Anchorage endurance cyclist Lael Wilcox spent a long day and night dodging possums and snakes on the Kansas prairie last weekend while capturing her second straight women’s victory in the Unbound Gravel XL race.
Wilcox averaged 13.22 mph in the 358-mile gravel race, the longest of several races held Friday and Saturday as part of the annual Unbound Gravel races in the Flint Hills near Emporia, Kansas.
Besides critters that live in the tall grasses, racers contended with hot weather and strong winds.
Some 2,000 cyclists competed in distances ranging from 25 miles to 358 miles, with more than 900 racing in the 200-mile race and another 700 in the 100-mile race.
Wilcox, 34, placed 12th overall in a field of 47 finishers in the event’s longest race. The race started Friday afternoon and ended Saturday afternoon in Emporia.
Wilcox, a veteran of many longer races, never stopped to sleep and finished just shy of 27 hours in a time of 26:55:24. She was seven seconds out of 11th place overall and two minutes ahead of the second woman, Amanda Nauman of California.
“It was really hard,” Wilcox told Velo News. “But it’s not cold and there are people around and you only need lighting for one night. I was dodging possums all night long, and snakes.”
One of the top endurance cyclists in the world regardless of gender, Wilcox said the course was more difficult this year than in 2019, the last time the race was held.
In 2019, Wilcox topped the women in 23:51, three hours faster than her time this year. She was one of six cyclists who broke the 24-hour barrier that year; this year, only one racer finished in less than one day — winner Taylor Lideen of Phoenix, who dipped below 23 hours (22:57:14). Lideen broke the event record for speed, averaging 15.9 mph. The previous fastest pace was 15.1 mph.