As a brand new gravel event, SBT GRVL already had a lot going for it. For starters, Steamboat Springs is home to some of the best gravel roads in Colorado. And, some may not know this, but the area changes from Ski Town USA to Bike Town USA in the summer months with visitors flocking to the to the fantastic road, gravel and MTB options in the area. Champagne powder must make for champagne gravel, right?
SBT GRVL co-founders, Mark Satkiewicz, Amy Charity and Ken Benesh envisioned a race that allows riders to “choose their own adventure” (Black – 141 miles / Blue – 100 miles / Green – 37 miles) while fostering an inclusive atmosphere from the start. Further, aiming for parity between male/female participation, the sold-out race was opened up to an additional 200 women participants. The result was nearly 30% women riders at the race! I set my sights on the “Goldilocks” Blue Course and trained for 100 miles of the best gravel on earth.
As always, training plans go sideways, but the core metric is quality saddle time. And, for me, that saddle time always included climbing. Even if I can’t ride the suggested miles during my training, I have tons of mountains to climb in Utah, so that’s how I make up the difference — at least in theory (and it seems to work in practice too).
We arrived on Thursday prior to the race to spend quality family time in the area. We love Steamboat and had a blast on the mountain enjoying the Land Up activities all day Friday. Translation: Friday was a rest day.
Saturday morning, I needed to wake up and test the race-day temperatures with my kit of choice. With morning temps hovering in the mid-40’s, it was going to be a cold start. For the test ride, I wore the Assos XC Kit with the Pearl Izumi PRO Aero LS Jersey. Things were chilly, but it felt just about right on my 26-mile shakeout ride with a nice gravel loop and 1850 ft. of climbing. For race day, I’d opt for the Assos Equipe RS S9 Bib Shorts and Equipe RS Aero Jersey with a Castelli mesh base layer. I’d wear the Pearl Izumi LS jersey on top and remove it when the temps increased. That setup worked perfectly as I stayed warm enough until the sun came up and cool enough when the sun started beating down.
My initial thoughts on Steamboat’s legendary gravel roads after my shakeout ride? Amazing.
Race Day — SBT GRVL Blue Course
With a 6:35am start time, the intent was to go to bed early. That part worked out, but sleep was fleeting. I had taken the Osmo Hydration Preload just before bed (as directed), but all that sodium (and potentially natural caffeine) caused sleeplessness as my body tried to figure out what to do with it. All told, I had maybe 4 hours of sleep before rolling to the line. Good times.
The mass start was neutralized until riders got out of the city. Then, we hopped onto the first gravel section to get a taste for what we were in for. Many of the initial sections were loose and dry with lots of dust flying everywhere. And, at the first aid station at mile 26, we all looked like Bert from Mary Poppins.
Overall, the aid stations and support were equally awesome throughout the race — with every rider being treated as special and families all over the course cheering people on. The official stations were stocked to the hilt and the “tweener” stations (manned by Moots, Primal and others) had just enough to assist wary stragglers or mechanicals. Mavic Neutral Support was zipping through the course to offer additional help.
While the race directors recommended narrower 35c tires, for me, I knew better. Maybe my 20-yr-old self would do that, but for comfort (and speed), 47mm 650b Specialized Pathfinder Pro tires mounted to Roval CLX 32 650b’s was an easy choice. They roll fast, add a dose of confidence and soak up chatter like champs. I ran about 38 psi with no flats on the day. After 80 miles in the saddle, I felt great and finished 114th of 500 on the 100-mile Blue Course with an average speed of 16.9 MPH on the Wahoo ELMNT Bolt.
The Open UPPER has been ultra-smooth and the SRAM Red eTap AXS drivetrain performed flawlessly (though the chain could have used more lube near the end.) The entire setup made for just the right mix of comfort and performance — something these old bones appreciated.
As I wandered around the finish and tried to slowly return to eating the normal food provided to all finishers, I sat at the same table as a group of 60-somethings who had just finished their first gravel race (and perhaps their first bike race, period). One nice lady from Star Valley, WY was ecstatic at having finished the Green Course and couldn’t stop talking about how much fun she had. What a great testament to the courses and the race overall. So, SBT GRVL — mission accomplished.
With all the hype around gravel racing these days, the inaugural SBT GRVL race is setting a high bar. The course is fantastic and the entire race was run like a well-oiled machine. Maybe next year I’ll tackle the Black Course. But, for now, I’m going to relish the fantastic day on two wheels in and around Steamboat, Colorado.
More Info: Visit sbtgrvl.com