Sofía Gómez Villafañe doesn’t shrink back from any hurdles, having earned a spot on the Tokyo Olympic Video games mountain bike staff for Argentina after which successful the insanely intense Cape Epic the subsequent 12 months with Haley Batten. In her first journey at Unbound Gravel 200 final 12 months, the longest one-day race of her profession, she gained.
The 29-year-old embarked into gravel racing simply two years in the past, successful in her first outing at Crusher within the Tushar, positioned on acquainted excessive desert terrain just a few hundred miles south the place she resides a part of the 12 months in Heber Metropolis.
However journey 200 miles at Unbound Gravel? That “foolish 200-mile bike race in Kansas” was not even near her radar on the time. Then Villafañe accepted an invite to journey within the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix off-road sequence final 12 months, and Unbound Gravel 200 was a requirement for rivals. She modified her reference to the occasion as soon as she conquered the muddy version, calling it “monumental”.
“I used to be right here to positively show a degree. I wished to indicate that mountain bikers can go quick and go lengthy,” Gomez mentioned on the end line final 12 months. “I used to be going to be stoked to only to win a Life Time Grand Prix race, however to come back out with the general… it is a true testomony to the exhausting work I’ve put in.”
The 2022 girls’s champion blitzed the ladies’s area with a nine-minute margin over the 2021 defending champ Lauren De Crescenzo. Within the first 40 miles of the endurance battle throughout Kansas prairie Villafañe rode on the entrance of the race with lots of the elite males, saying “as a result of I had made this heavy hitter choice I used to be set as much as win the largest gravel race on the planet”.
Villafane went on to complete second general within the Life Time Grand Prix sequence, 4 factors behind winner Haley Smith. She mentioned she’s prepared for a second crack at Unbound Gravel and has embraced gravel in a sport seeing dominance from mountain bike specialists like her and Smith. In reality six of the highest 10 girls in final 12 months’s Grand Prix are mountain bikers.
“There may be positively a cut up throughout the MTB group with regards to gravel. Half of the elite area is embracing gravel racing and the opposite half are extraordinarily towards it so it has been fascinating to see how athletes have modified their schedules in 2023 to both race extra gravel or decide to not racing any gravel,” Villafañe advised Cyclingnews.
“That being mentioned, for those who have embraced this new self-discipline, we discover the transition from MTB to gravel a fairly clean one as all we’ve got actually wanted to do is nail down our fueling methods and improve the quantity a bit bit extra with a purpose to be aggressive.”
Up to now this 12 months Villafañe has gained three occasions – Belgian Waffle Experience Scottsdale, Fuego MTB XL at Sea Otter Basic and Whiskey 50. The Fuego MTB victory put her within the lead of the Grand Prix standings, which this 12 months includes a 70-rider area of 35 girls and 35 males. Riders are required to finish 5 of seven occasions within the sequence with Unbound Gravel 200 a required race.
“I’m presently planning to attend all of the occasions. We do get to drop two, so we’ll simply need to see how the season performs out,” she admitted, noting she had a diminished calendar from what she did final 12 months, which included UCI cross-country races and extra off-road races earlier than Unbound.
“My diminished schedule isn’t a lot about my Unbound Gravel prep because it’s extra of a centered method to my racing calendar. I overextended myself final 12 months with racing throughout a number of disciplines and I simply ended up not being excited to race close to the top of the season. This 12 months I’m racing so much much less and actually trying ahead to being at first line for every of the races I’m scheduled to attend.”
The 29-year-old didn’t win Cape Epic this 12 months, however used it for spring health and located a last-minute teammate with Katerina Nash, whom she referred to as “a legend”.
“It was such an honor to race the Epic with Katerina Nash. She is such a legend and gave all the pieces she had day in and time out which is all you possibly can ask of your associate in such race,” Villafañe advised Cyclingnews.
“The one factor she needed to achieve from doing that race was to say that she had finished it for me. I nonetheless recall Katerina saying that if the race was a real key consider my health and serving to me obtain my 2023 objectives that she could be very happy to come back endure with me for eight days in South Africa.”
Whereas the Grand Prix is a objective for the Argentina-US twin citizen, she’d additionally like to enhance on her twelfth place end finally 12 months’s UCI Gravel World Championships in Italy within the fall. Gravel is her go-to now, and any return to cross nation for the Olympic Video games will occur after Paris.
“I’m concentrating on the UCI Gravel World Championships in Italy this 12 months. I acquired outsmarted final 12 months and made a variety of tactical errors that ought to haven’t have occurred so I’m trying ahead to getting one other alternative at that race,” she mentioned.
“I used to be contemplating going to Pan American Championships in Brazil on the finish of April to attempt to qualify Argentina into the Paris 2024 video games however as a result of choice course of on how the Olympic spot could be given out, within the case the nation acquired one, that may be extraordinarily tough for me to pursue with my shift in gravel racing. So I made a decision that I can’t be chasing a spot on the Paris 2024 Olympics.”