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Overcoming Unbound: Gravel Road to Redemption

2020 was a year of uncertainty for many athletes.

This is especially true for Pivot endurance athlete Taylor Lideen. For Lideen the pandemic was compounded by injury and mental health struggles, and racing going into 2021 was a big question mark. With a world rocking 2020 and wanting to bounce back from the troubles of last year, Taylor went into Garmin Unbound XL with a different mind-set, no expectations. However, we learned no expectations, doesn’t mean don’t expect big things.

We caught up with Lideen after his XL win in Emporia, Kansas

to follow up from our “Uphill Battles: Mental Health & Mountain Biking,” blog, and to find out his challenges through the race, his challenges leading up to the race, and the challenges that plagued him and the racing world in 2020.


Q: So, how was Unbound Gravel?

A: The event was amazing. With races being few and far between over the past 12 months, it felt really good to be back at a big event full of people stoked on bikes. For the past three years, we’ve stayed at a friend’s house in town and it is always a great time catching up with them as well. This year both Kenny Wehn, from Stan’s, and Mary joined me for the trip and that made it super fun before and after the race. The whole weekend is such a fun experience, and I am really appreciative of the town of Emporia as well as the whole race crew staff for putting this thing on. 

From a race and performance standpoint I am stoked to say the least. I honestly went there not expecting anything in terms of a result. The only goal was to finish in a positive headspace and deal with adversity while out on the course. Winning the thing was a huge added bonus – but checking the other boxes was more important to me.

Q: What was your biggest challenge to overcome during this event?

A: The biggest challenge for me during the event were a couple of mechanical (issues) in the late night and into the morning. Everybody out there deals with issues like this at some point but it ultimately depends on how you handle it. My patience started to run out a bit with one particular issue about 5 hours from the finish; so, I ended up stopping to make sure everything was good to roll back into Emporia. Getting myself collected and focused was the key there. 

Q: What was your favorite aspect of this year’s event? What was your least favorite aspect of this event?

A: Oh man I could list a dozen things that stand out as my favorite part. The main thing that stands out is the night. I love riding at night especially when the temps are as nice as they were! I never needed a vest or even arm warmers – the temp never dropped below 60. My least favorite part was probably some of the grassy primitive roads we hopped on. The grass was about 2′ tall in some spots, which made seeing the ground nearly impossible, but at the same time made it a bit more epic. Those sections tested patience for sure!

Q: You chose to go into XL with a different approach and mind-set than previously, how did that work out for you?

A: I am really really happy with my mindset and the different approach I took leading into Unbound. I know now that this type of headspace is something I will adopt moving forward. I was able to reduce a considerable amount of stress and kept the focus on one task – getting to the finish line with a positive mindset. I have been through the ringer this year so it was really important to be easy on myself and not freak myself out. I am super proud and happy to say I accomplished both of these goals, and some.

Q: Does racing feel different since the last time you raced, pre-covid?

A: I think it did a bit. The excitement was more intense than in year’s past, and you could feel the energy buzzing all around the event. I think everyone was just relieved to be out on their bikes, spending time with both new and old friends in a setting like the Flint Hills.

Q: You last raced this bike in 2019, what’s different about the bike and your setup this time around?

A: Yeah for sure! I ran a rather unusual setup from most people out there. I spent a TON of time trying out different gear on my Vault in terms of bags and where I would pack all the goods. I chose to use a full frame bag from Revelate Designs so I could put an 85 oz hydration bladder in there as well as carry a lot more food – I started with ~8,000 calories packed on the bike. I also ran a full Redshift setup with a ShockStop Suspension Seat post, ShockStop PRO Suspension Stem and their Kitchen Sink Handlebar. I also spent a lot of time with Kenny Wehn from Stan’s No Tubes leading into the event chatting about wheels, and what I felt would be the most comfortable and reliable choice to roll with. I ended up going with Stan’s Crest hoops and some heavier duty spokes. I am happy to report that those things were straight as an arrow after 350+ miles. I once again ran a full Shimano GRX Di2 setup with 48/31 double chainring and 11-34 cassette. I was running my trusty Wahoo Roam GPS as that is pretty much your lifeline out there. I ran the same Maxxis Ramblers 40s, 60 TPI with SilkShield that I always use as well. Those things are bomb proof and are perfect for nearly any condition out there. I also was on my Ergon SR saddle that I use on all of my bikes. Lastly, I had my Exposure Lights Six Pack light on the handlebar and the Diablo on my helmet.

Q: What piece of kit (on the bike or on your person) proved invaluable at this race?

A: Oh man, that’s a tricky question. With my main goal of finishing happy and healthy, I went all in on my setup. I was more concerned about comfort, reliability and fuel rather than focusing on the weight or anything like that and I am happy with my decision there. These long races require a lot of logistics and homework, and I feel like I did that in a way that gave me the best chance to enjoy it out there. I can’t choose just one thing.

Q: How similar or different is the Garmin UNBOUND Gravel XL to 24-Hr races like Old Pueblo?

A: They are really only similar in the fact that Unbound XL is basically a 24 hour solo race as well. All other aspects are wildly different. This race was one big loop vs shorter singletrack laps. It was also fully self supported so you needed to be really efficient with your time in gas stations and make sure you don’t forget anything. The pace for 24 hour solo mountain bike race, particularly Old Pueblo, is also a lot more intense and much faster paced. I think that’s possible because of the support you get between every lap. This style of racing at the XL felt like a massive adventure out there, making sure you were on track and looking after yourself and equipment.

