SBT GRVL riders endure stark temperature change, forcing wardrobe changes (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At 6:29 a.m. it was 43 degrees.
The sky was softly lit, as if a blanket had been tossed over the sun. With the fog still clinging to the Yampa River, people sipped coffee, steam visibly rising, warming their faces. More than 1,000 cyclists piled between bright orange barriers along Yampa Street, surely reaping the benefits of body heat as a colony of penguins does.
With helmets bobbing, chains clicking, a countdown began.
“Five, four, three, two, one,” said the announcer.
When the clock hit 6:30, a police escort commenced the inaugural Steamboat Gravel, or SBT GRVL, race on Sunday, Aug. 18.
Barbara Prager and Micheale Koch embarked a few minutes later, at 6:40, for the 37-mile course, the shortest of the three routes. Prager, 69, wore a bright green windbreaker, while Koch, 40, sported a t-shirt with striped arm warmers. The pair said, despite the cold start, they wanted to wear as little as possible.
“I’m good,” Prager said. “I usually am cold, so I’m okay.”
As for Koch, she would simply slip the arm warmers off whenever she got warm.
Splitting from the police escorts, riders traveled north towards Clark, sunrise illuminating Elk Mountain on their left. The sun rose over the hills, becoming a nuisance as riders turned in and out of its light. As the 100- and 140-mile riders pushed on, the short course riders turned left, putting the sunbeams to their backs.
As the fastest green course riders neared the halfway point just East of Milner, the sun was still low, casting long shadows on the road. The thermometer didn’t budge though, reading just 45 degrees.
When Shelly Whisenhant crossed the finish line a little after 8:30 a.m., it was an almost-warm 52 degrees. She wore a bright pink jersey with a black long sleeve underneath and biking shorts.
“I was kind of debating what to wear in the beginning,” The 53-year-old Florida native said. “I thought that once I got going, I wouldn’t even think about the cold. The only thing that felt cold the whole race were my feet. They’re still a little numb, but they kept working.”
More than 30% of the SBT GRVL field is made up of women. After the initial registration sold out, the race opened up a second registration window just for women, which is when Prager signed up for the race.
Whisenhant, who summers in Steamboat Springs with her husband, appreciated the effort SBT GRVL made in the name of equality.
“I’m part of a generation where, as a child, sports became a norm with Title IX by the time I was in junior high,” Whisenhant said. “I was active as a child. That happened, and all the promotion of women to be in sports all through school and college. Even more so today, the quest to create equality through gender and race and everything, it means a lot. This race and other races I’ve done have worked hard to promote it to more women.”
While the riders on the green course may have had chilly temperatures throughout, at least they didn’t have a stark difference like the cyclists on the longer courses.
When Kevin Eldredge crossed the line at noon, it was 76 degrees and sunny. Upon finishing the 100-mile ride, or blue course, his jersey was unzipped and his glasses gleamed in the afternoon light.
“I was a little bundled up, but unfortunately, when we hit the climb for Steamboat Lake, my zipper was stuck on my vest,” said the 51-year-old from Denver. “I got a little overheated on Steamboat Lake, but at the second aid station, I was able to strip down. But it wasn’t too hot until then.”
By 2 p.m., it hit 80 degrees, and plenty of 140-mile cyclists were still on the ‘black’ course, riding temperatures twice as warm as when they began their day.
“I feel sorry for the people doing the black course,” Eldredge said.
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