This year was SE Coach Zack Allison's first time doing the Belgian Waffle Ride and DK200 (now Unbound Gravel), much less both in the same year. We asked him to share his top 5 takeaways from his own experience:
Yea we know, hydration is key, I’m not one to make vague articles. Know your own body, your own needs and plan way ahead. I have some clients that need salt tabs and huge electrolyte needs. On the other end some clients stomach’s get upset by too much electrolyte and water is the main goal and not too much of it.
Besides the objective amount of acclimation to heat and ambient temperatures, you have to know your body. I took on overall the proper amount of hydration for me at BWR and Unbound but at Unbound there was a bit too much electrolyte and not enough water. The balance is key. So far I haven’t found a better way to know your proper water to electrolyte ratio beyond experiencing too much water and separately too much electrolyte. Try to experiment and find how much is too much so you know you need one bottle of electrolyte to every liter of water or a different ratio.
The landscape is changing here for all sports and the story is different for nutrition than it was a year ago. If you’re trying to stay up to date with nutrition trends we have seen the emergence of ketogenic diets, other low carb choices. Moving into carb periodization, bringing back the importance of carbs but honing in on the timing. The fact is things change with the timing and intensity of the event.
After some brief consults with nutritionists I concluded that I needed to time my carbs and simple foods (gels, blocks, etc) and try to take in more proteins and fats towards the beginning of the event depending on the initial intensity. I started with some trail mix as the intensity was manageable. I moved to date bars heavy in nuts for as long as possible mixing carbs, fats, and proteins, as I got more and more depleted I moved to gels and faster acting carbs while trying to continue to eat the date bars. The date bars became too hard to process and I just got physically tired of eating. I felt great though the day with everything and all the hydration and food choices.
Pacing is different for every event and has much to do with tactics in each event based on terrain and who is there. At BWR it was important to know the climbs but at Unbound less so- it just rolls all day. Unbound was more tactical equipment-wise, but also based on the riders present and mattered more so than the terrain.
Mainly with pacing, don’t blow up but stay with the lead group for as long as humanly possible without blowing up. In my case at BWR, the lead group was very obtainable until a feedzone skirmish where I took the passive “high road” and not freak out to get in and out of the feedzone earlier. At Unbound the lead group was very obtainable until flats left me just behind in no mans land the rest of the day.
Feed zones + support -
Two very different approaches by BWR and Unbound here. BWR had a few neutral feed zones with food and bottles. Unbound had zero neutral amenities, you brought all of your own support or not. At BWR feed one was pretty hectic. At BWR I should have been in the top 10 going into the feed zone where I wanted to get in and out quick with the lead group. I was lazy. I was also not going to be overly aggressive at the feed zone we arrived at where some people were okay with the actions just pushing people around and generally being a jerk. It was my decision to take my time. My 2 cents if you want to in be first or near the front into the feed zone but be as calm and nice as possible. If you’re a favorite at the event then be classy and take your time, people losing because of pushing and shoving in the feedzones makes for a stupid event for everyone.
At Unbound its all about support and the support you bring. Niner, Ian Hylands, and Kory Swanson were amazing for Menso and myself at Unbound, I can’t thank them enough. We had a plan to be towards the front at the feedzones, get our camel back filled, grab bottles and food and book it out of there. The later feed zones after many creek crossings we needed lube on our entire bikes and some flat cokes but the feed zones were dialed.
Plan to prevent mechanicals -
BWR and Unbound were similar here, you can’t flat and expect to win anymore. The “everyone flats” line is crap. Yea there’s a 50% chance to flat but look at the stats. The top 5 riders at Unbound didn’t flat, the previous winner and many favorites that did flat even once were pushed back to top 10 from winning positions. This starts with tire choice. Tubeless is key, pick a heavier tire if it means less chance of flatting. The Maxxis Rambler 40mm was my choice for Unbound. It was a great choice, my flat was a slow leak that almost sealed. Just luck of the draw on where I flatted and how. Menso was on the same tire and did not flat.
Pressure is also a choice. Lower pressure can be comfortable but more flat prone.
Lastly aero bars. Aero bars and Mat Stephens won the Unbound 2017. It's your choice on aero bars. They are faster but at the same time there’s something about skinsuits, aerobars, and gravel that make my eyes roll back in my head. Maybe I’m getting old.
Both of these events are some of the best events I’ve ever done including things like Pro Nationals and Tulsa Tough. The promoters are doing incredible things and this is the new face of bike racing. Embrace it and have fun with it.
Check out some of our other articles on Gravel Riding and Racing.
Zack Allison’s affinity for cycling started when he was 14 racing on the East Coast and his enjoyment of the sport lead him to pursue his BSEd in Exercise Science from Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, Colorado. He currently races for Team Clif Bar and owns the Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies. Growing up in the sport with many great mentors, he loves to pay it forward, using a combination of education and race experience. You can often find him zooming around on Fort Collin’s many gravel roads or on its countless mountain bike trails. Learn more about Zack.