How SBT GRVL Drove Female Participation in its First Year

SBT GRVL held its inaugural event this year in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and took the gravel scene by storm. Seemingly out of nowhere, the vision borne out of three cyclists materialized into a fantastically sought-after event that sold out in just six days.

The gravel race offered equal—and sizable—prize purses for men and women: the first place male and female racer were each awarded $5K. It saw impressively high female participation—attracting women like Tiffany Cromwell, a World Tour racer for Canyon-SRAM. While the numbers point to the trend that more women are racing gravel, I was curious to learn what else SBT did to drive female signups.

To find out, I asked pro cyclist, author, and co-founder of SBT GRVL Amy Charity if she’d be willing to sit down for an interview. To my excitement, she agreed. Here’s what Amy had to say about this year’s event and SBT’s vision for creating an exceptional gravel experience for both men and women.

Amy Charity, co-founder of SBT GRVL.

1. First off, tell me about you and your role with SBT GRVL.

I am one of the 3 founding partners of SBT GRVL along with Mark Satkiewicz and Ken Benesh.  We are all Steamboat locals, cyclists and have backgrounds in business.

After 14 years in Financial Services, I discovered bike racing at the age of 34.  I pursued a career in professional bike racing and rode for Optum Kelly Benefits Pro Cycling Team and for the US National Team.  Our team won the Team Time Trial National Championships.  I’m an author of a book titled The Wrong Side of Comfortable, and I am a cycling coach.  My passion is now gravel racing, but I still jump back into the road racing scene occasionally.  

SBT GRVL had no shortage of epic views for riders to take in.

2. Can you share more about this year’s SBT GRVL?

SBT GRVL took place the weekend of Aug. 17-18. 1,500 gravel cyclists from seven countries and all 50 states came to Steamboat Springs for the inaugural SBT GRVL event. SBT GRVL offered 3 course distances Black 141 miles, Blue 100 miles and Green 37 miles. 

Cyclist ages ranged from 12 to 73 years old.  SBT GRVL offered 6 aid stations, full course signage, free coffee before the race, a racer meal, and a finisher hat after the race.

3. How many women showed up at SBT GRVL?

415 women registered, 131 Black, 166 Blue 114 Green.  20%, 28% and 62% respectively in each race.  The Green really attracted women to gravel and we hope that leads to more female participants in Blue and Green next year. 

52 pro women started including an incredible list of women from all disciplines. 

4. This was SBT GRVL’s first year and you sold out in just six days. What do you think contributed to that success?

SBT GRVL started with the simple idea of creating a race that people would love and always pushing our idea of investing back into the racer.

2019 was the first year for SBT GRVL and we were thrilled to sell out in just 6 days. SBT GRVL started with the simple idea of creating a race that people would love and always pushing our idea of investing back into the racer (e.g. great course, great swag, family friendly, great aid stations & finisher meal, etc), our local communities (e.g. work with local businesses, give back to different causes) and ideas that we all believe in (parity, equity for all racers involved).  

Sarah Sturm, winner of the 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride, lines up in the morning.

5. How did you get so many women, including World Tour pros, to show up?

When we saw the numbers of initial registration on Dec 9, we said to ourselves this can and should be better. 

We always had a plan to showcase parity and race equally but we didn’t know how initial registration would go.  When we saw the numbers of initial registration on Dec 9, we said to ourselves this can and should be better.  We decided to open up registration again to an additional 200 women. 

We reached out to women who were already signed up and asked them to tell us their story about why they were doing SBT.  We featured these women on our social channels and our website.  Check out all the women we featured on our website at this SBT GRVL Parity link.  We sold out the women’s spots in 4 days for the incremental 200.   

In terms of the number of professional cyclists, it was helpful that the 3 of us  are all cyclists.  The fact that I raced with many of these women throughout my professional cycling career made it an easy sell.

6. How can other gravel events can get more women to show up?

Create races that people (women and men) will love.

To get women to show up other gravel races can create races that people (women and men) will love. Distances that appeal to different abilities is one step in creating something attainable for everyone.

Be sure to check out SBT’s website to learn more about this awesome event. After all, it’s never too late to start thinking about next year.

Published by Victoria Rainbolt

Victoria is team director and racer for Voler Factory Gravel with an insatiable appetite for snacks and bike adventures.

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