María Guðmundsdóttir / Full gas and see what happens

Beaming a broad smile towards the camera, María Guðmundsdóttir’s personality is writ large on her playful social media posts. A passionate advocate for more women cycling and multiple Icelandic National Cycling Champion, the past year has seen her racing a series of events with the Café du Cycliste Gravel Team. In a conversation punctuated with laughter, María discusses the reasons she rides, the joy she finds in time spent outdoors and why we should all dance a little more.


cyclespeak
You’re at home in Iceland. Is that where you usually work?

María
If I need people around me, I just go to a coffee house but most of the time I work from home.

cyclespeak
I’m intrigued by your family name: Guðmundsdóttir. Has this got a special meaning?

María
Here in Iceland – we are not many [laughs] – and every girl is named daughter of their father. 

cyclespeak
What was it like growing up as a child?

María
I was born on the west side of the island. Quite remote with high mountains and hard winters. I lived there until I was 20 years old and spent most of my spare time skiing. I just loved bad weather as it meant more snow.

cyclespeak
Do you have any personality traits that are typically Icelandic?

María
In Iceland, everything depends on the weather. You can make a plan but the chance of it not working out as you imagine is huge. So it’s really Icelandic to not think too much about things and we have this phrase Þetta Reddast that basically means ‘it will be fine’. And that’s very much the kind of person I am. I love to have my life open to whatever comes to me.

cyclespeak
You mentioned growing up skiing. So where does the bike fit in?

María
Naturally I had a bike as a child. But every child can cycle in Iceland because if your parents cannot provide a bike, the Government will. And when I got pregnant in 2007 after I’d moved to Reykjavik, I decided to buy myself a bike as a present for giving birth to my first daughter [laughs].

cyclespeak
That seems fair.

María
And then I saw an advertisement for the biggest mountain bike race in Iceland—the Blue Lagoon Challenge. How could I have such a fancy bike and not participate? So I signed up and that’s how it all started.

cyclespeak
Did you enjoy the race?

María
The course was 60km and it never stopped raining. I was really tired and covered in mud when I finished but I’d never felt more alive.

cyclespeak
You mentioned the weather. Can you ride year round in Iceland or are there distinct seasons?

María
I ride all year but there are many days when you just have to turn around and head home because of the crazy weather. Last winter the snowfall was so heavy that it was difficult to ride anywhere but on the snow ploughed streets. So I went out during office hours when people were at work and made sure I was home before 4:00pm when the roads got busier. And they usually keep the cycle paths in Reykjavik pretty clear. If they don’t, the people quickly let them know about it [laughs].

cyclespeak
This year’s race season got underway with you riding for the Café du Cycliste Gravel Team at the Traka.

María
I’ve been working with Café du Cycliste on their photo shoots for almost three years. And then late last year they contacted me to ask if I wanted to compete in the Roc d’Azur gravel race out of Nice. That went really well – I came second – and they explained how they were building a gravel racing team and asked if I would be interested in joining. My first thought? Do they know how old I am?

cyclespeak
Maybe they were focusing, not on your 41 years, but on your 20 Icelandic National titles?

María
Possibly [laughs]. And this was a serious venture. They explained how I needed to be in good shape and train but also keep having fun on my bike. So I thought, well, the last condition is easy enough.


cyclespeak
So you joined the team.

María
I did. But at first I’ll admit to feeling a little shy about racing for Café du Cycliste. It was the first time they’d had their own team so it was a big honour to be asked.

cyclespeak
With the greatest respect, I’m finding it difficult to imagine you feeling shy [smiles]. You always appear so in the moment and relaxed.

María
When they asked me, I didn’t even tell my boyfriend right away [laughs].

cyclespeak
Café du Cycliste is a brand with quite a unique design aesthetic that I’m guessing appeals to your sense of fun?

María
I was already a huge fan and loved how they made fashionable cycle wear that also performed brilliantly on the bike. And I can remember when I first talked to them, how I explained that I was a little starstruck.

cyclespeak
With your personality, you make a great combination.

María
I guess so. And it’s perfect for Iceland. I look at the weather and pick an appropriate outfit.

cyclespeak
Once again riding for Café du Cycliste, June saw you line up for Unbound—considered by many to be the calendar’s biggest gravel race. But I believe the logistics of travelling to the US were also pretty testing?

María
That’s a crazy story. My journey began to unravel before I’d even left Iceland when I was standing in the wrong queue and nearly missed my flight. I had to run [laughs].

cyclespeak
You were flying to Newark?

María
And then the plan was to take a connecting flight to Texas and finally Kansas. But first I had to pass through US Immigration Control. After two hours of queuing, I finally got to the border officers and they asked if I had any foodstuffs. I answered, ‘Yeah, I’m fine, I’ve got a banana and some other things’. So they immediately took me to one side and started to search all my bags which meant I missed my flight. So I had to wait in Newark for hours and to end a perfect day the thunderstorm came. And everything just stopped [laughs].

cyclespeak
I remember the storm was on the news.

