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Meet Moriah Wilson: Unbound Gravel’s dark horse contender

The 25-year-old Californian brings depth to an already profound level of women's talent.

Moriah Wilson is one of those names that keeps popping up.

As an avid follower of the Grasshopper Adventure Series, I recognize her name from the podium in the NorCal race series. Last autumn, she quietly took the FKT on the White Rim Trail (although her record fell by six seconds this spring). This spring, she placed second at the snowy Shasta Gravel Hugger and first at the wild and wacky Rock Cobbler. She and her privateering teammate Maude Ferrell have basically dominated every major gravel event in California in the past two years.

Wilson at the Shasta Gravel Hugger in early March.

Although this will be Wilson’s first start at Unbound Gravel, she is well within the bounds of contention in the 200-mile event. While calling herself a contender among the ranks of experienced gravel specialists — Alison Tetrick, Kae Takeshita, and Amity Rockwell — might be difficult for the 25-year old, Wilson is also testing out her confidence in Kansas this weekend.

“I’ve noticed that in life in general, and particularly in cycling, women like to sell themselves short,” she told VeloNews. “They count themselves out too early, and are generally eager to diminish their capabilities. I don’t want to be like that, or to perpetuate that tendency. I’ve been very competitive with previous winners of Unbound in past races, so even though there are a lot of things about this race that are new to me, I guess I would still consider myself a contender. Maybe better said a ‘dark horse.'”

Wilson, who works as a demand planner in the U.S. road market for Specialized, grew up mountain biking in Vermont, and she excels on terrain that serves up the need for bike handling and finesse. In 2019, she finished fourth in the pro field at California Grinduro; it was only her second ‘gravel’ race. She then went on to race a full season of ‘cross and competed at nationals in Washington.

With those skills as well as strong climbing legs, Wilson is suited to a course with elevation. However, she also notes another important strength.

“Beyond my actual riding capabilities, I’m pretty comfortable with being very uncomfortable,” she said. “I love to push myself to the cusp of what I think I’m capable of, and then try to dig a little deeper and see how long I can hang out in that space for.”

Unbound takes managing discomfort to another level, and this is another reason that Wilson will find herself in proper company on Saturday. It’s well known that while the strongest woman could win, she could also suffer multiple flats, bonk, or crash. That’s why limiting the field to only a handful of hopefuls doesn’t carry much weight at a race like Unbound.

Wilson at the Huffmaster Hopper, where she finished second to teammate Maude Farrell.

“You have to have the mental strength to withstand 10+ hours of pain,” Wilson said. “You can’t control for everything, and I think that makes the field of contenders larger than it would be if the same riders were to compete on a different course with fewer variables.”

While a 200-mile race like Unbound has an incrementally longer list of variables than say a 50-mile road race, there is another factor that’s contributed to the deepening pool of contenders in the women’s gravel scene. The COVID shutdown of 2020 gave many rising pros like Wilson time to focus on building base miles and putting in efforts like FKTs and Strava QOMs.

In fact, said Isabel King who is another Californian contender at Unbound this weekend, those women are the ones to watch out for.

“I’m the most nervous about the Moriah’s and Maude’s — the girls that have spent this year training and getting sneaky fast,” she said. 

Dark horse or obvious choice, Moriah Wilson is a contender.