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Ivar Slik won Unbound Gravel 200 after a four-man sprint in Emporia, Kansas. The Dutchman beat Life Time Grand Prix series leader Keegan Swenson and last year’s winner Ian Boswell to the line. Laurens ten Dam finished fourth, just a few seconds later, while Slik won in an incredible time of 9:22:04.
Alexey Vermeulen had been part of the lead group but was dropped on the last climb after a strong attack from Boswell.
Slik created the winning move with around 36 miles to go, breaking clear with Swenson, Boswell and Vermeulen after an earlier move from ten Dam had been caught Slik marked several late attacks in the finale before unleashing a powerful sprint to take the biggest win of his career.
“When I came over the finish I was so happy,” Slik said after the win.
“It was my big goal this year and it’s a long race. So much can happen. You need a bit of luck, but I was in top shape and I did everything to be in top condition. It’s the best gravel event in the world. It’s fantastic. In the beginning we were part of a big group because it’s part of the Life Time series and the level is high. We had 150 in the peloton but people were getting tired with the hills.
“Finally, Paul Vos, Laurens ten Dam, and Matta De Marchi powered away. They had a two minute gap and we had to really push to get them back. We had about 15 people and we worked good together. We caught them and that’s the moment that I attacked. Four guys could follow and at the last check point Stetina was dropped so we were four. Then Laurens came out of nowhere and we were five again. No one could attack anymore but I trusted my sprint,” Slik added.
The race had been dominated by heavy rain, mud and several major splits, but just like last year, the race came down to the wire with five riders entering the last 10 miles together after ten Dam – who had been on the attack for most of the day – fought back after being caught and then losing ground.
At mile 164 Slik, Swenson and Boswell set the pace with Vermeulen chasing solo. Pete Stetina, who had been in the lead group, was distanced before Vermeulen made it to the front to make it four riders in contention. At that point ten Dam was almost two minutes down on the head of the race but he narrowed the gap to within 30 seconds by mile 186, and eventually made it back to Slik and the rest of the group.
It was ten Dam, who was second to Boswell last year, who attacked first in the closing stages but his move on a short downhill section was easily marked. Boswell was next to try his luck, putting in a huge acceleration at the foot of Highland Avenue but he was only able to distance Vermeulen as the rest of the group hung on.
Ten Dam put in one final attack before the sprint but was matched before Boswell lead out the sprint. It briefly looked like the American would retain his title but Slik proved too strong, powering through on the left side of the road to take the win. Swenson, who came into the race as another favorite, took second, with Boswell forced to settle for third.
As he crossed the line Slik pointed the skies to celebrate in a moment he later said was dedicated to the late Moriah Wilson.
“The last month has been hectic with Mo Wilson. I didn’t know her personally but I know that she had a great impact on the gravel scene. I didn’t want to be too happy in the finish because it’s a really sad situation. I wish the family all the best.”
The early stages
The race began under heavy clouds, and when the rain did arrive it had a significant impact on the riders. There were several early crash with Logan Owen and Lachlan Morton both among the fallers. Morton had to abandon the race, while Owen came through and managed to regain contact with the front of the field.
After around 40 miles of racing the front group had been reduced to roughly 60 competitors but by mile 71 the leaders could be counted at just over a dozen with a majority of the pre-race favorites still in contention. Ten Dam’s early breakaway brought Matta De Marchi and Paul Vos with him but the former Rabobank rider was solo at mile 130, and with a gap of around two minutes on the chase behind.
At the checkpoint at Madison, at mile 147 a new group had formed, with ten Dam caught and dropped as Boswell, Vermeulen, Stetina, Swenson and Ivan Silk moved clear. Ten Dam has fallen off the lead and was a minute down at that point, while another group including Russell Finsterwald and Rob Britton was further back still.
The leaders were reduced to four when Stetina lost contact with the group but ten Dam returned to the front of the race inside the last few miles to help set up a thrilling final sprint.
Unbound Gravel 200
- Ivar Slik, 9:22:04
- Keegan Swenson, 9:22:05
- Ian Boswell, at s.t.
- Laurens Ten Dam, 9:22:12
- Alexey Vermeulen, 9:22:27
- Rob Britton, 9:24:26
- Russell Finsterwald, 9:28:22
- Peter Stetina, 9:31:00
- Payson McElveen, 9:31:15
- Adam Roberge, 9:32:28