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Sarah Sturm celebrated a victory in volcano country on Sunday.
The 33-year-old, who races for Specialized and Rapha among other sponsors, won the 93-mile Gorge Gravel Grinder in Dufur, Oregon. The race kicks off the summer-long Oregon Gravel Grinder Series presented by Breakaway Promotions. Sturm’s time of 4:36:09 put her on the podium ahead of Sarah Max (Argonaut Cycles) and Flavia Oliveira (Excel Sports).
Aris Sophocles (Evolution/Project Bike) of Bend finished first in the men’s race, with a time of 4:13:04.
Winning the Gorge Gravel Grinder was both unexpected and sweet for Sturm, who has been battling a sinus infection since the Sea Otter Classic two weeks ago. As one of 30 women selected for the Life Time Grand Prix Series, Sturm has 1.5 months until the next race in the series – Unbound Gravel in Emporia, Kansas.
Sturm told VeloNews at the finish that she wasn’t sure how the day would go, based on how she’d been feeling in the days leading up to it.
“I’ve felt crummy since Sea Otter, but I felt really good on the climbs, which was awesome, she said.
The Gorge Gravel Grinder’s “Big Grinder” route was 93 miles with 7,300 feet of climbing on fast-rolling roads. With a split of 40/60 paved to unpaved roads, riders moved quickly through the hilly terrain. Conditions on the day were spectacular — clear skies and very little wind made the volcano views and fields of wheat and rows of cherry trees pop in technicolor.
Sturm said that riders pushed the pace from the start.
“It was a really chaotic start as they usually are,” she said. “There were some sketchy guys at the beginning, but I knew that I wanted to be with a group because it was so wide open. I felt pretty good and I was like, ‘I’m gonna keep pushing and try to bridge to the next group.'”
Sturm was accompanied by third-place finisher Flavia Oliveira for a bit, but the 41-year-old had a mechanical issue at the bottom of one of the course’s massive rolling descents. Sturm continued to ride with small groups of men, until she eventually found herself alone for the final 20 miles.
“Before the second aid, our group blew apart and I just rode with two or three other guys until the last aid station and then the last aid station to the finish I was alone,” she said.
Sophocles had a similar experience on Sunday, riding with small groups until things splintered on the climbs.
“It broke apart where you would think it would,” he said. “Between mile 42 and 52 it’s about a 30-minute effort. That’s where it got more separated.”
This was the Bend rider’s second appearance at the Gorge Gravel Grinder. Last year, he found himself in a back and forth with eventual race-winner Pete Stetina.
“I tried to bridge to him because he’d dropped me, and I paid for it for the rest of the race, I was in a very dark place,” he said. “This was much more fun.”
The rest of Sophocles’ race season will unfold in the Pacific Northwest.
The next big stops on Sturm’s race calendar are Gravel Locos in Hico, Texas, on May 14 followed by Unbound Gravel on June 4. The Gorge Gravel Grinder offered some helpful lessons for the races to come.
“It was good being in a more of a roadie setting of knowing how to sit in and be comfortable descending on gravel behind people and in front of them,” she said. “I don’t know much about Unbound, but I feel like that could be helpful.”
Click to view Gorge Gravel Grinder full results.