Unbound winners Cromwell and Schiff head to Finland for new gravel race

Tiffany Cromwell won women's Unbound Gravel 100
Tiffany Cromwell won women's Unbound Gravel 100 (Image credit: Future)

After a victory at Unbound Gravel 100, there was no time to rest for Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) as she headed from Kansas to Finland for her next off-road competition. This time, however, she puts on both a helmet as racer and a cap as event promoter for this Saturday’s inaugural FNLD GRVL, the official label for Finland Gravel.

The Australian splits time this year on her schedule between road and gravel events. After the UAE Tour and a heavy Spring Classics season, she has gone three-for-three on gravel including two UCI Gravel World Series victories at Seven in Western Australia and The Gralloch in Scotland. At Unbound 100 she put her head down across the mud-filled course and won by more than 26 minutes.

“Obviously I’m always happy to take a win. I just played like let's-go-hard game because I had no idea where I was compared to the other women,” Cromwell told Cyclingnews after her conquest in the Flint Hills.

“Next we have Finland gravel. It's our event, so super excited for that. Yeah, it's quite a heavy gravel block right now and but it's good.”

The event will be held Saturday in Lahti, an hour away from Finland’s capital Helsinki. There are three distances, all with aid stations and course markings, and the longest one is the 177km Midnight Sun route, with a €20,000 prize purse split evenly between the top five men and top five women.

An A-list of riders have confirmed to support Cromwell at the inaugural running of the Finland event, including Carolin Schiff, fresh off her titanic victory at Unbound Gravel 200, second-placed men’s rider Petr Vakoc, seventh-placed Peter Stetina and Jasper Ockeloen, who was 10th, all four with Canyon. Other gravel specialists headed from Unbound 200 include Rob Britton (Factor Bikes), who was 16th, Angela Naeth (Castelli Cycling), who was 12th, and Ruth Winder (Trek Bikes), a DNF at this year's race.

“For me, gravel is about finding new frontiers and exploring new parts of the world. I make a point to do an international gravel adventure each year and when FNLD popped up it was an easy yes. I never raced there on the road and have always wanted to experience the country,” Stetina told Cyclingnews. “The fact that Canyon friends Tiffany and Valtteri are aligned makes the choice even easier! I can’t wait to see what they’ve cooked up.”

Other elite riders riding the Midnight Sun route are former men’s WorldTour veterans Nicolas Roche and Alex Cataford as well as current pros Heidi Franz (DNA Pro Cycling) and Chloe Hosking (Hosking Bikes).

“I'm really looking forward to visiting Finland for the first time and racing at FNLD GRVL! I can’t wait to see what Finland will hold for everyone, I’ve been to SBT GRVL and know the quality of events that Amy Charity puts together - add to that the brilliance of Valtteri [Bottas] and Tiffany and this should be a formula for success,” Franz told Cyclingnews, fresh off a win at Hutchinson Ranxo Gravel in Spain.

“I’ve always admired Tiff’s ability to balance road racing and gravel, using each to benefit the other. I think this gravel block will definitely help me prepare for the rest of the year’s road schedule with DNA Pro Cycling.”

Cromwell is part of a trio of event founders, who include her partner Valtteri Bottas, a Formula 1 driver and Canyon bicycle ambassador, and Amy Charity, founder of SBT GRVL in Colorado. Both Cromwell and Bottas have raced at the Steamboat Springs event, Cromwell winning the women’s division on the 100-mile blue course last year and Bottas taking second in his age group on the shorter red course, and they wanted that style of US gravel racing in Europe.

“The US scene has been exploding for a while and now gravel is growing in Europe. But [European races] they’re more focussed only on racing and not the whole experience. Gravel racing is serious, but at the same time, it’s fun,” Cromwell said about replicating the ‘experience’ she and Bottas enjoyed at Steamboat Springs.

Cromwell signed a two-year extension with Canyon-SRAM in 2021 after she considered retirement. She had competed at SBT GRVL in 2019 and the team allowed her to add a mix of off-road events with road races, much like then-teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prévot had done with mountain biking and cyclocross.

“I'm somebody who's always liked to have an additional stimulus. My team director Ronnie [Lauke] came up with the idea to say, ‘Hey, you know, gravel is growing’. He saw the potential and interest from Canyon [team bike sponsor] and also growing the gravel calendar,” Cromwell said about switching to a multi-discipline plan. She could also make the gravel a way to spend time with Bottas, “gravel is something that we can do together”.

The Finland event is expecting 1,500 professional and amateur riders for a four-day festival focused on relaxed atmosphere and a variety of activities. There may even be floating saunas at the finish in the harbour town.

“There are endless forests and lakes. It’s not mountainous, fast and flowy and some technical tracks, some small farms roads with hard-pack. It was tricky timing with Unbound and on the road side with The Women’s Tour,” Cromwell said about the first event. “We want to increase participation with women and keep gravel ‘serious’ but maintain a spirit of gravel. We are planning to have the event for multiple years.” 

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Jackie Tyson
North American Production editor

Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp for several minor league teams. She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times (not fast). Her favorite road and gravel rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in Provence (France), and some mtb rides in Park City, Utah (USA).