Tips for Surviving SBT Gravel
It’s almost here! After a bit of a delay (like the rest of the gravel race circuit), SBT GRVL is back! It’s only been around for a few years but this race, nestled in the ski town of Steamboat Springs, is fast becoming a favorite on the gravel race circuit. Why? High country cowboy vibe, super cool downtown energy, a great local community that embraces an active lifestyle… need we go on? If a new race is on your docket, we recommend checking out SBT GRVL.
And if you’re in for this year, we’ve got a few tips for you! Having been on course in its debut year, we’ve got five tips that will help you survive (and perhaps even thrive) on race day.
1. Don’t Get (Altitude) Sick!
The city of Steamboat Springs sits at an elevation of 6,732 feet. If you’ve ever done a race at altitude, you’ll know the lack of oxygen and change in air pressure is a “thing.”
For those not acclimatized to altitude, there are two schools of thought on how to approach a race like SBT GRVL: Either come in a week ahead of the race, acclimatize to the thin air (which allows you a few days to recover from the exhaustion that altitude can bring) and race, or come in the day before the event, before the altitude can sap you of energy, and just race.
Of course, the way every athlete reacts to altitude is different. Some may feel no effects, others are knocked hard with altitude sickness—which is a true concern. From insomnia the nights before the race, to race day maladies like nausea, headache, and coordination deficiency, it's something to keep an eye on.
The good thing is it’s usually easy to self-diagnose and easy to treat. Backing off the effort on race day (see pacing below) and putting a couple of Vitamin I (ibuprofen) tablets in your race-day bento box can help knock down high-altitude headaches.
2. Pace Well
This goes hand-in-hand with altitude. Because each breath brings in less oxygen, you’ll want to mete out your big efforts very judicially. That means, ideally, finding a good tempo, and sitting on it. When the gun goes off, it’s easy to want to find a fast group and go hard to stay in the group. But this is a race where the best move is to often start easy, ramp into the race, find your ideal heart rate limit, and sit juuust below it.
That may also mean letting a group that’s charging by go on up the road, and letting discretion be the better part of valor. Perhaps they’re Colorado locals and acclimatized to the altitude. But there’s also a good chance there are riders in that group over-extending themselves, and working too hard in the red zone. When the oxygen runs out for those riders, the heart rate spikes and they’ll be spit out back, likely coming back to you—or even the groups well behind you. Don’t be too greedy with pace at altitude— it can be your undoing.
3. Choose your Shoes
Well, not your shoes… your bike’s shoes. Regardless of if you choose green, blue, red or black course, much of the SBT GRVL courses feature a few paved sections, and a lot of groomed, smooth, hard-packed fire roads.
If conditions are dry (which is generally likely), that means a fast day—and a fast tire. Leave home the super-knobby, varietals that are great for grabbing rocks; you won’t need ‘em in Steamboat. Instead, go with a file tread, or a light tread with a somewhat solid center strip that rolls fast.
Puncture protection or not, that’s up to you; the rocks aren’t as sharp as the flint stones of Emporia, Kansas.. but that’s not to say there won’t be an errant rock that will find its way across your sidewall or through your rubber.
4. Go Aero
This may be a sticky one with some of y’all, but hear us out; there are LOTS of gravel racers that are strong solo riders… but not great in packs. Should they be disadvantaged due to their inability to ride within a group? For those riders, aerobars are a good choice, especially on the wide, open fire roads of SBT GRVL.
That said, there should be a good bit of decorum that aerobar riders ought to know. Chiefly: don’t ride in the aerobars while in a pack. It takes just one good bump while in the aerobars to shift your weight, catch an edge, and take you down… while also taking down the riders around you. Don’t be that rider. Use your aerobars when you’re solo, trying to bridge to a group, or power away alone.
5. Bring It
Well, this tip really applies to ALL races. We’ve seen too many people that want to load like the pros: light. This is great if your goal is to win or just DNF and book a ticket for the next race.
But considering we’ve spent hundreds on a race entry, hundreds more on hotels, maybe hundreds more on airfare, time away from family to go ride for five, six, seven hours. Do we want to get a flat an hour in, and stand roadside for a ride because we don’t have a tubeless flat kit or a spare tire? Heck, do we know how to use it?
The point is: be ready for anything—and have the knowledge to fix anything—from a simple puncture or skipping rear derailleur (common) to a broken chain or a torn tire sidewall (uncommon). It may be a bit of added weight, but it’s better to have that spare tube, a chainbreaker multitool, a little bottle of sealant, and a pump so you can keep rolling toward the finish you trained so hard for.
The pros have the luxury of re-racking for the next race, giving them a complimentary entry. We don’t. As the Boy Scouts say: Be Prepared.
Going to SBT GRVL this year? Come by our booth to see all of our newest gravel models. We're looking forward to seeing you in Steamboat!