Carolin Schiff has won the women’s 200-mile race of the 2023 Garmin Unbound Gravel presented by Craft, shooting off the front solo with around 60 miles still to go to take an emphatic victory in the wet and muddy edition of the race.
The 37-year-old from Germany came across the line with a time of 11:46:39 and none of her rivals within sight at the signature event of the prestigious race across the Flint Hills of Kansas. Sofia Gomez Villafañe came second, more than 15 minutes later and then it was Sarah Sturm who came through more than six minutes later to take third.
“I just saw it and [thought] maybe it’s a dream,” said Schiff of the moment she approached the line in Emporia. “I did not always believe it that there was a big gap. To finish is to finish and just push because anything can happen. I love gravel racing! I found my spot, I think.”
It has been a stellar gravel season for Schiff right from the very start, with the multi-discipline rider winning the opening round of the 2023 UCI Gravel World Series, then The Traka 200. She was also heading into Unbound fresh from a win at Gravel Locos so it was clear she had the form and strength to take on the Unbound field and the 2022 winner.
Villafañe made an early move, but Schiff caught the defending champion and then decided the best option was to forge on solo.
“She was just on my wheel, tried always to play games with me, so I had to go alone. It makes no sense with her,” Schiff told reporters straight after the race.
In fourth place, close behind the experienced Sturm, it was the British gravel champion Danni Shrosbree who said it was absolute chaos when the riders hit a section of “peanut butter mud” earlier in the race but once she got onto solid gravel could start to “pick people off”.
“Sarah, I knew she was going to go on the hill, and I just tried to dig deep,” said Shrosbree. “I just had nothing left, chasing all day. But fourth, I can’t complain.”
How it unfolded
For the first time in the 16-year history of the women’s competition at Unbound Gravel 200, the elite women had a dedicated start in front of the Granada Theatre in downtown Emporia, taking the course with two minutes behind the elite men.
The first rider to make a move and create a gap was Life Time Grand Prix rookie Jenna Rinehart, a mountain bike racer from Minnesota. She got through the first mud-bath on the rutted ‘D Hill’ at mile 11 near the front and then escaped for a two-minute lead across the next 10 miles ahead of Sofia Gomez Villafañe, Ruth Winder, Ellen Campbell and Sarah Sturm.
On the way to the first first big climb at Texaco Hill, Big Sugar Gravel champion Paige Onweller suffered a mechanical issue and abandoned the race. Heather Jackson had an issue with her derailleur and Lauren De Crescenzo had multiple flat tyres, causing both of the contenders to lose big time.
Once the elite women charged up the climb of Texaco Hill, Rinehart’s time at the front faded and she switched places with Villafañe, who took over and pulled out a 1:27 margin. A solo chase behind Rinehart, a little more than one minute back, was dedicated to Winder.
The Texaco Hill section had shattered the elite women’s field. Villafañe was leading the way, Rinehart and Winder the closest in the chase, while Carolin Shiff was next in line, 40 seconds behind Winder. The duo of Campbell and Sturm rode another 2:30 behind, and then another minute back it was the small group of Haley Smith, Sarah Max and Sarah Lange to. 2021 winner Lauren De Crescenzo trailed in 19th place, 14 minutes behind Villafañe.
Carolin Schiff made her move and caught Villafañe near mile 70. They rode together at the checkpoint at Eureka High School eight miles later, while Skarda bridged to Winder in the first chase group, two minutes back. Rinehart rode by herself, six minutes back, while Smith, Sturm, Campbell, Max, Lange, Raylyn Nuss, Crystal Anthony, Justin Barrow, Marisa Boaz, and Jade Treffeisen gathered to create a formidable 10-rider group.
Anna Yamauchi broke her derailleur early in the race and she rode single speed until the check point at Eureka where she got it repaired and continued, in 30th position.
Headed to Rocky Ford and the mid-point of the race, the front group had grown to three with Skarda joining the fray. A few miles later, Skarda, Villafañe and Schiff notched 6 hours, 6 minutes with 100 miles to go. They had carved a gap of 12:32 over Smith, Sturm and Boaz. Lange now rode in seventh place solo, about 45 seconds behind the trio of chasers. De Crescenzo continued to go backwards, now in 40th position.
The Texaco Hill ‘Redux’ climb at mile 143 saw Schiff move in front with a solo effort. She put in seven minutes to her former riding companions Skarda and Villafañe, who worked together as a duo. Playing a big game of catch-up was Lange, who was nine minutes back. Another minute behind her was Smith and Sturm. Boaz had dropped behind Briton Danni Shrosbree.
Headed to Judge’s Hill, a climb with loose rocks, the women had 53 miles to go on the approach to the check point in Madison. Schiff continued to focus on her solo effort, having a passed a number of elite men on the way, including Kiel Reijnen and Griffin Easter.
Once in Madison, Schiff has expanded her solo lead over Villafañe to almost 14 minutes, while Lange was at 17 minutes. Smith and Sturm stayed together to complete the on-course top five, a little more than 19 minutes back.
Schiff continued to build her lead, but now adding seconds rather than minutes as she crossed the county line between Greenwood and Lyon County headed back to Emporia, the wind picking up and blowing clouds across the prairie. There was rain on the parade into town for the German, but she didn’t seem to notice.
|2||Sofia Gomez Villafane||12:01:50|
|8||Leah Van der Linden||12:28:29|