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She’s dubbed it “one of the best times I’ve had on two wheels”—and after her sixth-place finish at Unbound Gravel this past weekend, Ironman champion Angela Naeth said she’s going to focus on being a gravel racer as well as a pro triathlete this season. Naeth finished the epic 200-mile race, held in Emporia, Kansas, in 12:43:16. The women’s race was won by Lauren De Crescenzo in 12:06:49 while the men’s race was won by former Team Sky rider Ian Boswell in 10:17:24. (For more Unbound news and views, check out all the coverage on our sister site VeloNews).
With her 2021 Kona spot already in the bag, Naeth said she only entered the iconic gravel race because she was looking for a “different” challenge. She said: “Unbound was my first real gravel race. Gravel racing takes you off-road, riding through literally anything, and the distance of the race intrigued me. It’s as hard as people say it is—the heat, the elements—I love that stuff, and I wanted to see if I liked the scene. I loved it!”
Naeth said she enjoyed the relaxed vibe around the race and the all-new experience. She said: “The community is all-welcoming, and it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go. You’re at the start line for a big physical and mental challenge—show up with what you’ve got, and roll. Of course, there’s competition and a lot of it. It’s just not taken so seriously—or so it seems. Don’t get me wrong, those racing want to win, and these riders are tough as nails. It’s more about what you go through together, and when you get to the finish line. It’s a challenge that has you experience many highs and lows, alone, together, surrounded by amazing scenery, or just grinding solo. It really is one the best times I’ve had on two wheels. The entire day had me experiencing something new, which I loved.”
Compared to triathlon, Naeth said she enjoyed not having to set up in transition and on race morning be able to “wake up, get on a bike, and just roll!” That said, there’s no easy way to fuel for a 200-mile gravel race—and she almost learned that the hard way.
“The lowest point of the race came at mile 175 when I was almost cross-eyed,” she joked. “I was afraid of bonking, even though I ate and drank more than I ever thought possible. I honestly had more calories than I have ever consumed on a bike before! Luckily five gels at once saved me at that time.”
Naeth admitted she’s already looking at entering more gravel races this season and to really dive into being a gravel racer. “I think it’s possible to do both,” she said. And her advice to triathletes following her into the gravel scene?
“If you haven’t already, buy a gravel bike—and just ride it! I got my Obed a couple years ago and started riding it almost non-stop outside. A gravel bike is like that first bike you got as a kid, you literally can go anywhere on it—pavement, dirt, gravel, single-track, uphill, downhill. It’s simply fun. Jump in a race and experience it. But one caveat: be sure to dial in your nutrition, fueling is everything.”
Naeth added: “For any women looking to be part of gravel racing and a team, GirlsGetGritty is going to be rolling soon. To inquire—all welcome, all levels—e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.”