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SBT GRVL - 10 riders to watch

SBT GRVL gets underway in Steamboat Springs
SBT GRVL gets underway in Steamboat Springs (Image credit: Wil Matthews)

Steamboat Springs, Colorado burst on the gravel scene in 2019 with the inaugural SBT GRVL where 1,500 riders took part across three race distances. It was a who’s-who of current and former pro cyclists lining up at the 140-mile (225 kilometre) course for $22,000 in cash, split equally by the men and women, and cowboy hats for the champions.

Another star-studded field seems ready to wrangle the Rockies in 2021. Ted King returns as the men’s defending champion on the long course, while the stage is wide open for a new women’s champion as Australia's Brodie Chapman will ride the Ladies Tour of Norway for her FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope road team.

SBT GRVL is the beauty and the beast of gravel racing in the US, offering sweeping views across farmland and forests in the Rocky Mountains that are easy on the eyes, but a vicious day for the legs and soul that deliver 9,400 feet (2,865 metres) of elevation gain. The smooth gravel itself, which some call the “nicest” in the US, covers 70 per cent of the 144 mile long course that is home to the signature event for the pros.

And if 144 miles weren’t enough, the event has partnered with the long-standing Leadville Trail 100 MTB the day before for a two-day LeadBoat competition. At the time of this posting, 24 women and 76 men were confirmed to take part in the back-to-back endurance races, which includes an almost three-hour automobile transfer from Leadville on Saturday night to Colorado Springs to maybe rest a bit for the 6:30 a.m. local time departure Sunday.

Ted King

After time in Vermont to host Rooted Vermont, then scout the course for Vermont Overland – scheduled for August 29 – King is headed to Colorado to defend his 2019 title at SBT GRVL. He was fourth overall at Unbound Gravel 200 in June, completing the 200-mile ‘king of gravel’ event in the same time as Peter Stetina, both a little over a minute behind winner Ian Boswell.

The effort to manage Rooted Vermont, “which is like throwing a 1,000 person wedding” he told Cyclingnews, took time away from typical five-to-six hour training days to prepare for a defence of the SBT cowboy hat, but King is all-in for Steamboat.

“SBT has a lot of characteristics that suit me well; it’s a long race, it’s a little bit tactical, mixed with a little bit technical, mixed with a little bit road race, mixed with a whole lot of gravel. At this point in the spectrum of gravel, there’s very little I haven’t seen so I have that to my advantage.”

Peter Stetina

Peter Stetina on ride for his birthday

Peter Stetina on a ride before SBT GRVL in Colorado (Image credit: PeterStetina.com)

Peter Stetina leads the privateer movement as he heads to Colorado, having won the multi-day, 350-mile Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder, 132-mile Belgian Waffle Ride California, 70-mile Crusher in the Tushar and 125-mile The Rift in Iceland. 

He is one of the brave and brazen to tackle LeadBoat this weekend. Even with 104 miles of mountain bike racing to be done on Saturday, the former WorldTour rider who has ridden eight Grand Tours will be a top contender to knock King off the throne in Steamboat Springs.

Colin Strickland

Texan Colin Strickland finished fourth in Steamboat Sprints at the 2019 event, but this year's campaign has been without a big win as a result of a lingering knee injury and reduced gravel-focused training. He is still very competitive, but the longer races such as Unbound and The Rift have seen him fade at the end.

At 144 miles, SBT GRVL is similar in distance to Gravel Locos, where he was second behind Laurens ten Dam. He was fourth in the 125-mile Rift Gravel Race most recently.

"In endurance gravel you don’t really get fit until you’ve experienced a great deal of suffering. You have to suffer and I’ve been suffering a lot in these races,” he told Cyclingnews earlier this week. "At some point, my form will kick in, I just can’t guarantee it’s there yet.”

Laurens ten Dam

The Dutch roadie-turned-gravel specialist, Laurens ten Dam makes a second trip to the US to tackle LeadBoat. In his late spring outing in the US, he fine-tuned his gravel pursuits with a win at the 155-mile Gravel Locos and a runner-up finish at Unbound Gravel 200.

He was the GC winner of four-day Migration Gravel, where he also won two individual stages in the 650km contest across red dirt roads of Kenya in late June. He’s been at home in the Netherlands at sea level the past few weeks training for massive riding in the Rocky Mountains, saying on social media “The stoke is high”, so don’t under-estimate his abilities and true grit.

Payson McElveen

Payson McElveen awaited the start alongside other called-up riders.

Payson McElveen will contest LeadBoat this weekend (Image credit: Wil Matthews)

The 28-year-old Payson McElveen is one to watch this weekend as he is from Durango, Colorado and was second at SBT GRVL in 2019. He was 10th at US Mountain Bike Nationals in cross-country and sixth at the Belgian Waffle Ride California.

