STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Gravel, or SBT GRVL, is bringing bike races to the next level.
With a pre-race expo, panel of experts, aid stations galore and a post-race recovery lounge, the gravel bike race is looking to be a luxurious experience for riders in its inaugural year, Sunday, Aug. 18.
“We decided, let’s invest in our racers, so they don’t need to worry about food on the course or where they’re going,” SBT Partner Amy Charity said. “Let’s help them find those answers.”
Still, the ride will be a challenge. Bikers will race on one of three courses with distances of 37, 100 or 140 miles.
With two days of festivities bringing in 1,500 riders and approximately 3,000 people, SBT GRVL is not just a race.
“We’re calling it a race experience,” Charity said.
On Saturday, there will be an expo, which will close Yampa Street between Ninth and 11th streets starting at 7 a.m. The public is welcome to attend the expo as well, which will bring in more than 30 vendors and run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
At 2:30 p.m., there will be a pro racer panel of 10 cyclists, featuring former Tour de France rider Erik Zabel and Australian pro road racer Tiffany Cromwell. The panel will include five women and five men cyclists across many biking disciplines.
Sunday will close down Yampa from Ninth to 12th streets, starting early in the morning. Riders will likely arrive at 5:30 a.m. as they putt around downtown, warming up their legs in the fog-filled valley. Free coffee will help warm the rest of their bodies as they listen to the National Anthem ahead of the police-escorted mass start at 6:30 a.m.
The course takes riders up and around Steamboat Lake, through Milner and as far south as Routt County Road 90 below Hayden before traveling up C.R. 33 to approach Steamboat Springs and the finish line from the west.
“We could have taken the riders up Buff Pass road or down the Hot Springs Trail. There were a lot of options we could have done,” Charity said. “We went through all those scenarios and ruled them out and said, ‘Let’s just make this challenging. It doesn’t have to be the hardest race in the world or the most technical race in the world. Let’s just make it a good, challenging race.’”
While aiming to make it a challenging course, SBT GRVL also wanted to be inclusive, so they created three different course lengths.
In addition to four aid stations, SmartWool will be along the course handing out popsicles, and Panaracer will be distributing bacon.
“You’re just riding along, and you feel like you’re on this endless hill, and then someone is cheering you on with a popsicle. It just makes your day and makes your race just a little bit more bearable,” Charity said from experience. “I think that encore support is great.”
The first finishers will roll back onto Yampa Street around 8:30 a.m. with riders trickling in until the 9 p.m. cutoff time.
Mountain Tap Brewery will provide food for the riders but will still be open to the public. There will also be an IKOR recovery lounge, a tent with chairs and cold towels and drinks available. The river is also readily available for tired riders to stick their aching legs in the water.
A Canyon Bikes VIP area will also be located along Yampa, and competitors can purchase SBT GRVL gear and merchandise at the event headquarters at Ninth and Yampa.
While slower riders will still be coming back to town, awards, totaling $28,000 in prizes, will be handed out on the main stage at 5 p.m. Sunday.
If all goes well, SBT GRVL will have an incredible first year, but Charity said she and her coworkers are working hard to ensure it’s not a one-hit wonder. The race was capped at 1,500 riders this year, selling out in six days. Charity said she and the other partners are hoping to increase the size of the field in the years to come.
“We don’t want this to be a one-time bucket list where people are like, ‘Ooh been there, done that.’ We certainly don’t want that to be the experience,” Charity said. “We want people to come here and say, ‘That was my favorite race I’ve ever done, and I’m coming next year, and I’m bringing four more friends.’ That’s what we’re aiming for.”