Q: You’re the first person from the XL to cross the finish line, how does that feel? What does this win mean to you?

A: It means a lot. Crossing the line in first was a pretty amazing feeling, but I can honestly say that wasn’t my main focus. I feel like I have more of a grasp on my mindset around racing after this. I want to continue going to events with little to no pressure on myself and just enjoy the experience. I tend to have a lot more fun and perform better when I do this.

Q: So, the next person to finish after you came in roughly 2 hours later, did you realize the lead you held?

A: Yeah, I knew I had a pretty comfortable gap but I am never confident with it while I am out there to tell you the truth. Knowing I had a solid cushion allowed me to handle my mechanicals a bit more calmly as well as make sure I got everything I needed at the last few gas stations for my resupply. Will, who finished 2nd, is an absolute savage on the bike. I am really happy and thankful we got to spend some solid time out there together.

Q: Breaking the XL Pace record, what contributed most to that? Did you plan to be that quick?

A: No, I didn’t really plan for anything other than to be out there for a long time and have everything I thought I would need. Like I said, my sole goal was to finish in a positive headspace and I think that was a major contributing factor. I just enjoyed it a lot more. I stayed pretty positive even through my mechanicals (for the most part) and stayed topped off with fuel. All of these things add up and make your chances for a positive experience out there that much higher.

Q: After months of mental and physical challenges, what does this win mean to you?

A: It means a lot. This year has worked me, to say the least. From a pretty horrible crash, time spent in the hospital, recovering from a brutal concussion and experiencing scary-dark places from my anxiety and depression, crossing the finish line was the major win for me. Three months ago I was in a bad place. The last thing on my mind was pedaling a bike, so when we made the decision to come to Emporia it was all about just enjoying the ride, our friends that we stayed with and all of the things before, during and after the race itself.

Q: Post-race feasting… Before or during the race, did you have a particular post-race meal (or three) in mind? What were you craving most? And did you get it after all?

A: We found this burger joint in Emporia that was unreal. Kenny, Mary, Gordon Wadsworth and the Rech family, who we stayed with, went to the place every single night we were there. I always try to load up on calories a few days prior to long races so I went all in on their burgers, sweet potato fries and salads. The place is called Do-B’s so if you find yourself in Emporia, make sure you stop there!

Q: 350 Miles… How is recovery going after that?

A: Honestly, recovery is going pretty well! I am somewhat used to the recovery process being that one of my strengths as a cyclist is 24 hour solo mountain bike races. While there are definitely similarities between a 24 hour solo and this race, it is also very very different so the fatigue is different as well. More than soreness/muscle fatigue or anything like that, hunger really kicks into high gear for a few days post-event.

Q: Yes or no, did you run tire inserts? If so, why and did see a benefit from running them?

A: Yes I ran CushCore Gravel.CX inserts. I wanted my setup to be as durable as possible and I felt this element would add to that. Running the combo of Stan’s Crest hoops with heavier spokes, Maxxis Rambler’s and Cushcore felt solid in my training rides and extremely reliable. The course this year was pretty gnarly in spots so in my opinion the more protection the better. I also brought a handful of Stan’s Darts with me so those were always within reach.

Q: Aero bars or aero extension in gravel racing, Yes or No? What’s your opinion on them? Do they have a place in gravel racing? And did you use them in this race?

A: Ah, I don’t really care honestly. The XL is so different from the other races during the weekend in the sense that we don’t have as many people racing in massive groups, so safety concerns surrounding aero-bar usage isn’t much of a concern from my perspective. Just get the Redshift Kitchen Sink Handlebar, it’s the perfect balance of everything. I think we counted like 7-8 different hand positions I had with that bar, so I was super comfortable no matter what.

Q: 350+ miles in one sitting – that’s pretty nuts! For someone thinking about attempting that distance (or even the shorter 100- or 200-mile versions), what’s the one piece of advice would you offer them?

A: GO FOR IT! It can be scary to sign up regardless of the distance you chose but I promise you will come away from your experience with a wealth of knowledge and an experience that will last a lifetime. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask questions about gear, nutrition or what the course is like. Also bring lots and LOTS of snacks. The Unbound Gravel Training camps are also such an amazing experience if you want to really dial in your training. I had the opportunity to be a coach for the 2019 camp, and am looking forward to returning as a coach for next year as well.

Q: OK, you know we have to ask… What tire pressure did you run?

A: I ran 36 PSI in the rear and 34 PSI in the front. This is a bit higher than normal due to how much I carried with me from the start in all of my frame bags.

Q: So, what’s next on your 2021 schedule?

A: I’m not 100% sure yet. I have a follow up appointment from my broken clavicle tomorrow actually and hope that goes well. I may ask about getting this new plate removed due to a bit of discomfort so I really need to see how that goes and if it is an option before I plan what is next. I ABSOLUTELY want to be back at the races sooner rather than later though! Mountain bike or gravel, just anything. I’d like to see the start line a few more times this Summer if possible, but otherwise I have a few events on the docket in Fall – Chino Grinder, Epic Rides Oz Trails, Arizona Trail Race.

You can also keep up with Taylor’s journey by following him on social media or checking out his website: WebsiteFacebookInstagram

Taylor opened up about his struggles with mental health earlier this month in our blog ‘Uphill Battles: Mental Health & Mountain Biking,’ check it out HERE!

Photo Credits: Kenny Wehn – Instagram