Four standout gravel bikes from SBT GRVL 2021

The top gravel bikes from the men's and women's fields at SBT GRVL

Back for its second edition, the gruelling Steamboat gravel race, or SBT GRVL, drew in a star-studded roster. Although there were four different courses on offer, it was the top step of the black course podium that the world’s most competitive gravel racers came to fight for: with 142 miles and some 9,400 feet of climbing to take on first.


The race came just a few days after the launch of SRAM XPLR, so it wasn’t surprising to see many of the top athletes kitted out with shiny new gravel drivetrains.

Without a governing body clamping down on what equipment is outlawed in gravel racing, the setups are certainly unique and experimental.

Here we check out four builds from the race, including those of the pro women’s category winner, Lauren De Crescenzo, and men’s runner up and king of Unbound, Ian Boswell.

What’s new, what’s unusual and what’s downright unexpected from these top gravel racers? Wider tyres, slick treads and ergonomic bars aside, it seems like the hottest gravel trend right now is the lack of vowels.

Once you’re done here, head to our guide to the best gravel bikes, for buying advice on finding the right machine for your gravel riding, as well as our pick of the top-rated models reviewed by BikeRadar.

Lauren De Crescenzo’s race-winning Colnago G3X

Lauren De Crescenzo's Colnago G3X
Lauren De Crescenzo’s race-winning steed in matching shades of teal
Linda Guerrette

Consolidating her success as the 2021 queen of Unbound Gravel, Cinch Cycling’s Lauren De Crescenzo stormed to victory solo with a massive ten-minute gap on her nearest rival, averaging a staggering 20.9mph over 142 miles.

De Crescenzo ditched the aero bars on her Colnago G3X gravel bike for this race though, because the aerodynamic advantages at play are much less significant than the longer and often windier 206-mile Unbound course.

Lauren De Crescenzo's Colnago G3X
De Crescenzo’s cockpit features a fairly lengthy 120mm Zipp Service Course stem
Linda Guerrette

That’s not the only thing that’s changed for this race though, with De Crescenzo switching out the mid-tread Maxxis Rambler tyres in a 40mm width for the more girthy, yet much slicker Rene Herse 44mm Snoqualmie Pass with the Endurance casing option for added sidewall puncture protection. Bonus points for tan sidewalls.

Lauren De Crescenzo's Colnago G3X
The Colnago proprietary aero seatpost is designed to deliver gains over faster courses.
Linda Guerrette

Changing from the 50mm deep Knight TLA carbon wheelset to the 35mm deep equivalent for this hillier race, De Crescenzo has saved 60g per rim, although these also have the same narrow 19.5mm internal diameter.

Seems like there was no issue fitting the 44mm width tyres though, on this race-winning steed.

Lauren De Crescenzo's Colnago G3X
De Crescenzo’s brakes on SRAM Force calipers, although we doubt she was using them that much at her race-winning average speed
Linda Guerrette

Across the categories, slightly wider gravel tyres seem to be the norm for this race, especially compared to some other American gravel races, such as the Californian Belgian Waffle Ride won by Peter Stetina twice on 28mm and 30mm rubber.

Lauren De Crescenzo's Colnago G3X
De Crescenzo runs a 172.5mm crank and fairly standard Shimano SPD pedals.
Linda Guerrette

We don’t see many personal touches here, though we were tickled to hear that De Crescenzo was fueled to the top step of the podium by her own homemade gluten-free brownies.

  • Frameset: Colnago G3X
  • Frame size: 49s
  • Bike weight: Unknown
  • Brake/shift levers: SRAM Force eTap AXS
  • Front derailleur: SRAM Force eTap AXS
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM Force eTap AXS (short cage)
  • Front brake: SRAM Force Flat Mount
  • Rear brake: SRAM Force Flat Mount
  • Crankset: SRAM Force eTap AXS Crankset 172.5mm 48/35t
  • Cassette: SRAM Red AXS 10-33t
  • Chain: SRAM Red AXS with a hot melt wax treatment
  • Wheelset: Knight TLA35 with DT Swiss 180 hubs
  • Tyres: Rene Herse 700c×44 Snoqualmie Pass TC Tire Endurance Casing
  • Sealant: Muc-Off
  • Cockpit: Zipp Service Course 120mm stem, 40cm SL-70 Bar
  • Tape/grips: Supacaz Super Sticky
  • Pedals: Shimano SPD
  • Saddle: Specialized Power
  • Seatpost: Colnago G3X aero
  • Bottle cages: Arundel Mandible
  • Computer: Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt
  • Rider height: 5ft10in
  • Rider weight: 138lb
  • Tyre pressures: 34psi front, 39psi rear
  • Saddle height (from centre of bottom bracket): 70.4cm
  • Tip of saddle nose to handlebars (at centre): 56cm
  • Any other key kit or equipment choices: Cinch Elite Castelli San Remo skinsuit, Limar Air Pro MIPS helmet

Tiffany Cromwell’s team Canyon Grail CF SLX

Tiffany Cromwell Canyon Grail CF SLX
Tiffany Cromwell’s 2021 gravel race debut steed, the Canyon Grail CF SLX.
Linda Guerrette

Canyon//SRAM WorldTour road racing pro Tiffany Cromwell had a ten-race gravel line up for this summer season planned, before a last-minute call up to Tokyo to represent Australia at the Olympic Games.

