Interview With LeLan Daines, Race director of Unbound Gravel

Lelan Daines with dirty kanza finisher

Photos by Linda Guerrette and Steve Driscoll

The World’s Premier Gravel Race has had an interesting past 12 months to put it mildly.The event formerly known as Dirty Kanza in the past year dealt with the resignation of founder Jim Cummins after a racially insensitive social media post, a rebrand to Garmin Unbound Gravel presented by Craft Sportswear, a pandemic, and now LeLan Daines, one of the three owners that sold the event to Life Time Inc, submitted his resignation last week to become the Director of Tourism for the City of Emporia.Pure Gravel sat down with LeLan briefly and picked his brain on his experience with Unbound, his new opportunity with Emporia, and the future of gravel.

Emporia Granada theater marquee

PG: What was your old job with Unbound?

LD: I will now be the outgoing Event Manager for UNBOUND Gravel. I was tasked primarily with the operational success of UNBOUND Gravel and other events. 

PG: Tell me about your experience helping run Unbound

LD: Being involved with UNBOUND Gravel has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I have been a part of a great team and we have achieved more than I ever imagined. As a result, our little community has been transformed. Emporia truly is the gravel capital. I first got involved as a participant in 2008. I've been involved with the event ever since. Some of my greatest memories are serving as a support crew and watching the emotion of people coming across the finish line.

PG: How long were you with unbound?

LD: I have been connected to the event since 2008, but in a working capacity since 2013.  

Lachlan Morton and Erik Marcotte

PG: How have you personally seen the sport of Gravel Cycling evolve and change since you started with Unbound?

LD: Well, there have been tremendous changes since the early days. Back then, support crews were heavily frowned upon! Finish lines weren't usually in a downtown setting. And community support was considerably less. And the thought of seeing a “professional” at a gravel event seemed laughable. Now you see an outpouring of community support in gravel finish lines located in downtowns across the globe. Professionals intertwine with weekend warriors on the same mixed start lines. The technology has improved right along with the events. To me, these are all truly wonderful changes.

PG: What accomplishments are you most proud of during your time with Unbound?

LD: Well, there are many. But, simply helping the event become the World's Premiere event of its kind, recognizing that the Flint Hills are a top cycling destination, and bringing HS cycling to Kansas rank amongst some of my proudest achievements. 

PG: Tell us about your new gig. Is this a new position for Emporia, or are you filling an existing role?

LD: I will be the new Director of the Emporia Convention and Visitors Bureau, so this is certainly not a new thing. In this new role I'll be doing a lot of familiar things. It will be my job to ensure that more visitors find reasons to come see us and that they enjoy their time here in our community.

Lelan Daines dropping the hammer

PG: What is your mandate in your new job? What sorts of new things can we expect from Emporia?

LD: Well, in essence my job will be to continue reach more people with the message that Emporia is an amazing place to visit, and even live! Finding ways to keep bringing people back to town will, in general, be my top goal. You better believe that'll mean a heavy focus on cycling related activities. But this community is not a one-trick pony and there are many other wonderful things going on here.

PG: What will your relationship with Unbound be like in the future?

LD: One of the beautiful things about this transition is that I will still be working very closely with the UNBOUND Gravel team. As one of our cornerstone events in Emporia it will be my job to work together with this group to make the experience amazing. I am excited to find new and creative ways to enhance the UNBOUND Gravel weekend experience. 

PG: Will you still be involved?

LD: Absolutely! Like I said, this is much more than a professional interest. I will always find a way to be involved with the UNBOUND Gravel event. Lo and behold, I may actually get to line up and join everyone else as a participant for the first time since 2008! I've finished the 200, so does that mean it's the 350 for me next?

The Dirty Kanza peloton covered in mud

PG: Life Time has said they do not want to change the culture of Unbound, but with the departure of founder Jim Cummins and now you… who is steering the ship, and how will your departure affect the Unbound ethos?

LD: From my perspective, this is a partial fulfillment of our desire to sell the event in the first place. We knew the event had become far more important than us as individuals. And we needed it to last long after we were all gone from it. I remain as affirmed today as when we sold it that Life Time was the right partner to hand over the reins. There’s not one singular person steering, and there hasn't been for quite some time. It's been a wonderful team before the Life Time acquisition and after. Kristi Mohn and Treva Worrel remain our local guides to a much larger and wonderfully talented team at Life Time. Plus, I really do see myself as still being involved to some degree. The responsibility of the culture of the event is as much on the community of Emporia as it is on Life Time. We all need to continue working together to lift up and celebrate this amazing event and all the wonderful things it brings this community. 

PG: What advice if any would you give any budding race directors that are looking to start a gravel cycling event?  

LD: Do it. Yep, your minds probably popped a breaker with that revolutionary tidbit. That's the beautiful thing about gravel, there is no blueprint. There's no formula that says gravel has to look like 'this.' That is the ethos of gravel. Deny no one, explore everything. Your gravel event can look like whatever you want it to. Want to go for 200, nay 350 miles (fair warning, that makes for a long day, riders and promoters alike)? Do it! Want to slog through rain induced peanut butter? Ok, sure.....Do it! Maybe you are into titles and polka-striped jerseys. That's cool, do it! Wanna charge no entry, provide no frills, go 20 miles, and end up at a campfire with adult refreshments? Then do it!! Gravel at its core is simply about bringing people together for a shared sense of adventure and exploration. If you've got someplace you want to explore and gravel is the path to the destination, then you've got yourself a bonafide gravel event. The rest are just minor details. 

PG: In your opinion, what is the future of gravel cycling in the United States?

LD: The future is bright so long as we can avoid being jerks. And that is no implication that we are today. I'm just saying let’s not forget that this whole thing was about inclusivity. Inclusivity and a warped desire to suffer alongside others. And that does not mean that every single event is right for every single person. It just means that every gravel event out there was made for somebody with a similar vision. And that is beautiful. It also means it should all be celebrated. From the gratis gravel events to the stars and bars races. There is something for everybody. Somewhere it is out there. And if indeed what you are looking for is not around, then it sounds like you are ready to become a new gravel promoter. 

PG: Thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions LeLan. Good luck in your new position, and we can’t wait to see you and the Unbound crew in person in June!


Tim Mohn, Kristi Mohn, and Lelan Daines at the start of DK

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A peloton of riders at SBT GRVL