Unbound Gravel is, arguably, the most grueling and prestigious gravel cycling event on the racing calendar. With the 2021 edition of Unbound Gravel taking place on June 7, we’re excited to shine a spotlight on the Felt athletes who will be rolling to the start line, as well as their preparation for one of the most unique cycling challenges in the world. Be sure to check out our profiles on the two other TWENTY24 Pro Cycling athletes taking on the 2021 Unbound Gravel event: Shayna Powless and Jen Luebke. (Photo: @swiftride)
The TWENTY24 Pro Cycling women's team is an incredible proponent of gravel racing. They've even set up their 2021 racing calendar to include a host of exciting and unique gravel events so that the team's athletes can ply their trade in some of the most demanding bike races imaginable. But the biggest event of the year is, undoubtedly, the 200-mile Unbound Gravel. Natalia Franco, who is originally from Colombia, has had some big days on the bike during her cycling life and career, and she's eager to put in another long day in the saddle at Unbound. We spoke with Natalia about her training regimen, race-day plans, and what she's most looking forward to at Unbound.
FELT: Have you raced Unbound Gravel before?
Natalia: Never! But I’ve always wanted to!
FELT: Have you ever raced or ridden 200 miles on dirt?
Natalia: I haven’t ridden 200 miles on dirt. But when I was 13, I rode a mountain bike for 12 hours on a rough bike without suspension. Therefore, I think I am ready to handle the pain. It doesn’t hurt less, you just go faster!
FELT: What will racing Unbound—widely regarded as the most prestigious and toughest event on the gravel calendar—mean to you?
Natalia: In 2019, I actually got curious about the race and I thought it was badass! I like doing badass things, so it was on my list. I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to race if it wasn’t for [TWENTY24 Pro Cycling General Manager] Nicola Cranmer complementing the team’s calendar with gravel events.
FELT: Tell us about how you’ve modified your training leading up to Unbound Gravel.
Natalia: I have done longer rides on gravel with high self-awareness on hydration and eating habits. I have done a couple rides testing all the equipment—even riding with my Camelbak. I think there’s no specific training for this, but I think it’s going to be helpful having kilometers in your legs and huge mental toughness.
FELT: Do you have any specific strategies that you hope will bring you success?
Natalia: I am really good at positioning and saving energy in a field, therefore I am hoping it somewhat works as a gran fondo where you can stay with strong riders and they can pull most of the way!
FELT: What’s your nutrition and hydration plan look like? Unbound? How much food, or how many calories, are you expecting to consume?
Natalia: As much as I can, and more! I will have two Camelbaks to switch out at each aid station, and I’ll have a variety of food at my disposal and grab whatever looks good in the moment.
FELT: What would a successful experience be for you at Unbound Gravel?
Natalia: As a sport psychology consultant, I would tell you that success for me is leaving with the peace of mind that I did my best physically, mentally, strategically, and mechanically. These are all things I can prepare for and that are completely under my control, and if I gave my best than that’s all I can do. But as an ambitious racer, I would tell you that a podium would be a pretty sweet success, too!
Natalia Franco (r) will be joined by her TWENTY24 Pro Cycling teammates Jen Luebke (c) and Shayna Powless at the 2021 Unbound Gravel race. (Photo: Dennis Farris)
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