“The Leadboat Challenge, a masochistic collaboration cooked up by the folks at Life Time and SBT GRVL sounded like an awesome idea about a year ago. Now it’s here, and I’m equal parts excited and scared. Fortunately some of my favorite racing acquaintances will be joining me, which means both solidarity and extremely stiff competition. Stay tuned for plenty of behind the scenes as we take on this unique challenge,” McElveen posted to his Instagram feed.

Ian Boswell

Boswell has been stirring up the dust with a number of big wins this year, from Unbound Gravel 200 and the 82-mile Rooted Vermont to a stage 4 solo win at Migration Gravel in Kenya. 

He is well-suited to the elevation and longer distance of the course in Steamboat Springs.

Lauren Stephens

Lauren Stephens, the US Pro Road champion, won on gravel at Rooted Vermont in 2021

Lauren Stephens won on gravel at Rooted Vermont in 2021 (Image credit: Rooted Vermont)

Look for Lauren Stephens to move to the top step of the SBT GRVL women’s podium this year from the second-place finish in 2019 (she finished 22nd overall). The reigning US Pro Road national champion, taking the title with her TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank team in Knoxville, Tennessee in June, has spent a lot of race time since on gravel.

She is a two-time winner in the 100-mile edition of Unbound Gravel, repeating for that win in Kansas just two weeks before US Pro. She followed the road title with a third at The Rift Gravel in Iceland, fresh off second place at 82-mile Rooted Vermont.

"I finished second at the last SBT to my [then] teammate Brodie Chapman. We were the only girls remaining in the front group when I cut a tire. I did manage to win the cumulative QOM prize! I guess it helps to be chasing," Stephens told Cyclingnews

Will she sport the stars-and-stripes jersey in Colorado? "The best part of gravel is there are basically no rules or we just make them up as we go. So wearing the national kit is pretty much fair game."

Sarah Sturm

A native of Durango, Colorado, Sarah Sturm was third last year at SBT GRVL, and she was second at Leadville 100 that same year. She is coming off a second-place finish in Iceland at The Rift Gravel, just 57 seconds behind winner Holly Mathews.

This time around she’s ‘officially’ taking on the LeadBoat Challenge, but don’t expect the long MTB day to take too much of a toll for this rider when she hits the course on Sunday. She said she will push herself physically, and mentally, for the doubleheader.

Part of Sturm's recent post to social media said: “I have had a lot of anxiety the last few weeks about Leadville, the last time I raced it I just wanted to finish and landed on the podium, a result I’m really proud of. I have felt the weight of that result heavy on my shoulders and mind. I want to find that podium this weekend but I know that so many things can happen out there. So instead of focusing on a result, a number, a placement amongst other talented athletes, I will be tuned into having a GREAT DAY on my bike out there in the massive mountains of Leadville, CO. 

"I want to enjoy myself, I will ride hard, race my best and aim to finish with a sense of pride no matter what the result may be. Then…I get to do it all again. The next day,” 

Kaysee Armstrong

Look for professional mountain bike rider Kaysee Armstrong to grab a podium spot in Steamboat Springs. She was sixth at SBT GRVL in 2019. She may be from Knoxville, Tennessee, where there is diverse terrain in the Appalachian Mountains, but she has lots of experience. She’s a two-time winner of TransAndes Stage Race, Transylvania Epic Stage Race, Rebecca’s Private Idaho, and was eighth at the Belgian Waffle Ride California.

On her Instagram feed Armstrong said: “Contemplating my decisions right now. LeadBoat is next weekend. Leadville 100 Mtb on Saturday and SBT GRVL Steamboat Black on Sunday. 240 miles in 2 days at altitude is bound to have a good story afterwards so stay tuned.. OH, and wish me luck.”

Lauren De Crescenzo

Lauren De Crescenzo

Lauren De Crescenzo (Image credit: Wil Matthews)

Lauren De Crescenzo was eighth for women at SBT in 2019, back when she wasn’t as focused on gravel. The reigning Unbound Gravel 200 champion added a third place at Crusher in the Tushar and is ready for a race in her home state.

“I feel like a totally different rider this year,” De Crescenzo told Cyclingnews. “I’ve been working on my climbing a ton these past two years. There wasn’t too much going on in 2020. That's why I Everested and rode more than I ever had in a single year! I’ve gained much more experience on the dirt, so I’m coming in from a good place.

“This is my home race. I can acclimate and visit the family at the same time. Everyone at this race are people I grew up with, my training partners, and the race organizer was my maid of honor. My family will even be at SBT this year. If I could pull off a win, I’d be over the moon!” 

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 for people of all abilities and ages. Tyson has been recognized for communications excellence with 10 Phoenix Awards, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp - and was recognized by a national media outlet as the first female depicted in a pro baseball card set (Ft. Myers Royals). She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times. Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in  Provence (France). Her favorite mountain bike rides are in Park City, Utah (USA).