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Sofia Gomez Villafañe was in a league of her own as she powered to victory in the women’s Unbound Gravel 200 after leading from the front throughout much of the race in.
Lauren De Crescenzo came into the race as the defending champion but after losing ground to Villafañe in the early stages she was always chasing the front of the race – often alone through the mud and rain. At one point De Crescenzo was over eight minutes down on Villafañe and sitting in third place on the course but she battled back and began to come into her own in the second half of the race. Emily Newson came through the field to finish third.
However, Villafañe was in unstoppable form, using her expert mountain bike skills through some of the heavy mud sections and even taking to her feet at several points. She crashed through one of the mud sections too but held her nerve, and her power, to take the win on her first appearance at Unbound Gravel. The win continued Villafañe’s incredible start to the season with victories already achieved in Cape Epic and Rule of Three.
“I wanted to prove a point that mountain bikers can go long,” Villafañe told VeloNews at the finish line. “I think I also wanted to prove a point to myself that yeah, I am a freaking good bike racer. Throw me into the Cape Epic, the biggest mountain biking stage race in the world. Throw me into Unbound Gravel, the biggest gravel race in the world. I can win it, and this is helping me dig into my confidence.”
“It was funny because two weeks ago we raced Rule of Three and we went out that evening for ice cream and at the place there was this magic 8-ball and I asked it ‘am I going to win Unbound?’ and the results said ‘it is certain’. So I was very excited, and I was going to be stoked to win a Life Time event but to come out with the overall lead, and Cape Epic.. it’s a true testament to the hard work that’s put in. I didn’t ride any gravel in the off-season and was training on my TT bars on the road, never trained for more than five hours, and so to put it together was really special.
“The day was crazy. I have never raced this long, and I’ve never trained over five hours. I had a few Cape Epic days over five and then Rule of three was a little over six hours. I actually thought that Unbound was 40 percent road, and then I drove the course and I realised that there was maybe a mile of pavement. I thought, what have I let myself into.”
Villafañe went clear of her rivals in the opening stages of the 200-mile race and quickly put the rest of the women’s field on the back foot. De Crescenzo found herself several minutes back with Heather Jackson in second place and ahead of the defending champion through the first half of the race. Sarah Max, Emily Joy Newsom, Paige Peters, Katie Kantzes, Melissa Rollins and Amber Neben were all fighting for the minor places as Villafañe built up a lead of over six minutes on Jackson with De Crescenzo a further minute back.
That lead started to dwindle in the back 50 miles of the race as De Crescenzo started to claw her way back. But Villafañe saw a chance for building on her advantage when she hit the slippery, sloppy mud. Even though she dismounted and ran—and even fell and cut herself—Villafañe felt that she was padding her lead on De Crescenzo.
“I have a background in mountain biking but also cyclocross, so I knew I could handle my bike better than Lauren,” she said. “I had everything to gain by putting in a big effort in that section.”
The win put Villafañe top of the standings in the Life Time Grand Prix after two rounds of racing. She now heads to Utah’s Crusher in the Tushar race, where she is the defending champion.
“Coming out of this with the lead is obviously good. I’m just interested to see which girls have dropped out or how this has shaken out.”
Unbound Gravel 200
- Sofia Gomez Villafañe, Specialized, 10:27:41
- Lauren De Crescenzo, Cinch, 10:36:50
- Emily Newsom, EF Education-Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank, 10:49:44
- Whitney Allison, Bike Sports, 10:57:24
- Melissa Rollins, 11:01:46
- Haley Smith, 11:07:18
- Sarah Sturm, Specialized, 11:14:50
- Kristen Legan, 11:17:10
- Sarah Max, Argonaut, 11:19:06
- Hannah Shell, 11:20:58