María
After spending a night sleeping on the terminal floor, I had to quickly decide which flight to take. Choosing a connection through Denver, I finally got in the air again only to discover I was flying over Kansas [laughs].

cyclespeak
Not what you call perfect preparation for a 200 mile gravel race.

María
It took me 39 hours in total from leaving home to arriving in Emporia and when I did finally get there I had no luggage. No clothes, no helmet, no shoes, no bike. It wasn’t until the Friday evening, 12 hours before the race start, that my bags turned up. But even though I was desperately tired, lining up at the start line was pretty awesome. 

cyclespeak
How did you find the race? Did you – and I’m quoting a post you made – cry halfway round in all that heat? And was there an ice cream waiting for you at the finish line?

María
I started well but after two hours I was just empty. So when I got to the first aid station I stopped. I wasn’t sad – I didn’t cry [laughs] – because everything had been such a mess and it just wasn’t my time.

cyclespeak
And the ice cream at the finish?

María
Of course! And because my team is so awesome we celebrated the race at a typical American bar with country music, dancing and everyone wearing cowboy hats.


cyclespeak
Is Unbound unfinished business?

María
I don’t know.

[Pauses]

Some people need to tick boxes. I don’t.

cyclespeak
After Unbound you raced on home soil in the Rift. As a 20x Icelandic National Champion, does that bring with it a sense of expectation on how you’ll perform?

María
Yes, I suppose it does.

cyclespeak
Is that a good or bad thing?

María
In the past I thought about it a lot but now? I’m riding for myself and there’s less pressure.

cyclespeak
Maybe that comes with age. There’s less of a need to meet the expectations of others?

María
I can see that. And I wonder if María is changing. I love racing and pushing hard but I also enjoy just riding my bike purely for pleasure. Taking in all the surroundings rather than staring at the wheel in front of me [smiles].

cyclespeak
Your boyfriend is also an Icelandic National Cycling Champion. Do family rides ever get competitive?

María
No [laughs]. He’s faster than me.

cyclespeak
You’re fast enough to get second place in a recent race in Italy which means you’ve qualified for the UCI World Gravel Championships in October. That’s kind of a big deal?

María
But I’m not nervous.

cyclespeak
No?

María
Just excited. Which means I have no expectations and will just hit it. Full gas and see what happens [laughs].

cyclespeak
Leading such a busy life, is timetabling a challenge you welcome?

María
Yes. And that’s my problem. I like being busy. But I recently made the decision to only work part-time as I need time with my girls and time to ride my bike.

cyclespeak
No matter whether you’re riding, racing or on a photo shoot, you always have the biggest smile.

María
It’s how I am. Often my boyfriend says, ‘María, you need to cool it down’ [laughs].

cyclespeak
And you also love to dance?

María
I do. I dance a lot. With my girls, by myself. If you allow yourself to move – and I’m not a good dancer – then you’re more open to all kinds of situations.

cyclespeak
Does this same sense of movement apply to your bike?

María
Before I go to bed and when I wake up, I often go outside and [Maria breathes in deeply and exhales]. For my sense of wellbeing I need to spend time outdoors and cycling gives me that. It just feels so good to be pedalling.

María

All photography for Café du Cycliste including images by Benedict Campbell, Christophe Flemin and Violette Franchi

Dominique Powers / Telling stories

In the late summer of 2021, Dominique Powers loaded up her hatchback with camera gear and camping equipment, attached her gravel bike to the rear rack and set off on a three week, 3000 mile road trip. Stopping off at parking lots, trail heads and open prairie, she set up a portable backdrop before awaiting the arrival of each next subject. The photographic series that resulted – The Leaders of Gravel – was subsequently published on The Radavist to great acclaim and set the pulses of commissioning editors and marketing directors racing.

Over a transatlantic call we discuss this breakthrough moment and Dominique’s passion for storytelling. How she fell in love with cycling during the pandemic and, with a life lived on the road, the simple joys of coming home.


Dominique is taking our call at the kitchen table of the house in Los Angeles she shares with her partner Ken. On the drainer sits a ceramic coffee dripper, sunlight is filtering through the windows and if I’m not mistaken I can hear the squawk of parrots. “Oh that’s just LA,” she confirms with a smile. 

During the course of our conversation, Dominique mentions a time from her childhood when she left a library book out in the rain. The outcome of a meeting between her Mom and the librarian was deciding between paying for a replacement or volunteering in the library until she’d cancelled her debt. A voracious reader, Dominique chose the latter and it wasn’t until two years later that she found out her Mom had promptly paid the fine on her behalf.

An everyday story but one that illustrates how Dominique, even from an early age, understood the importance of owning the moment. An attitude she applied to her years as a digital technician working on high fashion and advertising campaigns.

“As with anything you do, your past experiences inform the way you approach new experiences. So all the time I was investing in being the best digital technician I could be, it taught me what working hard feels like.”

“But the longer I worked as a technician, the further away I felt from making that shift to being behind the camera. I was taking photographs the whole time but there were months on end when I wasn’t creating images with presence and purpose. And it took a sense of getting a little bit bored to prompt me to make the move.”

