Professional Triathlete to Gravel Racing
You may notice that this story and its photographs mention and show Ocoee Bikes — that’s because it was published prior to our Obed Bikes rebrand. Check out this blog to learn more about the reason behind the rebrand, the new Obed Bikes name and our plans for the future.
This article was provided by Matt Curbeau, aka Turbeau Curbeau. He's a past professional triathlete and cyclist. He now focuses primarily on long, endurance gravel races using his past knowledge in triathlon to get him to the finish line.
It’s March 28th, 2020 and I am sitting in my NormaTec boots at home during what will likely be one of the biggest events in my generation’s history - quarantined to our houses for multiple weeks. Office buildings locked, workers sent home and parents sequestered with their children. It’s quite the time to be alive. Which begs the question, how did I get here?
I grew up playing baseball and dreamed of being a big-league scrub. However, after one glorious season of Division III baseball where my only hit was a triple, my dreams changed. One thing led to another and while I was working in Public Accounting, I befriended a group of guys at the gym who were into cycling. They persuaded me to do some rides and even give a duathlon a shot. I obliged, promptly got my butt handed to me by men, women, moms pushing strollers and of course became hopelessly in love with endurance. Having my CPA testing behind me I threw my every moment outside of work into swimming, biking and running.
Fast forward to November of 2011 and I decided to leave public accounting and move myself across the country twice. I started to get good at Triathlon, like actually pretty decent. One thing led to another and I ended up racing at the Professional level for about 3.5 years.
But...how did you get to gravel racing?
Well I FLAT OUT LOVE RIDING A BIKE. Literally from the first time I ever clipped into a real pedal on a “real” road bike, I was in love. It was always my favorite discipline. The look of bicycles, how it feels to make the machine go fast, the cool accessories…the way you can literally cover 100+ miles at a time. Everything about it is sexy to me.
So I dabbled in some road racing at the end of 2016, won a cat 4/5 stage race in Vermont using my triathlon skills of breaking away and time trialing alone for many miles (of course) and then went full speed ahead into 2017 with the sole goal of becoming a Cat 1 cyclist. I ended up accomplishing this goal. I was satisfied.
During that 2017 season where I only raced bikes, I dabbled in a few “off-road” style races. These races better known today as GRAVEL. Nestled in beautiful Vermont are such events as VOMAR, Rasputitisa and The Overland. All these races linking up Class IV dirt roads or Vermont Pave as the locals call it, to create a one of a kind experience. It was this that hooked me on the atmosphere, the overall vibe and the style of racing. THEN I found out there was a race which basically had all that PLUS it was 200 miles. I WAS SOLD!
In 2018 I won a lottery spot into Dirty Kanza, desperately scrambled for an AIR BNB and then got to work crafting a training plan which was based largely off how I did things in Triathlon. The similarities between training for an Ironman and an event like Dirty Kanza, SBT GRVL or unPAved is remarkably similar.
When you break it down, they require largely the same energy expenditure, just one has three sports and one has well… one. So there’s that! But really, there is so much of it that’s the same. You have to WANT to be on your bike for hours on end, you have to focus on so many other things than just riding your bike like nutrition, what flat kit essentials to carry, how you are going to refuel, what you are going to do WHEN you flat (no if’s…when! It’s only a matter of time) and the list goes on.
Just like Ironman, the long-distance gravel is a thinking man and women’s game. It requires peak fitness and peak planning with a side of being able to deal with the adversity of having so many variables thrown at you. I absolutely love that. As someone who doesn’t really consider themselves a “specimen” I feel like it levels the playing field and gives me a fair crack at taking anyone down on a given day. We all line up on the same start line and we all have the same chance of crossing the finish line first. That fires me up!
As the story goes, I had a pretty seamless first Dirty Kanza without any big issues. I finished in 16th place and really had an amazing time and just couldn’t wait to do it again and improve. Later in the fall of 2018 by the prodding of a buddy I headed to Pennsylvania and took part in the inaugural unPAved 120 held in Lewisburg, PA. A race run by a fanatic individual named Dave Pryor who puts on a seriously top-notch event. It took me a little under 7 hours to take the win and man was I over the moon about this gravel stuff. Needless to say, I left Lewisburg craving more of those dirt roads.
2019 had its share of ups and downs both racing wise and personal. We found out the night before DK that our daughter was diagnosed with Bilateral Retinoblastoma; which is essentially cancer of the eyes where tumors are present in both eyes. Not to derail this amazing conversation about me finding gravel, but it was kind of big thing going on in our lives last year. 2019 wasn’t all flat tires and wheels breaking though. I finished 9th at the inaugural SBT GRVL which brought out a serious cast of racers as it had the biggest prize purse known to date.
All of this brings us to 2020 where for all intents and purposes I am more than ever focused on big time gravel races and really approaching it from an Ironman like mentality of having big monuments on the calendar in which I build and base my entire season on. Races like Dirty Kanza, SBT GRVL, ROOTED VERMONT, The Overland and unPAved.
Our current world situation is most certainly throwing a wrench into some of these plans. However, the one thing it doesn’t stop me from is training my butt off and being ready for when racing outside resumes. Thus, for now I ride hunkered in my training cave, racing with my Indoor Specialist team on Zwift or practicing proper social distancing and riding alone outside as Spring begins to show its face in New England.
I’m as fired up as ever to take on these great events and really measure myself against the best in the game. The popularity of gravel is booming, and everyone wants in on the fun. Luckily for me I’ve been training for this for over 10 years. Every brick session, every Ironman race, every downtown crit with scary corners…it’s all prepared me to find comfort in the uncomfortable on the dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.