Kiel Reijnen ran for 18 miles after race-ending mechanical at Unbound Gravel

Kiel Reijnen pictured during Dwars door Vlaanderen 2021

by Kit Nicholson

photography by Cor Vos


“Hi, my name’s Kiel Reijnen and I made some bad choices today.”

Trek-Segafredo rider Kiel Reijnen had high hopes for the return of Unbound Gravel in 2021. He spoke after he finished of his excitement about being back at the world’s premier gravel race. Unfortunately, his race took an unexpected turn when Reijnan damaged his wheel beyond repair. Not one to give up without a fight, Reijnan ran, in his socks, with his bike for over two hours before realizing he would not be able to make the cut-off time.

“It’s a really special experience here and also racing stateside feels so good after a long absence,” Reijnen told one of his support crew. “There’s a lot of hype around today. You could feel it, just the nervous energy around the start line was palpable and different than in 2019. There’s been just that much more build-up, that much more on the line.”

Among the favourites for the title, Reijnen was in the lead group early on in the 200-mile (320 km) race out of Emporia, Kansas. But then he caught a bad line and/or bad luck in a small technical section.

“I broke my wheel,” Reijnen said. “This was at kilometre 46.2 (28.7 miles), I think, so not very far into the race. I was still in the front group, although the front group was quite large at that point still. I tried to repair the rim as best I could, I made a splint for it and wrapped that up. That lasted about a kilometre and a half, and then I realized my wheel was pretty trashed, and so I started running. Barefoot.”

Reijnen was still a long way from the next feed zone, the next opportunity to make any equipment changes, and the rules state that he couldn’t take any assistance.

“You can accept [help] from a stranger because it has to be in theory available serendipitously or available to everyone else,” he explained. “I guess I started running with the hope that maybe somewhere along the line I would run into someone who had had a different mechanical issue, and maybe I could borrow their wheel to the feed zone and change wheels there. It definitely wasn’t an option to have the team van come back and swap wheels with me, that’s against the rules.”

So, with 56 km (35 miles) to the next checkpoint, Reijnen started running over the rough gravel in his socks, admitting later, “I would hope most sane people would call it at that point!” But run he did, and he made it about 18 miles with his Trek Checkpoint gravel bike alongside him.

“I started with [my bike] on my shoulder, and then I did some more MacGyvering with some tubes and got the wheel straight enough to roll the bike along, which I was very thankful for at the time.”

As he ran, he saw a different side of Unbound Gravel in those riders not going for the win.

“I met a lot of amazing people! It turns out the back 10% of that group, they’re the kindest, most respectful, wonderful people. Every one of them stopped and asked what they could do for me.”

But before long, the cut-off time began to loom over Reijnen’s effort.

“Part of me thought, ‘Hell, if I just keep trucking, maybe I’ll get there’,” Reijnen said. “After two and a half hours of running I started the calculations and I quickly realized that it was going to take me another four or five hours, and I didn’t have enough water for that.

“I think the cut-off time is noon and so I think I would’ve got there close to one, maybe two, depending on how much I cracked. So I did something that I really didn’t want to do today: I quit the race.”

With Kiel Reijnen climbing off, or stepping away, Unbound Gravel was ultimately won by another former WorldTour pro, Ian Boswell.

“I’ll double down, I’ll be twice as motivated to be back here next year,” Reijnen promised. “It makes me hungry for the remaining gravel events for the rest of the year, and I definitely hope that by trying, I embodied the spirit of the race today. It wasn’t the version that I wanted, but I have a lot of respect for this event, for the people doing it. The best part of my day was getting to see the people who were out there doing it who don’t have time to train seven days a week. They’re out there because they’re passionate about it, they want to challenge themselves, and I just want to say chapeau to all of you.”

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