Continuing to work as a technician paid the bills and allowed Dominique the freedom to choose the stories she wanted to tell—in many cases the paycheck coming second as she set out to find her own voice and sense of authenticity. A process further guided by Dominique discovering cycling.

“I’m a very competitive person and grew up doing all these different endurance sports. And then during the pandemic, cycling quickly took over my life because what else do you do when you just want every day to pass? You spend hours and hours on the bike and it continues to provide motivation for the work I do now.”

These differing strands of interest and insight eventually coalesced in her Leaders of Gravel series—Dominique setting out from her home in Los Angeles on a circuitous route from one scouted location to the next. But before capturing a portrait with her medium format film camera, she took the time to converse with each subject to better understand their own experiences and stories.

“Trust takes time. You need to know, to a certain extent, the person holding the camera in order to feel comfortable lowering your guard. And I was very open about why I was doing the series and what I wanted from them. They didn’t necessarily need to smile or even be serious. It was all about who they were as a person so it was important to create a safe space where they could be a bit more vulnerable.”

With each subject’s eyes seemingly focusing through and beyond the camera to Dominique herself, she realised the profound impact the body of work had made on her own understanding of the creative process.

“On the road during the trip—even then, I knew this series would be with me forever. It was hard work – so many early mornings – but I felt this huge amount of gratitude that people agreed to do it and made the time. That they were willing to meet me at whatever deserted destination I had decided. And how this sense of magic found a place in the resulting portraits.”

“It came at a time when I really wanted – and needed – to reconnect with myself. An opportunity to explore my own sense of adventure and be present in the moment. I’d brought along my tent – fully expecting to be really roughing it – but the hospitality I experienced meant I only camped out the one time. People were so generous in opening up their homes to me that I just wanted to put that back out into the world. You can’t help but be changed by experiences like that.”

Hanging out at Sea Otter a few weeks after the story came out, every marketing director Dominique bumped into said they’d seen it—one notable outcome that followed involving another journey but one with a transatlantic flight.

“I’m very fortunate to be on a retainer with Giro and I’d mentioned this goal I had of shooting the Tour de France Femmes. They made a few phone calls and the project was given a green light. And then, knowing how establishing a relationship with my subjects is important to my work and that I’d never attended a World Tour race in Europe, we agreed that I’d spend a week with the Canyon-SRAM women’s team in the lead up to Paris-Roubaix.”

Landing in Paris, Dominique picked up her rental car and drove up to join the team on a course recon.

“It was such a blast and I’m so grateful – thank you, Mom – that I learnt to drive on a stick shift. And then once I was settled, every morning I’d show up an hour early to hang out with the soigneurs and mechanics so that on race day I really felt part of the team.”

Not having the same level of direction that she would usually enjoy shooting editorial content, Dominique quickly adapted to reacting to what was happening—building a level of trust with the riders such an integral part of the trip that Dominique was conscious of not getting in the way or asking too much.

“I went with the goal of meeting the athletes and team and to experience the culture of European World Tour racing. In effect, my pre-season training, so that when I return in the summer for the Le Tour Femme I can hit the ground running.”

Although a relative newcomer to cycling, Dominique is well placed to offer an opinion on how the sport is changing. And back home in the US, it’s gravel that is currently all the rage.

“Women want to exercise more and spend time outdoors. They want to create authentic experiences and cycling is the answer in so many ways. And because of the number of cars on the road, gravel is a perfect fit. That was how I discovered cycling and my own journey has taken me to the start line of Steamboat Gravel which was so much fun. Quite a challenge but I went into it wanting to test my metal. To see what I was made of.”

“I believe in ‘go big or go home’ so why not take a risk and roll the dice. I could have decided to line up some e-commerce photographic jobs and get well paid for my time. But I chose to do a photo series of the top women in gravel and then see what would happen.”

If Dominique does ‘go home’, right now that means LA and the house she shares with Ken. A place where she can feel emotionally open and where she disconnects from whatever outward pressures she might be feeling.

“I’m an early bird and generally wake up around 6:30am. I’ll have a cup of coffee with Ken and we’ll do the Wordle together before he starts his first morning meeting. Meanwhile I’ll have breakfast and write out a to-do list for the day. But even if I’m not working, having that early morning hour to greet the day and be reflective is really nice.”

As we wind up our conversation, I ask if she finds it easy to feel a sense of satisfaction in her work? Or whether, like some creatives, she’s always looking to the next project?

“You take the Leaders of Gravel series—that happened over a three week period and once I had all the images I needed and I’d written up the story, it was done. I don’t plan to ever go back and add to it. But I do feel this sense of forward momentum and there’s always something more that I want.”

And more stories to tell, I ask.

Dominique pauses for a second and smiles broadly before answering.

“That’s really what it’s all about.”

Feature image and video by Alex Colorito

All other imagery with kind permission of Dominique Powers / dominiquepowers.com

The Leaders of Gravel

Canyon-SRAM

Cristina Sanser / Badlands

With 85% of the route off-road, Badlands is an unsupported, ultracycling gravel challenge that rewards self-sufficiency. So what happens if things take an unexpected turn under the searing sun of Andalusia?

