In fall 2018, Brendan Halpin, our director of trips, sent an email to our guides and Missoula friends encouraging us to check out a new gravel event called SBT GRVL, which was going to be held August 2019 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The excitement level clearly was high on the email thread, and since my friends were doing it, I figured, ‘What the heck?’ and signed up for the Black Course without knowing much of anything about the event. (I also had no idea the Black Course was 140 miles!) I made the quick decision to book, mainly because Brendan said it was going to be awesome. That, and the fact that Steamboat is awesome! We’ve had great experiences in Steamboat due to our strong Moots Bikes partnership, and we also ran our own weeklong gravel camps there for three years in a row.
Nine months after scribbling this event on my calendar and nearly forgetting it was coming up, we made the journey to Steamboat to race in the inaugural SBT GRVL event. We were all blown away with the entire experience! This blog post is the story of our trip to SBT GRVL and how the relationship with the event and the people behind it has evolved to become something much more meaningful than we ever thought.
What makes SBT GRVL a world-class gravel experience?
SBT GRVL’s event description on their website is “a world-class gravel race experience held on the greatest gravel roads on Earth in and around magnificent Steamboat Springs, CO.” That’s pretty much a spot-on summary of what it is. The gravel sections are fun and fast, the scenery is beautiful, and the community of racers, volunteers, business owners and residents makes you feel welcomed and a part of something special. It’s important to point out that the word “race” is a relative term. Yes, there are some world-class professional cyclists racing hard for spots on the podium, but the vast majority of cyclists are average folks: riders who are passionate about getting out on the bike for a big, challenging ride and having fun. Not everybody was racing against each other, and one thing I think made the event so special was that it was fun, familial and supportive for everybody, not just the top 10% of the participants. Along those lines, SBT GRVL has four different courses. This is very nice because riders can pick and choose how big they want to go and succeed at different distances.
A welcoming environment for all riders and their families
After being in the cycling hospitality business for 15 years, I’m very tuned in to the “vibe” of an event. At TCH, we know how most of our first-time guests feel when they show up in Tuscany or Solvang, CA for a weeklong bike trip. Some are nervous about the group dynamics – Can I keep up, or will I make folks wait on me if I’m not fast enough? Will I be able to ride hard and get the riding in I want? At TCH, we want folks to feel welcomed and supported, regardless of fitness level and experience on the bike. At an event like SBT GRVL where you have top-level riders coming in from all over the world, it would be easy for all of the focus and attention to be directed towards them, and understandably so. But that wasn’t the case at all. I had a fun group to ride with on the long course, and we finished about four hours behind the leaders. We were cheered at the aid stations, given high-fives and welcomed into the finish stretch in Steamboat as if we were in the top ten. That’s cool, and it’s not easy to pull that off!
The Pro Talent
With the above said, it was so cool to have such top talent in Steamboat, and SBT GRVL did an amazing job at getting men AND women participating at their event. Everybody starts together, and if you want to push it and try to hang on Ted King’s or Brodie Chapman’s wheel, go for it! This isn’t like the USAC races I grew up with – things are getting way cooler.
Our Experience at SBT GRVL
Steamboat Springs isn’t necessarily the easiest place to get to, but that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a special place. Regardless of how you’re getting to Steamboat, you’re guaranteed to drive through some pretty country to get there. Anya and I decided take a couple of extra days to do the drive. We loaded up the TCH Sprinter van, departed Missoula and drove through Yellowstone National Park, pedaled the Beartooth Pass Highway, and cruised through Anya’s native state of Wyoming.
A road trip to SBT GRVL is highly suggested. You’ll probably see some neat things along the way! The above picture was taken as we drove through the northern section of Yellowstone.
Our route from our HQ in Missoula, MT to Steamboat, CO brought us through sparsely traveled roads like this one (near Cody, WY).
The SBT GRVL Expo – Connecting with the TCH family
The Expo at SBT GRVL has an authentic feel because it’s not too big and overwhelming. It wasn’t a marathon to get through. All of the brands at the Expo were genuinely excited to be there, so the engagement-level was high, and the crowds of riders and their families made for a bunch of happy, curious people to talk to all day long.
Once we arrived in Steamboat, it was time to set up for the Expo. We were excited to tell the TCH story to people we’ve never met, but even more excited to connect with many of the riders who traveled with us over the years. Almost immediately I ran into Steve and Kelly Parcell, who’ve traveled with us in the U.S. and Europe. That moment was the first of many similar interactions throughout the day, as we connected with TCH friends and previous guests – which was so fun for me and our crew. Also, to be able to tell our story to so many potential TCH riders was an absolute blast.
Our first-ever Expo was a blast! Steve and Kelly Parcell have traveled with us for many years, so it was great to catch up before their big ride.
