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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — The day before she launched her ‘It’s Supposed to be Fun’ project, Sarah Sturm rode her bike into a cow.
Was it a creative soft launch or just an amazing coincidence?
“It was an incredible media stunt that I planned to give myself whiplash and attract the attention of many,” Sturm joked. “‘Hey don’t take racing seriously because you could get hit by a cow!'”
Of course, Sturm didn’t mean to barrel into a cow and flip off her bike at the Leadville Trail 100, but after the pain wore off — and the sting that she finished just one minute away from third place — she made the drive over to Steamboat Springs, parked her colorful converted schoolbus at the expo, and, she didn’t race.
For the defending champ of the LeadBoat Challenge and someone who excels at long-distance efforts in the mountains, Sturm would have been a favorite for another podium jean jacket vest.
However, not racing SBT and instead hanging out with the hundreds of finishers who wandered up to the bus after the race was exactly the point: racing bikes professionally is often hard — and it’s supposed to be fun.
“For me, I’ve decided that with racing, it can feel very serious and you can lose sight of the point of everything,” Sturm said. “The concept is that all of the hard things that we do are actually supposed to be enjoyable, as well.
“Look at the people I’m watching out the bus window right now, everyone has had such a great time out there. It’s such a good reminder to myself mainly, and to everybody, that the point of all of this is to enjoy yourself together, alone, on the bike, off the bike, all of it.”
Sturm’s ‘It’s Supposed to be Fun’ project is a mash-up of soon-to-be-released short films and IRL events like the one in Steamboat (where riders chatted with Sturm, got pro portraits taken, and bought It’s Supposed to be Fun swag). She’s working with Christopher Blevins’ creative studio Stilspoke on the films, and Wahoo is presenting the project.
However, Sturm said that ‘It’s Supposed to be Fun’ is as much personal mantra as it is creative project.
Before the 32-year-old — who has been racing bikes off and on since college — embarked on this year’s Life Time Grand Prix series, she wanted to make sure she was doing it with intention.
“When I quit [racing] before it felt very serious and I wasn’t having fun,” she said. “Dylan [Stucki, Sturm’s partner] helped me realize that. So when I came back I decided to come back to racing prioritizing, choosing to do racing, and choosing to have fun and choosing to challenge myself, and it was all very purposeful instead of full of pressure and expectations.”
Sturm’s sense of self-awareness has led her to a place of constant analysis of her experiences racing bikes.
And, it’s not just racing where she has to be careful. Sturm’s desire to keep things light extends off-the-bike, as well — like many American pros right now, Sturm is paid by multiple brands to wear multiple hats. Bike racer, brand ambassador, stoke spreader — she must do and be all of the things, none of which are always fun and easy.
Sturm said that she’s not trying to pretend that hard things aren’t OK — “Leadville, yesterday, most of that race was not fun,” she said — but that not letting difficulties take up the whole story creates space for a richer narrative.
“That’s the whole point,” she said. “It is supposed to be fun, but there are so many moments along the way that really really suck. And that’s the journey. Because the fun ones wouldn’t be fun without the low ones. You build and grow from them. It’s a mindset shift if it’s just not about one goal, like not just about winning or beating your PR. It’s really the full experience.”
For Sturm — and even someone like Ian Boswell — the full experience definitely includes racing, even if both athletes decided to skip SBT GRVL this year. Boswell instead rode neutral support on the 100-mile course, plugging tires and resetting brake pads.
Sturm said that ‘It’s Supposed to be Fun’ is in no way meant to minimize athletes who prefer the game face to the smiley face.
“I didn’t want ‘It’s Supposed to be Fun’ to look or feel like anti-race,” she said. “I love racing still. So does Ian. Everyone here loves pushing themselves in some way shape or form. But moving forward in my career I want to enjoy myself and also race my bike and be competitive and it’s a really precarious and challenging thing to find that balance.”
Boswell dovetailed on Sturm’s perspective, reminding people that fun in gravel racing can — and should — look different for everyone.
“What was initially cool about gravel, it was undefined,” he said. “You had people on road bikes, mountain bikes, and speed suits and baggies. Now people are talking about this tension between the people in the front being too serious and the people in the back having too much fun.
“People are going to race and people are going ride. Everyone should get to chose what’s fun for them.”
In Steamboat Springs on Sunday, surrounded by stoked riders who’d finished racing anywhere from 25 to 142-miles of gravel, Sturm seemed to be in her element despite the hardship — fourth place — and hard hit — cow — of the previous day.
Was it easy to make the decision to sit out the gravel race? Nope. Did doing so give her another perspective?
“I felt a little bit bad not doing LeadBoat, but this is really special,” Sturm said. “It’s really cool to be on this side of the tape — now I get to ask people how their day was! And it’s fun. I love it. I thought I was gonna have major FOMO, but I’m like, ‘not at all’ …. in a scary way.”