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Gravel

Here’s what Valtteri Bottas learned from racing SBT GRVL

The F1 driver stayed with the lead group in the 64-mile Red event, was one water bottle short, and placed fifth.

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It’s just a few days after SBT GRVL, and Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas is already scheming gravel race promotion.

Bottas, 31, made his gravel racing debut at the race in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and he did well, finishing 5th place overall in the 64-mile Red course and second in the men’s 30-39 age group. (There are four course distances at SBT GRVL; the pros race the 142-mile Black course.)

“I’ve actually already started to think of gravel racing in Finland,” the Mercedes driver told VeloNews. “I do this duathlon there every year, and gravel racing is growing, as well. Who knows, maybe one day there’ll be a VB Gravel Race.”

Read also: Q&A: Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas on why he’s racing gravel

Bottas joined his partner, professional cyclist Tiffany Cromwell, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado on Sunday for SBT GRVL. While Cromwell spent nearly 7.5 hours on the 144-mile Black Course and finished 8th place overall, Bottas completed the 64-mile Red course in three hours and 16 minutes and landed in fifth.

The distance turned out to be a sweet spot for the 31-year-old.

“Toward the end of the ride, I was thinking maybe next time I’ll do the Blue [105-mile] course,” Bottas said. “But for me, three or four hours is still ok. I don’t do long rides when I train, so the longer it would go, at least at the moment, it would be more difficult for me. But 64 is a nice distance and you can go quite hard and it’s not crazy long. That course was super, really good.”

Bottas said that he learned a lot riding with the lead group of the race. Once he realized that he had the power, he set a goal of staying with the front pack for the entire day.

“Being in a bunch and trying to stay with the main group was really eye-opening and interesting for me,” Bottas said. “Sometimes I had to go a lot harder than I wanted. But I managed to keep up until the last 20 miles when it started to break up a little. I was riding solo for the last maybe 15.”

In Steamboat, Bottas also got to participate first-hand in gravel’s infamous ‘wait or race’ debate. He carried two water bottles on his bike, assuming that he would fill up at one of the route’s aid stations. When he asked the group he was with if they planned to stop and everyone said no, he made the call to race.

“Next time I would take a third bottle,” he said. “I managed to get a bottle on the road, from the family of a guy I was riding with, but that distance with those conditions again, I would just have one bottle in the pocket.” 

Before Bottas heads back to the racetrack, he has one more cycling event on his calendar. On Sunday, he’ll race in the Valtteri Bottas Duathlon, an off-road event he founded a few years ago near his Finnish hometown of Nastola. With a week to recover and reset to the European time zone, Bottas said the timing of a hard effort like SBT GRVL couldn’t have been better.

Nevertheless, driving cars and not riding bikes is looming on the horizon. Bottas’ next FI race is the Belgian Grand Prix on August 29. Yet, the sportsman is taking his time.

“For now, I’m still on vacation and bike mode,” he said. “After the duathlon, I’ll switch my mind.”