Aero bars banned from Unbound. Will other gravel races follow?

Changes to race format also prioritise media coverage and rider safety

Wilier Rave SLR Unbound

Aero bars have been banned from the elite fields of Unbound.

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Many gravel racers use extensions because they can offer a significant aerodynamic advantage. They also offer an additional riding position, which can reduce fatigue when covering long distances.

However, some racers and organisers perceive aero bars as unsafe, particularly when riding in a group because riders must move from the extensions and onto the bars to access the brake levers.

Previous winners in both the men’s and women’s Unbound fields – including 2022 men’s winner, Ivar Slik – have used aero bars. Mat Stephens even credited his 2017 Unbound victory to them.

2021 winner Ian Boswell eschews aero bars.
Specialized

However, others, including 2021 men’s winner Ian Boswell, have proven they aren’t necessary to win.

Riders tipped to win the 2022 edition of the race (including Boswell) tried to reach a collective commitment to not use aero bars, but felt a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ wasn’t enough, and called on race promoters to create clear rules.

Outside of Unbound, aero bars have already been banned at other Life Time (Unbound’s promoter) events, including Crusher in the Tushar.

The days of the aero bar in gravel racing may be numbered.
Cinch Elite

Though not explicitly outlawed in the UCI Gravel World Series’ regulations, aero bars are banned from UCI-regulated road cycling events. Article 1.3.022 states “the attachment of any additional handlebar component or extension is prohibited”.

Unbound is the biggest gravel race of the season and has massively influenced the scene as a whole. With that in mind, we expect many other races will follow suit with similar rules.

Safety and media prioritised with new race format

The elite fields will now start ahead of amateurs.
Life Time

Other changes have also been introduced to the race format of Unbound.

Rather than a mass start for all riders, the elite men’s field will now start 10 minutes ahead of the amateur riders.

Elite women will start two minutes after the men, and eight minutes ahead of the amateur riders. All of Unbound’s other categories will stick with the mass start format.

Unbound says this move has been made “to preserve the race experience and ethos of the event… for the person there to ‘finish’ and to experience ‘adventure by bike’”.

Unbound also says the changes will make the race safer for all riders by ensuring “out-of-their-league non-elites [don’t] get mixed in with the elites”.

Separating pro riders from the field will also enable better media coverage, particularly for the elite women’s field, according to the event organisers.

Finally, additional marshals will be placed along the course.

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The ballot for 2023 Unbound entries opens on 5 January.