Cristina Sanser had taken a whole year to prepare before rolling up to the September startline. But finding herself riding through a beautiful but unforgiving landscape, she needed to find the inner strength to stop and say enough.


Why Badlands? I suppose I should start by explaining that I’ve only been riding a bike for four years—and only consistently for a year and a half. With the whole Covid situation, I had to work from home and everything was so boring with no travelling allowed. My friends and I saw the Badlands documentary from last year and when the bars once again opened, we went for a drink and decided why not?

The year I spent training for it, in the back of mind I was doubting whether I would ever be ready. I’m pretty fit but everyone taking part in the challenge is super strong and I’m still working my way up the ladder in terms of technical ability. So in the end, I decided to just treat it as a holiday. I would sign up and whether I finished the race or not, this would be an excuse to visit another part of Spain and have some fun.

I was riding – unofficially – as a team. We entered two as a pair and one more as an individual but the plan was to ride together. Freya had recently moved to Girona from the UK and is super strong with a racing background—very much a mentor to me and really helpful advising on things like bike gearing and clothing. My other friend, Laura, is a sports scientist and cycling coach and my pre-race level of fitness was all due to her help and encouragement.


I was fully aware that we were facing certain metrics—the distance, the terrain, the allowed time window of six days. But we’d prepared well with a first training block that built up an endurance base, a second block with a higher intensity and then a third which combined elements of both. Quite a commitment when working office hours in a demanding role.

In terms of a bike and equipment, budget played a part in the decisions we made. Everything is so expensive but fortunately I managed to upgrade to a BMC URS gravel bike—the geometry works better for me and it gives me more confidence if the surface is poor. And all of these different strands of preparation came together on a test ride in the Pyrenees—lots of climbing, super technical sections and sleeping outside. Mentally, we’d been planning this for so long that it felt settled in my brain. So I suppose, in a sense, I was prepared to suffer. To suffer a lot.

Perhaps inevitably, the closer we got to the start date the more our nerves began to build. I’d never raced before – ever – so the thoughts going through my head involved what would happen if I crashed in the first ten kilometres. Or maybe I wouldn’t be able to unclip and everyone would see me and laugh. And in hindsight it was a mistake to book a hotel outside of Granada’s city centre. We walked a lot before Badlands got underway but then we walked a lot during the race too.

Attending a rider briefing a couple of days before the start, we got to talk to people who had already raced Trans-Pyrenees and the previous year’s Badlands. Very simply, this proved to be super motivating and I left the briefing feeling that, yes, I could do this.

Race day arrived with Laura waking to a painful wisdom tooth. Typically, she cast aside any thoughts of not riding in the time it took to take some paracetamol and we rolled up at a park area to set off as a bunch. Riding amongst all the other competitors during the first 20 km, I was close to tears. What was I doing with all these super strong and experienced riders? But we’d spent 12 months preparing for this moment and that thought carried me through those initial nerves.


Climbing upwards and upwards, the gravel trails gradually became more technical and on some sections we were jumping on and off the bike. But even though the heat was intense and the riding hard, the first day was fun. I even have a picture of me smiling.

With the sun setting in the sky, we rolled into the village of Gorafe. My friends and l felt tired but seeing all the other competitors who’d also chosen this location to snatch a few hours rest gave us an emotional lift. We grabbed some food and then laid out our mats and sleeping bags on the roadside to sleep. Three hours later we woke up – not to say that I actually slept with all the night time noises – and got underway again to hit the desert before sunrise. 

This proved to be truly an amazing experience. Very technical – especially descending with bike lights – but it felt like an epic adventure. Approaching another small village, we stopped briefly for a couple of quick coffees before continuing. But even though we’d refilled all our bidons and hydration packs, we eventually began to run short of water and needed to ration how much we drank despite the intense heat. 

Freya had pushed on ahead – she’s such a strong rider – as the landscape gradually changed from gravel to sand. Really technical to ride but we’d managed to maintain a good race position and our spirits were up. And then, without warning, I crashed. Maybe because I was dehydrated – my Wahoo was reading 49°C – but my front wheel hit a soft patch of sand and I lost control. A silly mistake rather than a tragic accident but I hit my head when the bike went over. Taking a moment to gather my senses, all the good feelings that had buoyed our progress so far seemed to evaporate into the cloudless sky. Climbing back on my bike, for the next couple of hours I was dizzy and disorientated—cresting every rise with the expectation of a village and water but finding only barren nothingness.


Catching up with Laura at the end of a long and draining climb, I discovered her crying. And Laura never cries. A true lover of nature and always happiest in the mountains, seeing her upset made me realise that our race was starting to fall apart. Then Laura’s mum called to ask if Freya was still with us—she’d been dot watching and could see she was off route. I immediately called Freya and thankfully she answered. She’d taken a wrong turn and then had to backtrack – uphill – to regain the route. We’d already booked a hotel earlier that morning so we agreed to meet there and decide what to do. What she didn’t tell us over the call was that she’d been continually vomiting due to dehydration.

