Emporia, Kansas, situated in the geographic centre of the United States and the belly of the Midwest, hosts two significant events per year. Both, incidentally, sandwiched in the same month. They are Unbound Gravel, formerly known as Dirty Kanza, and a round of the US Open Disc Golf Championships. CHPT3 found itself in Emporia for the former. Tempting as it was to try our hand at a sport we didn't know existed until now.
Unbound Gravel was, in fact, a date that had been etched on our consciousness for a significant period of time – as it is, we suspect, for most people who dare to enter this renowned gravel race. Except, we were not racing. But producing an exclusive version of our Most Days performance wear for Unbound sponsor Garmin. Not an unreasonable ask of a cycling apparel brand. But throw in Covid. A brand new collection with new fabrics, factory and a tight turnaround. And our journey to the official CHTP3 x Garmin collaboration announcement on June 5. 2021 at the world's premier gravel race was as equally bumpy and treacherous as the riders would experience in the event itself. Maybe. By the skin of our teeth, we decked out 80 Garmin employees and ambassadors in the livery with which they would conquer various distances of this epic event. We may not have run the 18-miles Trek-Segafredo rider Kiel Reijnen did after damaging a wheel beyond repair. But at times it felt like getting kit to Kansas was a marathon in itself.
We kept our end of the bargain It was now up to the riders – a collective of spirited Garmin all-comers – to show their mettle. Even entering Unbound Gravel takes guts. So it was with great pride that these riders would do it in the all new CHPT3.
If the parcours at Unbound is unfriendly – particularly so – then the people of Emporia are quite the opposite. Bailing up to town on short notice (there is a theme here), and with no driver for the weekend meant that most of day one was dedicated to searching for a chaperone to guide us around and help capture our cohorts undertaking their immense achievements. Everyone from the local barmen to the bike shop owner offered assistance. It was the local Mayor who came through for us in the end. Calling on his buddy to help out in a 4x4 sold to him by, yes, you guessed it, the local Major. Royal treatment. But the kindness didn't end there. This town oozes friendliness. And most of the people there to watch the race don't even ride bikes. But that's the beauty of Unbound Gravel. It brings people from all over the globe to punish themselves on dirt. And they are welcomed with open arms by people who know nothing of the sport on which they participate. A bit like us and Disc Golf. There is authenticity in it, not currently seen in the pro peloton. It is real. Raw. So much so that we will be back next year. To compete.
That's the lure of Unbound Gravel. Despite how gruelling it looks. And it's gruelling. It's the warmness of the people. The diversity. The challenge. The lush scenery, which was unseasonally green and alive, that make you want to come back and do it yourself. Nestled in the Flint Hills of Kansas, the rocks on the road are so sharp they sound like glass chiming under the wheels of a 4x4. It’s a distinct sound different from rounded, softened debris. It would. It is bone-shaking to ride this terrain on bike. But win, lose or suffer. The smiles abound at Unbound. It’s the playfulness that people crave in cycling.
Even after 206 miles, winner Ian Boswell and runner-up Laurens Ten Dam hadn’t had enough. The two, sprinting for the finish after over 10hrs of racing, in a finish chute not used to seeing sprint finishes. Naturally. Their enthusiasm for the event took them beyond the finishers chute, past the medal table, finishing food station and through the other side of the marquee. It’s that sort of commitment that will bring CHPT3 x Garmin back to Unbound for years to come.
See you there.