The pair of Utah-based riders have combined to take the top step at 5 of 6 major events so far in 2023, the exception being the Garmin UNBOUND, which Swenson won but Gomez Villafañe finished in second place.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado (August 20, 2023) — The event, now officially in its fifth year, brings thousands of riders to the mountain town of Steamboat Springs to enjoy the champagne gravel. The flag dropped for the race at 6.30am Mountain Time in the cool alpine air for an assembled peloton of the best gravel riders on the continent.
Riding out of town into Lower Elk, a group of over 100 riders took to the front as the pace lifted and the grip of the asphalt turned to the slip and slide of gravel. After just over an hour of racing, the lead bunch hit Fly Gulch around mile 21. The key contenders in both the Pro Men’s and Pro Women’s field took charge with Keegan Swenson, Petr Vakoc, Alexey Vermeulen, Peter Stetina, Sofia Gomez Villafañe, Alexis Skarda, and Ruth Winder all showing their form on the early climbs with favorite Cromwell drifting back. The challenging descents proved too much for riders with flats coming for many.
Into the first aid station few riders stopped, with Stetina opting for chain lube on the dry dusty day. The rest of the large groups rolled straight through, which would prove to be a theme of the day, most riders favoring wearing hydration packs.
A reasonable tailwind aided the riders as they headed on the northern loop of the course towards Steamboat Lake, with 3 key distinct groups formed on the pavement and the rapid pace began to take its toll.
Heading down the descent of Mystic a clear separation formed with Stetina, Swenson, Vermeulen, Adam Roberge, Lachlan Morton, Rob Britton, Payson McElveen, and Howard Grotts all present. With stated intentions on pre-race social media, there would be no stopping at any aid stations throughout the 142-mile race.
Heading to the southern loop, Swenson forced the pace with Vakoc following. Going clear from a select group cresting the climb to the top of Trout Creek, the pair then worked hard together to extend their lead into the town of Oak Creek.
The climb out of Oak Creek proved to be decisive with both the men’s and women’s winners establishing their gap in the crosswinds around mile 115, however before the climb a huge crash for Roberge on a left hander took him out of the group followed meters later a slide out from Morton who quickly remounted and made chase. The duel between Vakoc and Swenson took place on the savage 2-mile climb with Swenson making the separation before a 60-mph descent towards the final climb of the corkscrew and then the infamously technical sector of cow creek.
Keegan Swenson crossed the line in a blistering 5:57, setting a new course record with Petr Vakoc coming in some 2’30” back being the only other rider clocking a time under 6 hrs. Behind, things were hotting up under the midday sun as Vermeulen, Stetina, and Morton took the sweeping left onto Yampa street sprinting for the final spot on the podium with Alexey Vermeulen edging out Stetina and Morton in the sprint for 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively.
In the Women’s event, it would be clear that Sofia Gomez Villafañe had her eyes on victory as she and Alexis Skarda held the pace at the front, clearly with a plan to start strong despite a spirited chase from Ruth Winder and Flavia Oliveira on the northern part of the course.
Winder looked in good spirits on the tarmac section returning from Steamboat Lake. The gaps were looking sizable, but Cromwell’s WorldTour road racing pedigree would out as she made up places, despite later commenting that earlier in the race she was unsure whether she’d be able to finish.
The duo of Skarda and Villafañe worked tightly together in a race long battle that would define the result, both going deep to hold the gap over the chasers balancing stopping for water with the need to hold their strong advantage. Oliveira remained strong in the chase for the win, coming into Trout Creek but the strong wind saw Cromwell surge forward with magnificent speed into the podium position, meanwhile further down the valley Skarda and Villafañe entered Oak Creek but the savage climb out of town with gradients of up to 11%.
Despite her fueling and strong work for the previous 5 1/2 hours, Skarda’s power faltered as Villafañe rode strongly into the Corkscrew climb. Behind, Cromwell found her second legs, and aided by a tailwind and the will to win, she rode the gap down significantly over the final 25 miles, with Skarda, Cromwell and Oliveira joining up to form a strong chase. The advantage was around 35 seconds and Villafañe was clearly within their sights.
Coming into the final key sector at Cow Creek, Villafañe showcased her MTB skills to confidently descend, extending her lead. Meanwhile behind, it was Cromwell who would force the pass on the final tarmac section returning into town pressing home her advantage and leaving Oliveira to chase the final podium spot.
Crossing the line at just under 7 hours Sofia Gomez Villafañe took the win, the only female rider to go under 7, on crossing the line she commented that she wasn’t aware of her advantage and as such had to push hard to the finish line. Despite Cromwell’s reluctant start, her return to second place was one of the most impressive rides of the day, finishing just over 1 minute down on Villafañe with the podium rounded out by Oliveira who rolled in some 3 minutes further back, complete with an impressive bee sting to the neck.
“When people ask what makes SBT GRVL so special it really comes down to our riders, and I think this year more than any other there was something truly magical in this mountain air. We’re proud to showcase our gravel here in Steamboat, but it takes more than great roads to make a great race, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without the thousands of supportive and inspiring participants and their families and friends who show up each August, as well as our sponsors who make it all possible by fully embracing the spirit of the event. Each year we continue to expand, and we can’t wait to share what we have in store on August 18th, 2024,” said Amy Charity, founder of SBT GRVL.
SBT offered 4 route options, the Black pro course from 142 miles approx. 9,200 feet of climbing 100+ miles of gravel to the green at 37 Miles with 20 miles of gravel.