We now had a strong headwind and 25 km of super technical riding between us and the hotel. More walking than riding, it felt an impossible task and by then we’d run out of water. But somehow we managed to keep moving until we finally reached the hotel to be greeted by Freya. She’d cooked food for us – such an angel – and when we began to feel more comfortable we talked about our options.

The next day was 140 km with no stops for food or water. Food had never really been an issue but the availability of water in this scorching heat was a real concern. And what Freya and I hadn’t realised – because she didn’t want to burden us – was that Laura now had an infection in her tooth and had exhausted her supply of paracetamol. Weighing up these different factors, we all felt the same and decided to stop.

Will I return to race Badlands again? Looking back from the comfort of home, there’s a part of me that still questions whether we should have continued. I feel tears begin to well-up when I think of all that preparation and how we’d pictured ourselves finishing. But we made the decision together and we cried together.

Sometimes things are just out of your control and it would have been foolhardy to continue with Laura suffering and in pain. And I do recognise that mentally I’m very strong. Who knew – even if we didn’t finish – that I would find myself rolling up to the start line of Badlands? That I’d be happy to sleep in the street? And being able to say enough and accepting that it was the right decision—that proved far harder and took more strength than continuing to ride.


Cristina / Laura / Freya / Over&Out

Photography by Juanan Barros and Carlos Mazón

Badlands

Ian Boswell / Unbound and beyond

My result at Unbound surprised me for so many reasons. One of the first big races that I’d done in several years and a return to racing with a completely different mindset. The distance was an unknown quantity but I approached the event with this sense of pure enjoyment. I’d spent so much of my professional career never getting that solo win and then – just when I’d stopped caring about that – I crossed the line in first place. Kind of ironic but in a very good sense.

Growing up in Bend, Oregon, with dreams of one day riding the Tour de France, Ian Boswell rode La Grande Boucle with Team Katusha–Alpecin before suffering a heavy crash in the 2019 Tirreno-Adriatico that forced an untimely end to his World Tour career. Announcing his retirement from road racing at the age of 28, a role in athlete liaison with Wahoo complemented his ‘Breakfast with Boz’ podcast before racing once again came calling in the shape of the North American gravel scene. Here, Ian talks about his transition from the professional peloton, putting down roots in Vermont with his wife Gretchen, his win at Unbound and how some life-defining events can even surpass riding 200 miles of dirt roads in Kansas.

cyclespeak
You raced at the pinnacle of the sport with four years at Team Sky and then latterly riding for Team Katusha–Alpecin. For the majority of that time you were based in Nice on the French Riviera. Does living so far from home bring with it certain challenges?

Ian
Regardless of how long you live in France or Spain, you’re only there because of the cycling so it can feel like you’re always working. Someone like Alejandro Valverde, the majority of his races are a two hour or less flight from his house. He’s at a race on a Sunday and he’s back home with his wife and kids the next day—maybe even the same evening.

cyclespeak
With all the support his family and friends offer?

Ian
I often used to think just how different an experience it is for riders having loved ones on a different continent. And it does force you to live in a cocoon because you’re there for a very specific reason and there’s a sense you should put all your focus into that one thing. Which is interesting now that I’ve returned to racing but on the gravel scene. I’m still training, resting and eating well – just like in my World Tour days – but I’m also doing all these other things that bring me joy and enhance my riding. 

cyclespeak
It always intrigues me when road racers describe how deep they have to go in a stage. Just how hard does it get when the peloton is going full gas?

Ian
There’s this very unique sense of risk / reward that’s tied to suffering in professional cycling. Whether that’s winning a race, getting a new contract or just the fame and glory—very different from most peoples’ perspectives on how to achieve success. Usually, our natural instinct is to stop if something hurts. But with cycling you have this sense that if you hurt yourself, then you’ll achieve something. And sometimes you’ll see examples of this when the outcome is a win but there are other times when it can result in a terrible crash and a rider finishing a race bloodied and battered. Almost an accepted aspect of the sport and the nature of how you move up the ladder and achieve success. Everyone hurts whether it’s Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe or your everyday weekend warrior. What sets the riders apart is how much pain they’re willing to handle.

cyclespeak
You were 28 when you announced your retirement. Was there a feeling of shifting your own sense of identity?

Ian
The circumstances of how I came to announce my retirement were dictated by the crash I had and then spending a season away from racing. If things had been different, then I imagine I would still be racing professionally on the road today. I did have the opportunity to carry on…

cyclespeak
I believe Israel Start-up Nation were interested in you riding on their team and you had a contract offer from Rally.

Ian
I looked at my career to date and still felt it would be great to return to racing and maybe try and win a stage at the Tour. But the path of continually trying to succeed and impress never really ends. And that’s regardless of who you are. So I came to the realisation that, hey, I’ve pretty much done everything I wanted to do and it was time to be happy with that. Very much a mind shift that I was still young enough to pursue other things in my life that would bring me happiness.

cyclespeak
Would you have felt differently if you hadn’t ridden the Tour in 2018?

