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How the SBT GRVL race boosted its female participation

Gravel race management earmarked 200 spots specifically for women after initial registration numbers were heavily male.

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Regardless of Sunday’s results, SBT GRVL already has a podium-worthy statistic.

Women account for nearly 30 percent of registrants for the inaugural event, held this weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Indeed, this gravel race, which sold out in six days in early December, has generated considerable buzz amongst female riders.

“We always had a plan to showcase parity and race equality, but we didn’t know how initial registration would go” said Mark Satkiewicz, one of three partners involved in putting on the race.

The female inclusion is due to race management’s targeted efforts to attract women to the race. When the event opened its registration in December, mostly male riders signed up. According to race co-partner Amy Charity, the management team was initially disappointed in the low number of women who registered.

“We felt as race directors that it was our responsibility to influence change,” Charity said. “Our idea was to get female participants already registered to share their story about why they were coming. We were hopeful that these women and their stories would inspire other women to join us.”

So, the race management came up with a plan to attract more women. In February the race opened an additional 200 spots for the event—all 200 were earmarked for female riders.

They then promoted the spots under the social media banner #SBTPARITY.

The plan worked. All 200 spots sold out in four days, doubling the initial number of female entries and bringing the total women registered to around 450. Satkiewicz attributes the surge in registration to a number of factors.

“I think our values of inclusiveness and a commitment to equal racing from all angles really has resonated with our riders, especially women,” he said. “We want this to be an event that families can experience together for the weekend where there is a lot to do for both the racer and their supporters. We also offer a less intimidating courses for new riders.”

Indeed, the SBT GRVL offers three course options to cater to experts, weekend warriors, and entry-level riders. The Black route covers 141 miles and includes 9,000 feet of climbing. The Blue option is 100 miles with 6,000 feet of up. And the Green route features 37 miles and 2,000 feet of ascent.

Another factor in attracting top riders has been the race’s sizable prize purse. While few if any of the country’s other marquee gravel races (Dirty Kanza, Land Run 100, Rasputitsa, Crusher in the Tushar) pay top finishers, racers in the SBT GRVL Black event will compete for a $28,000 in cash.

The prize purse will be divided equally between top male and female racers in both the pro and amateur fields. The winner receives $5,000, with second place collecting $2,500 and third place earning $2,000.

The cash has attracted a number of riders who otherwise may not have put a Colorado gravel race on their August calendar. Indeed, Allison Powers, a former U.S. national road, crit and TT champion, is coming out of retirement just to race in Steamboat.

“Last year, I was feeling competitive, but I knew I didn’t want to do a road race or crit,” Powers said. “I love mountain biking, but let’s be honest, I’m not super fast. But this race was on the radar of a lot of [the athletes I coach], and when they announced the equal payout I was sold. It’s a bike race put on by bike racers. It seems like a cool event and I’d like to support it.”

Powers will line up with 53 other pro women, including 2019 Dirty Kanza winner Amity Rockwell, recently-crowned Leadville Trail 100 champion Rose Grant, collegiate time trial victor Lauren de Crescenzo, and 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride winner Sarah Sturm. A handful of the riders will remain in Steamboat Springs after the race to participate the women’s-only Colorado Classic, which starts August 22.

SBCharity will be among the field to participate in the Colorado Classic. As a race promoter who’s also a professional cyclist, she may have been a factor in some women’s interest in the event. But Charity never had trouble convincing her two male partners (Satkiewicz and Ken Benesh) that striving for 50 percent women’s participation was a reasonable goal.

“SBT GRVL exists because we all put on a race that we would want to do, which includes beauty, inclusiveness and challenge,” said Charity. “The dream of creating the event and the dream of parity in the event go hand in hand.”

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