“The whole point was to break me.”
How else do you make a film about a guy who pushed nearly 275 watts for just under 10 hours to win the 2019 Dirty Kanza — now known as Unbound Gravel?
In early April, Strickland and a crew from Red Bull Media House set off for a remote stretch of gravel and tarmac in west Texas, just north of the Mexican border and Big Bend National Park. There, on the Pinto Canyon ‘Road to Nowhere,’ Strickland dug even deeper than he had in Kansas.
“It was essentially a time trial in 30mph winds for 5.5 hours, really the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Strickland told VeloNews. “I suspected it would be windy. It was pretty emotionally intense. I was literally cracking with an hour, two hours to go, thinking. ‘I just want this stop.'”
As a professional gravel racer, Strickland’s Red Bull helmet doesn’t see the big air or back flips of many of the media company’s other athletes. Making gravel riding, which often consists of lone riders grinding along long and often boring stretches of road, something interesting to watch requires a different script.
“It was what it was meant to be — incredibly physically and emotionally challenging,” Strickland said. “It was about 90 degrees, and it was a just really hard test to finish and finish strong on.”
Finishing and finishing strong is what has given Strickland his edge in gravel racing. A rider’s success in the long, 100-plus-mile races often comes down to attrition. Managing physical and emotional demons that arise out the headwinds, the hills, or improper fueling is crucial.
Many of Strickland’s typical training days resemble mini gravel races by default. The 34-year-old lives in Austin, Texas, where he often rides into headwinds, in humidity, and alone.
“I don’t live in Boulder where everyone is pro and can go out and ride for 10 hours,” he said. “But it’s also the formula that’s made me strong — being comfortable riding into the wind solo. That’s usually how you win these races.”
The ‘Road to Nowhere’ wasn’t a race, but it was exactly the kind of effort that helps Strickland win them.