Ian
Probably so [smiles]. For whatever reason, it’s still the standout moment of my road racing career. I guess because I grew up in this very prominent era in American cycling with Lance Armstrong. So getting to ride the Tour, it was the icing on the cake even though I knew and accepted I would never get to wear the yellow jersey into Paris [laughs].

cyclespeak
But you still got to ride down the Champs-Élysées after three weeks racing through France.

Ian
That was a pretty special moment. And, in a sense, I had a perfect Tour—no crashes, no flat tyres and without getting sick. Such a good race that it would be almost impossible to go back and have a better experience. Especially as there’s a tendency in professional cycling to finish one race – and that might be on a high – before immediately starting to think about what’s next and how you can go one step better. So that period in 2019 when I was recovering from my crash gave me the opportunity to reflect on a lot of things.

cyclespeak
Your retirement was kind of forced on you through injury but is the question of ‘what next’ generally discussed between teammates?

Ian
It’s seldom mentioned. Riders will talk about other things that they’re interested in but there’s so much focus on performance and results that the minute you start to have other thoughts or ideas, there might be a perception that you’re spending energy elsewhere. And for me, I was 28 when I announced my retirement and my friends Larry Warbasse and Joe Dombrowski – fellow Americans that were also living in Nice at the time – we didn’t talk about it because, in our minds, we were going to race our bikes until we were 35 or beyond.

cyclespeak
What’s the one thing you miss most from your years in the World Tour?

Ian
What I miss is also what I enjoy so much now. The preparation for events was so well-organised that you almost didn’t have to think about it. You just had to focus on yourself because the mechanics sorted your bike, your laundry was done, the team chef prepared all your food. But interestingly, what I really enjoy now is being solely responsible and looking after my own equipment and mixing up my own bottles.


cyclespeak
When did the idea of moving to gravel racing first surface? Was this a way of riding you were familiar with?

Ian
In a sense, it was totally random. I’d seen this explosion in gravel racing from over in Europe. And after moving back to the States and making Vermont our home, probably over 70% of the roads are dirt so I was riding them anyways without necessarily thinking I was riding gravel [smiles]. And then I took a full-time position with Wahoo in January 2020 and as a brand they were going to many of these events as either a sponsor or they had an expo space. They told me it would be great to have me along because I was a recognisable face and oftentimes my colleagues would ride the event—they’re there, so why not get to ride.

cyclespeak
So you decided to join in the fun?

Ian
And then 2020 happened and I didn’t get to go to any events and that changed my perspective even more. Looking back, my mindset was still a little leftover from road racing and I was training through the winter – doing intervals – to stay fit. But, as it turned out, to stay fit for what?

cyclespeak
So, once again, another period of reflection.

Ian
That year without racing – road or gravel – allowed me to move another step away from my past life. And because we weren’t travelling to events with Wahoo, I took on more responsibility in my day-to-day job with less opportunity and time for riding. I’m still very much learning how to balance everything and that might mean sneaking out to go for a quick hour’s ride and rather than worrying that I’m not maintaining my training block, just being happy with that.

cyclespeak
A very different mindset from your professional years?

Ian
When I was racing and living in Europe, a few hours of riding was all I had to do in a whole day. Maybe I’d go to the grocery store or spend some time on the beach—but now I’m getting my kit on as I’m finishing up a call so I can get out of the door before the next one.

cyclespeak
Watching the Wahoo Frontiers content – which I really enjoy – it references the sense of friendship that exists between rival racers.

Ian
In the gravel world, I’m very close to certain individuals like Pete Stetina. Part of my job in athlete liaison with Wahoo is to manage these relationships—negotiating their contracts or sorting out the gear they need. Which is kind of funny because I also race against them. And there’s still this sense of communal support like the day before the Belgium Waffle Ride when I had a spare tyre and offered it to Colin Strickland—giving him a resource that could potentially help him beat me in the race. If you look at that front group on this year’s Unbound – Pete, Colin, Ted [King] and Laurens [ten Dam] – we were racing so that the strongest rider would cross the finish line in first place on merit alone. Maybe that isn’t always the case in road racing and I think that’s where a lot of people in gravel are scared and a little bit sceptical about the future. Whether it will become more cagey or if team tactics will help decide the outcome. But right now, it still feels very pure. Everyone is happy that the strongest rider gets to win on any given day. At the 2021 Belgium Waffle Ride that was Pete and I was super happy for him.


cyclespeak
Looking back at this year’s Unbound Gravel, the field was packed with talent. And I’ve enjoyed listening to you quiz past winners on your podcast. Did you line up at the start with a win in mind?

Ian
No, not at all. I’d never done this race before so there were so many subtle aspects to the event that I wasn’t aware of like tyre pressures and equipment choices. But even though I wasn’t holding out any hopes for a win, I did feel that if I got a clean run, then I could at least do well. And there’s so many things that can go wrong. Flat tyres, bonking, mechanicals—little things like the tyre plugs that people use if they’re riding tubeless.

cyclespeak
I guess there’s always an element of luck if you’re racing 200 miles on dirt roads.

