile 68), De Crescenzo stopped for hardly over a minute before she was back onto the gravel. It would be almost an hour before she would stop again; but this time it wasn’t for water, it was for another flat.
This would be the most brutal setback De Crescenzo had – after the first few tries, her plugs still weren’t working — and this time it was a very costly stop: 20 minutes on the side of the road, baking in the Kansas heat. At one point, De Crescenzo had been riding alongside her Cinch Cycling teammate, Flavia Oliveira, in the lead of the women’s race. Now, Oliveira was still in the lead, but De Crescenzo was nearly 30 minutes behind. No one could ever overcome a deficit like that. Right?
Before her second flat tire at kilometer 131 (mile 81), De Crescenzo had been riding all-out. From hours 2 through 4, De Crescenzo had an average heart rate of 171bpm and a maximum heart rate of 187bpm. Those are numbers that she would typically see in a three-hour road race, not in a 12+ hour gravel epic.
De Crescenzo also did her peak 1-minute, 5-minute, 10-minute, and 20-minute power during this section of the course. She was obviously going overboard, riding at an effort she knew she couldn’t sustain for the next eight hours. But with the lead group rolling fast and the course turning into a headwind, it was crucial for De Crescenzo to stay near the front, and use the draft of faster riders for as long as she could.
Kilometer: 34 to 129
Average Power: 222w (3.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 251w (4.1w/kg)
The next four hours of the race were particularly telling, as the heat rises and De Crescenzo’s power drops. What is most interesting about this section of the course is that De Crescenzo was actually making up ground. She caught and passed riders up and over Little Egypt road – where the defining split occurred in the Men’s lead group – and continued to forge on as the course turned into a headwind.
She stuck to her pacing strategy, and was glued to her power meter – with a background in math and epidemiology, De Crescenzo is, unsurprisingly, super into the numbers.
Kilometer: 132 to 246
Average Power: 190w (3.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 251w (4.1w/kg)
At the beginning of this selection, De Crescenzo’s heart rate was still in the 170s, with an average power over 220w. But just a couple of hours later, her average power has fallen below 180w, with her heart rate bouncing between 150 and 160bpm. Even so, De Crescenzo was accelerating compared to her competitors.
With around 55 miles to go, she took the lead of the women’s race after coming back from being nearly half an hour down. At the penultimate checkpoint, De Crescenzo spent about five minutes regrouping and refueling before heading back out on course.
After 10 hours in the saddle, De Crescenzo was feeling the effects of the Flint Hills and Kansas heat. Her power dropped to a steady 180-190w, but that’s the key: it remained steady. Most competitors had blown up in the second half of the race at Unbound Gravel, seeing a power drop-off of 20, 30, or even 40 percent. However, De Crescenzo kept her effort relatively steady. In the first third of the race, she was pushing 220-240w for hours at a time. It had fallen to 180-190w, which is only about a 20 percent drop from her earlier peak one-hour power output.
De Crescenzo followed the wheels of other racers, including her Cinch Cycling teammates, and used her aero bars on the windier sections to keep her speed up in the 30kph headwind.
Final 50 miles
Kilometer: 250 to 331
Average Power: 181w (3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 195w (3.2w/kg)
In the final hour of the race, De Crescenzo’s power actually went up. Now riding solo, De Crescenzo is reaping the rewards of a well-planned and perfectly executed pacing strategy. As we see in both professional road and gravel racing, the riders who are strongest at the beginning rarely win the race – instead, it’s the rider who is strongest at the end who comes out on top.
Kilometer: 300 to 331
Average Power: 201w (3.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 208w (3.4w/kg)
When Lauren De Crescenzo re-entered Emporia, Kansas, for the first time since the sun came up, she knew she was going to win. Hardly able to contain her excitement, De Crescenzo pushed nearly 250w NP for the last five minutes of the race – she already had a 20+ minute lead. After spending over 12 hours in the Flints Hills and Kansas sun, De Crescenzo rolled across the line in tears to win the Unbound Gravel 200.
Here’s an hour-by-hour breakdown of Lauren De Crescenzo’s ride at the Unbound Gravel 200.
Hour 1: Average Power: 191w (3.1w/kg) Normalized Power: 220w
Hour 2: Average Power: 221w (3.6w/kg) Normalized Power: 252w
Hour 3: Average Power: 222w (3.6w/kg) Normalized Power: 251w
Hour 4: Average Power: 226w (3.7w/kg) Normalized Power: 249w
Hour 5: Average Power: 212w (3.4w/kg) Normalized Power: 226w
(Stopped for 21 minutes fixing flat tire)
Hour 6: Average Power: 201w (3.3w/kg) Normalized Power: 223w
Hour 7: Average Power: 189w (3.1w/kg) Normalized Power: 205w
Hour 8: Average Power: 179w (2.9w/kg) Normalized Power: 191w
Hour 9: Average Power: 164w (2.7w/kg) Normalized Power: 182w
Hour 10: Average Power: 177w (2.9w/kg) Normalized Power: 188w
Hour 11: Average Power: 166w (2.7w/kg) Normalized Power: 186w
Hour 12 (and 6 minutes) Average Power: 204w (3.3w/kg) Normalized Power: 211w (3.4w/kg)
As often seen in professional gravel racing, the strongest women ride hard to stay with the front group for as long as possible. After a couple of hours, they slowly drop off and then settle into their own time trial pace. De Crescenzo was able to stay with the draft of the lead group for hours, averaging over 20mph for the first 50+ miles of the race. But after a couple of flat tires, she had only a couple of riders to work with, including her Cinch Cycling teammates. De Crescenzo stayed strong, physically and mentally, and was able to overcome a 25-minute deficit to move back into the lead. Her commitment to her pacing strategy paid off, and after 12 hours 6 minutes, and 49 seconds of racing, Lauren De Crescenzo became the new Queen of Gravel.
De Crescenzo – “My longest bike ride”
Average Power: 196w (3.2w/kg)
Normalized Power: 220w (3.6w/kg)
Energy Burned: 8,220kJs
Riders: Lauren De Crescenzo