Larry Warbasse’s BMC Kaius 01

The racing bike that guided the AG2R-Citroën rider through the trials and tribulations of the 2023 Unbound 200 that required him to run in road shoes

Clock22:07, Monday 5th June 2023
Larry Warbasse, five days from finishing the Giro d'Italia and one day removed from a trans-Atlantic flight, was still tinkering with his setup the eve of his first gravel race

Larry Warbasse, five days from finishing the Giro d'Italia and one day removed from a trans-Atlantic flight, was still tinkering with his setup the eve of his first gravel race

Unbound is a race where marginal tech choices can lead to massive benefits. Or, at least that is the theory. With lots of miles, the little advantages add up.

Most years, this can lead to riders tinkering with ways to get aero, reduce rolling resistance, or maximise efficiency. Often, riders will ride in road shoes with road pedals to have the increased efficiency from the larger surface area connecting rider to pedal and the typically stiffer sole of a road shoe. Additionally, with the length of Unbound, many riders are doing significant training miles on the road with road bikes, so oftentimes there is a level of personal comfort in road shoes over their mountain bike counterparts. The trade off is that if, at any point, a rider is called to walk, the road shoes quickly and dramatically lose their efficiency.

It is, realistically, the biggest gamble in gear choice a rider can make in Unbound.

For Larry Warbasse, the choice had different stakes. With three weeks of intense racing in his legs, the switch to mountain bike shoes and pedals is not so simple. Any discrepancy in the set up, which is common in the different profiles of the two choices, could cause severe discomfort or even overuse issues for a rider coming off the unrivalled repetitive intensity of a grand tour to a race that is diametric in nature and demands.

“I had run through a lot of scenarios in my head for the race and other riders told me they had never unclipped before,” Warbasse told GCN of his choice to run road pedals. Warbasse is good friends with Ian Boswell, the 2021 Unbound champion, and said they had been chatting in the lead up to the race, as Warbasse had warmed to the idea of giving the race a solid go. Presumably, it was Boswell, a veteran of grand tour racing himself, who gave Warbasse the tip that walking wasn’t typical at Unbound.

Boswell, however, started the race with mountain bike pedals, as did the vast majority of the contenders, bar John Borstleman. Borstelman, to say the least, did not have a successful outing.

With the knowledge from riders like Boswell, and the understanding that even if there might be a slight penalty, Warbasse came into the race feeling reasonably confident, as he told us before the race: “I'm here to do my best, but I am no expert in gravel. I know I have good legs but I might get myself five miles in getting my ass kicked out the back in the first gravel section.”

Nevertheless, the mud at Unbound doesn't care about where you came from and Boswell’s experience has been limited to years where mud has not defined the race in the ways it has in 2015 or 2011. When there is mud and even the quickest riders are forced out of the pedals, the choice of road shoes quickly becomes a bad bet.

“I didn't ever expect mud like that, nor have ever seen mud like that, so I didn’t really know what to do,” Warbasse said of his encounter with the mile 11 mud bog.

“Everyone got off their bikes and started running into the grass and I didn’t know where they were going and I went straight into the mud and I got stuck after about two feet. I could hardly walk in my shoes, I mean I can barely walk in the kitchen in them let alone slippery mud and grass and it was hard to clip in every time after so I was well off the back.”

Warbasse was eventually able to get into a groove again and had a reasonably smooth run through the final 150 miles of the race, making it through without punctures and with legs that had enough freshness to muster a comeback to 19th after coming through the first time check in 74th place after 21 miles.

The story of riders like Warbasse, and to a lesser extent John Borstleman, is important in the tech discussion at Unbound. With more and more european horsepower arriving in Emporia every year, there is the potential for the race to become more and more professional, and thus the marginal efficiency that will always come from road shoes will be a gamble riders will continue to try and make work

Kansas’s weather in June, however, will never change.

Some years, road shoes and pedals will certainly be faster. If they get lucky, a road pro fresh off of the Giro or the spring classics might rip the doors off the pro field.  Yet, with the capacity for the weather to turn the B-roads of Kansas into slop at any moment – and the commitment from the organisers to keep those B-roads no matter what the elite riders say – they can also live like Larry and languish behind, hampered by their inexperience and road limitations.

It is all part of the full Unbound experience that everyone is learning each time the race is run.

Bike Specification
  • year


  • model

    Kaius 01

  • Manufacturer


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