Ian
My main focus – regardless of my placing – was to ride hard and have fun. As things turned out, I didn’t have any issues with the bike, I didn’t crash and I managed to make all the selections that put me in with a chance to sprint for the win.

cyclespeak
I watched Colin’s video where he talked through his Unbound bike setup. So dialled in and I wondered whether you also naturally embrace this level of detail?

Ian
The technical stuff, no. I probably was carrying too much stuff and in the wrong places. There was one point where the five of us were off the front and Colin punctured. He put a plug in the tyre as we slowed up for a couple of minutes and then caught up with us. It would’ve taken me 10 minutes to figure that out [smiles]. Whereas he’s so meticulous on having his equipment to hand, if it was me with a flat then my CO₂ was underneath my hydration pack and I would’ve needed to unzip three pockets to get to it. The gas wasn’t even screwed into the valve because I didn’t want to waste it. In hindsight, really stupid because it’s less than a dollar to buy a new one.

cyclespeak
I guess we’re all learning and this was your first time riding Unbound.

Ian
With the nutritional side I think I’m more tuned in. Having spent those years at Team Sky – working with their sport scientists – I’ve got a fairly good grasp of how to fuel a ride and I was pretty much dialled in when it came to feeding and hydration. But mechanically is where I’m still at a huge disadvantage.

cyclespeak
You mentioned having a clean run. Did you set out to ride your race in a particular way?

Ian
I rode to my ability—never overextending myself trying to close a gap and riding more cautiously through the technical sections compared to others in the front group. And you’ve got to bear in mind that it’s a long race so there’s plenty of opportunity to make up time.

cyclespeak
Were you riding to power?

Ian
I was on a Wahoo Roam for Unbound and I did have power visible but, to be honest, I never really looked at it. I think I’ve spent enough time riding with a power meter and know my body well enough to manage my output. More recently I’ve been riding off speed and it’s funny that most of the races I’ve done this year have all averaged between 20 and 21 mph. So this is far more an indication of effort than my power reading and I can use this in my training—going out on a 100 mile loop with the goal of averaging 20 mph. Power is still useful but if you’re in the Little Egypt section of Unbound and Pete’s attacking, are you going to sit back because he’s riding above your planned pace? It’s a do or die moment and power doesn’t really matter. You either make it or you don’t.

cyclespeak
Crossing the line in a sprint against Laurens ten Dam, what emotions entered your mind?

Ian
What’s interesting is that, apart from a team time-trial at the Vuelta, I didn’t win any races in my professional road career. So I threw my hands up in the air because I was super happy to win a sprint. To be honest, I didn’t fully realise the size of the event and just how much attention that it had until later. At the Tour you have fans lining the roadside, cars and motorcycles in front and behind, helicopters above, race radio in your ear—you’re always aware of what’s going on and the pressures and expectations of the race. At Unbound, for the vast majority of the route we didn’t see anyone. No fans, no cars, no noise—just us. In my mind I was out on a group ride with Ted, Pete, Colin and Laurens—a bunch of incredibly strong riders that I have so much respect for.


cyclespeak
I was talking to Gus Morton a while back and he mentioned that when his brother Lachlan raced the 2019 Dirty Kanza [as Unbound was previously known], his team Education First got more views on social media for this one-day race than the whole of the Giro d’Italia.

Ian
I finished Unbound and I had over 2000 messages on Instagram. And I was like, what the heck is going on? Richie Porte was riding the Critérium du Dauphiné at the same time – which he  went on to win – and he messaged. And that just didn’t make sense because, in my mind, the Dauphiné is one of the biggest races in the world and I’m riding dirt roads in Kansas.

cyclespeak
I say this semi-seriously but maybe all your World Tour friends are a little jealous? Because everyone who rides Unbound seems to have so much fun? They’re competing, giving it everything and still having a good time.

Ian
I do sometimes wonder whether professional teams look at Unbound and consider all the attention it gets. And I was speaking to my good friend Larry Warbasse who rides for AG2R Citroën – one of the best teams in the world – and he’s going to altitude camp, riding intervals and watching what he eats—all this commitment and sacrifice but nowhere near the same level of recognition. In my opinion, the World Tour is still the pinnacle of cycle racing but maybe we’ll see more road riders lining up at the start of these gravel races.

cyclespeak
You’ve touched on the future of gravel racing in your podcast. With pro teams looking to get involved – I’m thinking EF and their alternative calendar – is this a good thing or are there concerns?

Ian
I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer that as it’s my first year but the gravel scene is very unique as the people participating are determining what gravel racing is—the unwritten rules in much the same way the etiquette of the Tour was set out in the first half of the 20th century. Time will tell whether that changes if gravel racing attracts more money, prestige or media attention. At present it’s still very grassroots in terms of culture.

cyclespeak
Alongside your gravel racing – and I need to mention that you won a stage at the Migration Gravel Race two weeks after Unbound – you work for Wahoo in athlete liaison and also have your podcast—of which I’m a huge fan. Professionally speaking, what’s the best thing about being Ian Boswell at the moment?