Shaun, Brendan and I were able to visit with many previous guests. Connecting with friends of TCH was definitely the highlight of the Expo.
Robbie and Gideon of Pedalers Fork were staples at this event. Jay Castleberry, a TCH guest himself, stepped up and helped us man the tent off and on through the day.
The Montana Crew at SBT GRVL
Thanks to Brendan planting that seed early and everybody else committing to making it to the event, we had a crew of about 15 friends and guides from Big Sky Country who made it to Steamboat.
Like with any good, hard event, there are always highs and lows out on the course. A low for team TCH was Shaun not being able to complete the Black Course due to serious mechanical issues. Fret not, though – he’s already signed up for 2020 and is ready for redemption. A high was Doc Rob Amrine having the “Montanan Ride of the Day” with a strong performance and getting a ton of camera time with Simon of GCN. There are too many personal stories to mention in this post, but to summarize, we realized this is an event we’re going to need to do every year! It was too much dang fun!
The Black Course – A Big Day in the Saddle
On the day of the event, we really didn’t need to worry about much. We woke up early, drank some coffee, ate some food, and, voila! It was time to ride!
The stoke was high on the early AM ride to the starting line on Sunday morning. As you can see, TCH Chef Steven Davis is all smiles.
There were plenty of good folks to ride with out there, and I met riders from all over the world. These guys flew in from Arkansas and let me suck their wheel for a long time. Thanks, fellas!
Robbie of Pedalers Fork and I rode a good deal together. We made sure to enjoy our time out there, including this whiskey stop put on by Orange Seal.
Support on Course
The support on course was significant. Overcoming the challenges that come with this aspect are the things I deeply appreciate after years of organizing events, planning cycling trips and being on the board of the RATPOD, Montana’s largest charity ride. You could tell the support and aid stations were well-thought-out, and no athlete went un-aided. Equally as important, the SBT GRVL volunteers and sponsors like Roka were STOKED to be out there! This made me want to hang out at the aid stations longer than I maybe should have. The energy was high, and that’s important in an event where riders are pushing well beyond their physical boundaries.
No other place in the world have I seen more Moots bikes in one place! A close second is the Moots camp at TCH Tucson. It makes sense that there are so many of these bikes there, as Steamboat is the birthplace of every titanium Moots bike ever built. Side note: I rode my Moots DR with 28s and I think I got a little lucky with no flats or issues. That said, the Steamboat Champagne Gravel is a real thing – much of the course was smooth and fast, and I always felt comfortable on my Moots DR road bike.
A friendly face when you need it.
Jon Caraviu from Moots was a lifesaver out on course for me. The picture below was taken around Mile 120-ish, and though I didn’t specifically need anything, I was tired, cramping and fighting those inner demons I hadn’t met with for a long, long time. Jon gave me a high-five, a few big gulps of Coke, told me what the fast men and women looked like when they came through hours before, and then told me to get on my bike and finish the damn thing! It was perfect.
The SBT GRVL Founders join us in Tucson
After having such an awesome experience at SBT GRVL – both in the Expo and in the race – we connected with the founders to see if they wanted to come down and check out what we do at The Cycling House (and maybe get a short break from real life). Mark, Ken and Amy didn’t skip a beat and jumped into our Arizona Gravel camp in January.
SBT GRVL has three founders – Mark Satkiewicz, Ken Benesh and Amy Charity. It was really cool getting to know them in Tucson, both on our bike rides and over the dinner table. They each have interesting stories and very different backgrounds. You can learn about them here. A trait they all share is a passion for riding bikes, and they are focused on building something meaningful that makes an impact. They’ve put in the work to make SBT GRVL unique and different. This resonated with me, and I can relate to it through my experience building TCH. After spending time with these three, I’m not surprised their event has become so successful.
Amy Charity at the top of Gates Pass with The Cycling House crew.
Ken Benesh (L) and Mark Satkiewicz after a ride in Tucson at The Cycling House
On Fiesta Night, Amy and I hung a signed SBT GRVL jersey in the coffee nook. The fire made it feel even more official! We were grateful to host these three in Tucson, and we’re looking forward to sharing more miles on the bike with them for a long time to come.
See you at SBT GRVL!
With 2,500 registered racers, it will be a bigger and better weekend party in Steamboat Springs in 2020. Now knowing Mark, Ken and Amy, they are going to put on another great show, and I’m excited to see all that they have in store.
The 2020 field is full (it filled in less than 1 hour!) so if you missed it, mark your calendars for 2021. If you follow SBT GRVL here, you can stay up on how to get in.
If you’re planning on riding this year, drop us a line and let us know. We’ll be at the Expo all day on Saturday and riding the event on Sunday. We’re also planning on doing a big dinner party at some point throughout the weekend, and we’d love to have you join us!
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about SBT GRVL or anything else mentioned in this post feel free to drop me a line at [email protected].