SBT GRVL 2022 preview and riders to watch

The third edition brings a 142-mile challenge with over 9,000 vertical feet.

Photo: Linda Guerrette

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Founded in 2019, SBT GRVL has quickly garnered huge popularity, becoming a must-do race for any gravel pro — and a bucket list event for the rest of us. This year, the race in Steamboat Springs, Colorado enters its third in-person edition with more steam than ever.

Here’s your VeloNews SBT GRVL PRVW with everything you need to know from the course to top riders.

The course

Over 3,400 riders are set to take to the start line Sunday at SBT GRVL across four route options. There’s something to challenge every kind of rider. 

The marquee route is the 142-mile Black course that features 100 miles on gravel roads with 9,200 feet of elevation gain. While the entire day will be a challenge, there are a few key sections that could decide the race for the top riders, including Fly Gulch, the Steamboat Lake Climb into Fetcher Ranch, Corkscrew Climb, and Cow Creek.

The SBT GRVL Black course profile.

The Blue course contains 6,000 feet of climbing over 100 miles, 70 of which are on gravel. Then there’s the Red course with 3,600 feet of climbing over 60 miles, the majority of which is on gravel. Riders looking to get a taste of SBT GRVL can choose the still-challenging Green course, which has 2,000 feet of climbing over 37 miles, 20 of which are on gravel. 

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Riders to watch

All eyes will be on the professional field at the front of the Black course as the top gravel riders in the world duke it out for a hefty prize purse. 2021 winners Alex Howes and Lauren De Crescenzo have both returned to defend their titles. However, there will be many challengers vying for the crown — or cowboy hat, rather (see prize purse section).

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of riders who could take the top spots.

Women to watch

  • Lauren De Crescenzo — The 2021 SBT GRVL champion is determined to defend her title. Not a part of the Life Time Grand Prix, this is a target race for LdC, who also finished second at Unbound Gravel this year
  • Sofia Gomez Villafañe — Expect fireworks between the 2022 Unbound Gravel champ and De Crescenzo. Gomez Villafañe will be coming from Leadville, but the Cape Epic and Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder champ has proved that she has the legs for multi-day endurance challenges.
  • Sarah Max — Max is having a stellar 2022 season, highlighted by a win at BWR North Carolina in June and second at the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. This course should suit the Bend, Oregon local.
  • Whitney Allison — This is a target race for Allison, who should also do very well on the long rollers and fast sections of the course in Steamboat. Allison was fourth at Unbound this year, and since her 2021 BWR Utah win has been hunting for another big one.
  • Flavia Oliveira — Oliveira is another non-LeadBoat/Grand Prix rider who will show up Sunday with fresh legs. The Rio Olympian was third last year at SBT GRVL and brings a strong set of roadie skills to this extremely fast race.
  • Ruth Winder — The WorldTour retiree has turned her focus to having more fun on the bike, but as her fourth place at Crusher in the Tushar shows — she can still compete for the win on any given day. Winder will be coming from Leadville.
  • Emma Grant — Second at the Crusher in the Tushar, the ABUS Pro Gravel team rider has shown she has the strength and endurance for long efforts at altitude.
  • Caroline Tory — Tory is our dark horse pick for Sunday — the multi-sport athlete from Aspen just finished second to Crystal Anthony at the Snowmass 50 MTB race and has won the Spirit World 100. She’s a solid LeadBoat contender.

Men to watch

  • Alex Howes — The WorldTour pro for EF Education–EasyPost is looking to defend his title on a course that suits his style. He’ll have Leadville legs on Sunday morning, however so will a majority of his competitors
  • Keegan Swenson — Although Leadville is his target for the weekend, there is nothing stopping Swenson from dominating both races. The ex-XC racer is now America’s best endurance rider. This will be his first appearance at SBT GRVL; Swenson loves a new challenge.
  • Laurens ten Dam — The founder of the so-called “Dutch Mafia,” Ten Dam is the veteran of a new crop of Dutch talent in US gravel. That said, the 41-year-old still holds his own at the front of the races. His fourth-place finish at Unbound two months ago proves that he’s still a very serious contender.
  • Payson McElveen — Another LeadBoat/Grand Prix athlete, McElveen will show up Sunday after a big day on Saturday. However, he was second at SBT in 2019 and finished third in the LeadBoat Challenge last year, and he is very well trained for this race.
  • Niki Terpstra — The Team TotalEnergies rider has won Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, but how is he on gravel? He’s been in Colorado for a few weeks now, spending time with his family and fellow Dutchie Ten Dam reconning and riding both Leadville and Steamboat. We’ll find out on Sunday if gravel suits him as well as cobbles.
  • Russell Finsterwald — Finsterwald is having a great season, but a big win would make it even sweeter. He was sixth at Steamboat last year, and this will be his second time racing the LeadBoat Challenge (last year he was second). Finsterwald will be coming from Leadville, but he’s put in a massive training load this year, so the back-to-back racing shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Brennan Wertz — SBT GRVL is a big target for the Pinarello rider this year, one of a handful of pros who is not doing the Grand Prix series. Wertz’s huge motor will power him through this course, and barring any bad luck, possibly to first over the finish.
  • Adam Roberge — Roberge was fourth at this race last year and is also going for the LeadBoat victory. The French Canadian is fresh off a win at Rooted Vermont a few weeks ago.

LeadBoat Challenge

Many of the favorites will be rolling into Steamboat Springs late Saturday night fresh off of the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, which turns the already demanding day of gravel racing in Steamboat Springs into an even more daunting challenge.

Why would anyone subject themselves to a 100-plus-mile mountain bike race just the day before tacking on another 142 on gravel roads? It’s simple: the LeadBoat Challenge.

For the second year in a row, what could have been a scheduling snafu — two marquee races on the same weekend — is now like a mini stage race. Racing Leadville and SBT GRVL back-to-back might seem insane, but dozens of people did it last year — and are back to do it again.

Scoring is simple: whoever has the lowest cumulative time between the two races wins. Last year, Sarah Sturm and Peter Stetina took home the title (and a denim vest to boot).

We will likely see a new pair of winners this year. Sturm recently said in an Instagram post “this year I’ll be in Steamboat following the Leadville 100, but my day will look a little different.” She is not on the start list.

Stetina will be racing both events, making him eligible to defend the title (and vest), but recent complications with his newborn twins has taken away any opportunity for elevation training for the coastal Northern Californian.  

Live video

There will not be any live video coverage this year at SBT GRVL. Fans can follow along on the SBT GRVL social media pages including Twitter and Instagram.

SBT broadcasted the final kilometers of the race last year, but won’t do so this year. The Life Time Grand Prix series, which promotes the Leadville Trail 100, also announced this week that it is abandoning plans for live coverage at its remaining races this year.

Join in on the VeloNews Facebook page for a pro athlete panel at 1 p.m. MST Saturday, August 13. It will last approximately 45 minutes.

Prize purse

The Black course has $22,000 in prize money up for grabs, split evenly between the men’s and women’s fields. The winners get $5,000 each, while second through fifth places will receive in order: $2,500, $2,000, $1,000, and $500.

Just as importantly, or perhaps more so, there are winners’ cowboy hats up for grabs in the Black course. Each age category winner, single speed category winner, and of course the overall winners will receive the coveted hats.

Weather report

Racers should expect a high in the mid-70s Fahrenheit on Sunday. Scattered thunderstorms forecasted for the afternoon could present a challenge.

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