Tales From The Trail Steamboat Gravel Race 2021

Post-Race with GOREWEAR Ambassadors: Chas Christiansen & Nico Deportago-Cabrera

Steamboat Springs is known for champagne powder in winter but it also has champagne gravel in summer, with hundreds of miles of gravel roads to ride. On August 14, the Steamboat Gravel (SBT GRVL) Race hosted 3,000 riders to a mixed-surface race that’s 144 miles long (100+ miles of gravel); with 9,400 feet of climbing at an average elevation of 6,700 feet. GOREWEAR ambassadors Nico Deportago-Cabrera and Chas Christiansen have been racing together for over a decade, from shredding track bikes in messenger races around the world to racing across Europe in Transcontinentals.

The last time Nico and Chas saw each other was at Midsouth 2020. Right before the pandemic hit they got one last chance to race gravel together. Now, a year and half later, they got back together for SBT GRVL.

We caught up with Nico and Chas to get some post-race thoughts and see what it was like to be able to race together again.

What’s the general vibe or mentality at the SBT GRVL? Is it intense, or is there a feeling of camaraderie?

Chas: SBTGRVL has one of the biggest prize purses on the race calendar. Former world tour pros, elite domestic racers and some seriously fast men and women were out to win it all. Once the race started, and after the blazingly fast first couple of miles, the vibe kind of coalesced into a solid feeling of camaraderie, no matter who you were, the goals all aligned: finish on a high note and enjoy the ride!

Nico: With a race like SBT GRVL that had 1,200 some odd starters in the 144-mile race, everyone is there for their own reasons. As you make your way from the front of the pack to the back, the energy shifts from pros to people who have never raced their bike before. Regardless of what energy you bring to the startline, there most definitely are plenty of other riders who share that energy and it’s an amazing feeling when you can make that connection.

“Shredding down a gravel road full-tilt boogie is a feeling like no other.”

— Nico Deportago-Cabrera

Gravel racing is different from road. What kind of training or tactics did you do, or change, to prepare for this race?

CC: With more and more road racers participating in gravel races, the landscape and tactics associated with it have started to change. Riding in large groups to increase speed and save energy is becoming more normal as is the introduction of large teams working together to support one rider. There is a lot being said about how gravel is changing, but change is the only constant in life, and for better or worse, gravel racing is in the midst of that change.

NC: Try to focus on volume as well as intensity. A lot of 80- to 100-mile days in the months leading up to the race, and then as I get to the six -week window, I’ll focus more on high intensity intervals. A typical volume week will focus on longer 15-20 minute intervals spinning just below threshold. I’ll do long rides on the weekends and always make sure to give myself solid recovery days.

As race day approaches, my interval workouts focus more on shorter, more intense intervals with shorter recovery times. This helps me prepare for the fast paced-starts these races tend to have and keeps me ready to answer any attacks that might come during the race.

“It had been over a year since I had seen my dude Nico. We talk on the phone all the time, but nothing compares to a good hug.”

— Chas Christiansen

What were some of the biggest challenges, either expected (like hills, elevation) or unexpected?

CC: For me the biggest challenge was the elevation. Starting at mile 98 we slowly climbed to almost 9,000 feet of elevation. Despite my best efforts to control my heart rate and breathing I started to feel very light headed and woozy. I was already spinning my easiest gear, so all I could do was dial back my pace. At one point I was riding so slow that my WAHOO auto-paused because it thought I had stopped.

NC: Without a doubt, the elevation is the biggest challenge for me. For all the hard intervals I put down during my training, it becomes totally different when you find yourself starting a race at 6,700-feet elevation. The general school of thought with elevation is to give yourself 10 days or so to acclimate properly, or you just jump right in with no time to acclimate. I did the latter, and was most definitely feeling my heart pump in my brain as I gasped for what little oxygen I could breathe in on the first few climbs of the race.

What was it like to be in the same race together after so much time, even though the course is so spread out?

CC: Our plan was to ride the race together. It had been so long since we had seen each other that racing competitively was not nearly as important as having a good time. We were sticking together nicely till a huge crash split the peloton and I lost Nico in the dust and confusion. So I pushed on hoping I would see him again at some point. I finally did as he finished the race so at least I was able to meet my dude at the finish!

NC: We definitely came to the start of the race with a solid plan of sticking together. It was kind of crazy to think that we hadn’t shared the road for over a year and a half! Even if we weren’t on each other’s wheels, it still definitely felt like I went to a bike race with my best friend which was what was most important to me. And having a homie with an ice cold beverage and a hug at the finish line made all those solo moments worthwhile.

“Never finding myself struggling to be comfortable in the saddle means that I ride faster for longer.”

— Nico Deportago-Cabrera

What’s something you stuff in your jersey pocket that might surprise people?

CC: All of my surprises were stashed in my handlebar bag. I brought my 35mm camera with me, and didn’t take a single picture. But sometimes depending on the vibe of the race or ride I get some really great photos, so I usually lug my camera along just in case.

NC: My favorite jersey pocket items of all time are cans of Pringles and sticks of beef jerky. Along with things like energy gels and performance nutrition bars work, nothing makes me happier than crushing chips and jerky during a race.

What’s next, race-wise?

CC: Because of the wildfires sweeping the west coast, most of the races I had on my calendar for the rest of the year have been canceled or postponed. While this is a huge bummer it also provided me with a great opportunity to go out bikepacking again. Race fitness is hard to come by, and unfortunately bike packing is not the best way to attain it. So when race season hits I usually hang up the bike bags in favor of some structured training to get ready for going fast.

NC: With events getting cancelled left and right it is difficult to say for sure, but it can be a good opportunity to focus on the fun part of riding and less on the competitive part. I am mapping a route to the closest big city to Chicago, which is Milwaukee. It will only be about 200 miles round trip, but it will be a fun challenge I can focus on despite all the uncertainty in the world right now.

SBT GRVL Kit Essentials