Ian
Goodness. Where do I start? I’ve been really busy since Unbound and that’s after 12 months of finding a nice balance in my life. I joined the volunteer fire department in town, my wife Gretchen and I got a dog and keep chickens. And then all of a sudden everything changed.

cyclespeak
I imagine life must feel like it’s ramped up a gear?

Ian
I suppose I’m really trying to figure out how to make all these different aspects meet in the middle. You take the Amani project that Wahoo supports and how that led to me going to Africa for the Migration Race. Hopefully, we get to have the East African athletes travelling over to the US so they can race some events.

cyclespeak
And it feels good to be involved in projects like these?

Ian
Cycling has brought so much positivity into my life and I feel that maybe I’m now in a position to give back as much as possible. So I just want to put my heart and soul into things that I’m passionate about and things that I love and that bring me joy and inspiration.

cyclespeak
Talking of inspiration, you have a very engaging style of delivery with your podcast.

Ian
Initially, back in 2020, it was meant to be 12 episodes over the course of the year. But then the pandemic happened and we decided to make it a weekly thing. I had the time because I was at home and not racing and the more episodes I did, the more relaxed I began to feel with the medium. When I first started – recording an intro – sometimes I would have 50 versions of the same 20 second segment [laughs].

cyclespeak
I love that.

Ian
But as you go on, you begin to realise that a lot of these things – mistakes you might call them – aren’t even picked up in conversation. We kind of edit them out and that’s how I now approach the podcast.

cyclespeak
And often it can be quite endearing because it sounds like you’re actually having a conversation and everything isn’t scripted.

Ian
Other than piecing it together, I’ve probably made less than ten cuts out of the entire series. Very little gets left out.

cyclespeak
Considering the name of your podcast, I feel it would be remiss of me not to ask if you have a favourite breakfast?

Ian
I have been known to enjoy an extravagant breakfast but that can change day to day and seasonally. Gretchen and I made this French toast sandwich which I particularly enjoyed. And sometimes it’s good to start the day with a simple bowl of oatmeal.

cyclespeak
Your barn occasionally features on your social media feed. It must be useful to have so much storage?

Ian
Gretchen and I got married there so we spent a lot of time prior to our wedding cleaning it out and making it look nice. We do harbour a desire to host events in the future but at the moment our chickens live there in the winter and we have a small tractor, tools and whatnot. And living in Vermont, there’s always free stuff on the roadside and it can be hard to say no when you have a big barn to put it in.

cyclespeak
And plenty of room for bikes. What’s the first one you reach for?

Ian
I do have an e-bike that I’ve been riding a lot recently—a Specialized Creo which is very similar to the Diverge. It’s pretty hilly where we live and Gretchen and I will often jump on our e-bikes after work and go on a 15 or 20 mile spin which always brings a smile to my face. With the e-bike, I can just wear my basketball shorts and some tennis shoes and not think about getting all kitted out.

cyclespeak
I do wonder whether that choice will surprise some folk?

Ian
I really think that e-bikes have a lot to offer to a lot of people. My Mum visited a couple of weeks ago and we got to ride together and she was dropping me on the climbs [laughs].

cyclespeak
These post-work rides wouldn’t happen to involve ice cream?

Ian
I do love ice cream – probably too much – and whenever I go with Gretchen, I try to convince her to get a bigger size so I can eat the rest. It can be a little awkward going to the counter twice within 20 minutes to ask for another two ice creams, knowing that I’m going to eat them both [laughs].


cyclespeak
How else do you unwind if you’re not visiting your local ice cream store?

Ian
Since it’s summertime, my most relaxing thing is jumping on my tractor and mowing our fields. It’s very therapeutic—a distinct start and end and aesthetically it just looks so good when you’ve finished. Sitting on the tractor is so peaceful and offers a lot of mental release.

cyclespeak
I think sometimes the simplest things can be the most rewarding so I guess we all need a tractor. And I kind of wanted to finish up our conversation on a high and mention the very end of your Unbound Gravel film for Wahoo when you shared the super exciting news that Gretchen is expecting a baby? As I watched you fighting back the tears, it made me think of the frontiers tag but one that will be totally life-changing.

Ian
The people behind the camera on the Wahoo shoot are my close friends and they hadn’t a clue what I was about to say. And when they asked me about my frontiers – about what was next – it just came out. Part of me was thinking that I’d better run this past Gretchen [smiles].

cyclespeak
Well, I’m glad it was left in.

Ian
Even during the race – and it’s a long race – I was thinking about how having a baby will change our lives—that this might be the last time for a while I race Unbound with the same level of focus and preparation. But if that’s what it takes to try and be the best father I can be – to be present and available – then it will far exceed any desires I might have to be a pro racer and defend my title at Unbound.

Images from training rides, Unbound and the Migration Gravel Race by Vermont Social and Wahoo Fitness

All other images with kind permission of Ian Boswell

Breakfast with Boz

Wahoo Frontiers