Steamboat’s Sias feels prepared for SBT GRVL on Sunday
Editor’s Note: A quote attributed to Chris Sias in this story was updated for clarification on Friday, Aug. 16.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Up until nine months ago, Chris Sias had never biked on gravel before. Since then, he’s completed the grueling 70-mile Tushar Crusher race in the Utah mountains as part of his training for the upcoming Steamboat Gravel, or SBT GRVL, race.
Sias, a Steamboat Springs resident, is hoping to complete the 140-mile route during the inaugural SBT GRVL race. He will be part of a field of 1,500 riders on Sunday, Aug. 18, taking part in three different courses, ranging from 40 to 140 miles.
Sias, 52, started training as soon as his tires touched gravel instead of snow. Waiting for that to happen took far less time than waiting for snow to melt off local mountain bike trails.
“I always had a road bike, so I wasn’t really excited to go on the gravel,” Sias said. “Having started pretty early this season, I’ve ridden a lot. It’s pretty amazing country out there. … It’s incredible to get out and see what the Yampa Valley was and still is, outside the town.”
In July, he climbed 10,000 feet of elevation change in the Tushar Crusher, which he used as a benchmark in his training. With all his miles logged and preparation, Sias said he expects the SBT GRVL race to take him about 12 hours.
Sias has been a large part of the biking community since moving to Steamboat in 2011. He also coaches the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Cross Country Cruisers. In the past, he coached cycling for the SSWSC. He has had the most influence on local cycling by serving on the board of Bike Town USA for the past five years.
When he’s not riding, he’s an agent for the Paoli Group, which is part of Colorado Group Realty.
“Bike Town’s mission has been generally to make Steamboat a must-ride destination,” Sias said. “I think we’re a long way to accomplishing that goal.”
While that may be true, the SBT GRVL race certainly gets them closer.
The Steamboat Stinger draws mountain bikers, the Tour de Steamboat and the Steamboat Stage Race draw road bikers, but nothing was bringing in the growing niche of gravel riders.
There are two clear benefits to gravel riding, the first being accessibility. There are simply so many roads that are dirt, gravel, groad, what have you. Another benefit is fewer cars frequent those roads, making it a safer place for bikers.
“We have a lot of great road riding out here, but it is, at the end of the day, a limited amount of road,” Sias said. “Adding gravel tremendously changes up the options.”
The fact that gravel bikes are lighter than mountain bikes is another appeal.
“It’s like mountain biking in the ’80s. No suspension and off you go,” Sias said with a laugh. “The bikes are incredibly capable.”
Growth of gravel
In 2017, mountain bike shipments fell 4%, but gravel bike shipments rose, adding $26.9 million in new business.
In 2018, Steamboat hosted the first-annual Gravel Fest, a week-long event that offers a daily dirt or gravel ride for a total of 500 kilometers of riding during the entire festival.
In April, more than 3,500 riders competed in a sold-out Barry-Roubaix race in Michigan. According to multiple gravel race sites, the Barry-Roubaix is the largest gravel road race in the world.
Also drawing a massive crowd is the Dirty Kanza, which is capped at 1,500 riders. Race partner Amy Charity wants SBT GRVL to be on the same lists those races appear on. Considering Charity wants to expand the rider field in years to come, SBT GRVL could become one of the biggest. The $28,000 prize purse is also impressive.
“They sort of thought you’d pair these great gravel roads with a really attractive destination, and it is,” Sias said. “You look at (the SBT GRVL) Instagram feed, and they have people coming in from overseas. People are very much into this. A lot of them seem nervous about the altitude, but so it goes.”
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