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It’s no secret that the sleepy little town of Steamboat Springs in the Rockies of Colorado—located in the upper valley of the Yampa River along U.S. Highway 40 just west of the Continental Divide and Rabbit Ears Pass—is a powder hound’s playground in the winter. But you know what’s going to have folks from far-flung places flocking to Steamboat (as the locals call it) during the summer? Gravel. Miles and miles of buff dirt roads, undulating ribbons of earth, connecting homesteads, ranchlands, private property, open space and national forest. I suffer from gravel fever, which means I was in town to compete in the inaugural SBT GRVL race, to experience what all the hype was about.
Speaking of race experiences, my day on Niner’s all-new 2020 RLT was one I won’t soon forget, but not because I set any land speed records or beat my finish-time expectations. It’ll be my spectacular physical melt down at mile 90, a magical grape popsicle and a jersey that looked like it was an abstract expression of Jackson Pollock’s if he painted in sodium and potassium.
See, sometimes I have an issue with proper pacing and burning matches too early, which is exactly what happened at about hour four when the wheels came off the “Yuri Bus.” A 20 mph average for the first 80 miles put me in a world of hurt, especially at altitude and in rising temperatures, so I pumped my brakes and went into survival mode.
Around mile 120 or so, on the last real significant climb, I was slightly nauseated and heavily salt crusted and my spirits were sagging mightily. But then I saw it, just around the bend at the crest of the climb: a line of kids holding popsicles in their hands. As I neared my icicle oasis, I locked eyes with the youth holding the grape popsicle and we deftly orchestrated one of the best mid-race hand-ups in cycling history.
I immediately bit off half of it and let its frozen goodness roll around in my mouth, as if the sugar and icy relief would magically lower my core temperature. With spirits buoyed, I soft-pedaled the last 18 miles and then curled up in the fetal position in front of the Steamboat firehouse on the Yampa River, completely wrung out.
The good folks from SBT GRVL knocked it out of the park for a first-year #gravel event. From well-stocked aids and a stunningly diverse and beautiful course to a world-class field and amazingly helpful volunteers, the SBT GRVL team checked all the boxes when it came to putting on a top-notch race. They also doled out a serious ass-whoopin’ too. Put this race on your 2020 calendar cuz it’s going to sell out even quicker than it did this year.