Rejigging her calendar after the spring classics and a strong performance in Tokyo, SBT GRVL was set to be Cromwell’s gravel racing debut.

Tiffany Cromwell Canyon Grail CF SLX
Cromwell has paired the 40mm G-One bite tyres with the wide-rimmed Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels.
Linda Guerrette

Finishing in eighth position, she described the race as ‘brutal’, and shared that she needs to up her endurance to move up the leaderboard for the next race.

At 144 miles, SBT GRVL is the longest bike race Cromwell has done, despite her lengthy road racing career, and just goes to show how tough this course is.

Tiffany Cromwell Canyon Grail CF SLX
The ‘double decker’ Gravel cockpit from Canyon comes as standard on the Grail CF SLX.
Linda Guerrette

Cromwell was racing aboard the Canyon Grail CF SLX in an eye-popping magenta colourway and the signature Canyon ‘double decker’ handlebar.

She brought her Quarq D1 power meter across from the road, here fitted to a SRAM Red AXS single chainring set up.

Tiffany Cromwell Canyon Grail CF SLX
There’s some new bling in use for Cromwell with the SRAM Red AXS XPLR rear mech and cassette.
Linda Guerrette

At the back, the new SRAM Red AXS XPLR rear mech serviced a 10-44-tooth cassette for the hills en route. Even with this hefty cassette, the whole build came in at an impressive 8kg.

Opting for some generous tread combined with aero efficiency, Cromwell ran Schwalbe’s 40mm-wide G One Bite tyres fitted to the 40mm deep Zipp 303 Firecrest disc wheels with a sizeable rim internal diameter of 25mm.

Tiffany Cromwell Canyon Grail CF SLX
Curiously, Cromwell has opted for a standard seatpost rather than Canyon’s VCLS split, flexy post
Linda Guerrette

It seems Cromwell has opted for a standard seatpost rather than the more flexy Canyon S15 VCLS option typically specced with the top-end Grail.

  • Frameset: Canyon Grail CF SLX
  • Frame size: XXS
  • Bike weight: 8kg
  • Brake/shift levers: SRAM Red eTap AXS
  • Front derailleur: N/A
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM Red AXS XPLR
  • Front brake: SRAM Red Hydro
  • Rear brake: SRAM Red Hydro
  • Crankset: SRAM Red AXS with Quarq D1 power meter
  • Cassette: 10-44 SRAM XPLR
  • Chain: SRAM Red AXS
  • Wheelset: Zipp 303 Firecrest
  • Tyres: Schwalbe G-One Bite 40mm
  • Sealant: Muc-Off
  • Cockpit: Canyon Double Decker Gravelcockpit CF
  • Tape: Canyon
  • Pedals: Crankbrothers Eggbeater 11
  • Saddle: Specialized
  • Seatpost: Canyon
  • Bottle cages: Tacx Ciro
  • Computer: Garmin Edge 830
  • Rider height: 166cm
  • Rider weight: 51kg

Isabel King’s Canyon Grail CF SLX

Isabel King’s Canyon Grail CF SLX
Can we declare Isabel King the queen of matchy matchy?

As if the SBT GRVL wasn’t hard enough, pro soccer player turned triathlete and off-road racer Isabel King set her sights even higher on the demanding LeadBoat challenge.

On the first day, racers take on the 106-mile MTB Leadville Trail race, before the Steamboat black course on the second.

Isabel King’s Canyon Grail CF SLX
King’s Canyon Grail CF SLX features the signature Canyon ‘Gravelcockpit’ and VCLS split seatpost.

Around 100 racers took on this inaugural edition of the back-to-back race, aiming to get the lowest cumulative time across the two disciplines.

King finished third in her category at the Leadville 100, and 30th at SBT GRVL thanks to a nasty sidewall tear wreaking havoc for the last seven miles. This put her seventh out of 13 women taking on the LeadBoat challenge: a super feat of endurance and versatility.

Isabel King’s Canyon Grail CF SLX
46/33 up front and 10-36 on the back, teamed with a Quarq power meter.

For the SBT GRVL, King saddled up on her orange Canyon Grail CF SLX. Race organiser Amy Charity had recommended the Panaracer GravelKing SS Plus tyres in a 38mm width, which King duly ran, mounted onto stock DT Swiss GRC 1400 wheels.

The sidewall tear came at mile 80, and the inserted plug lasted until mile 135 before giving way.

The Grail was set up pretty much as built by Canyon, featuring the dual Gravelcockpit and split VCLS seatpost for greater compliance over the rough stuff.

Isabel King’s Canyon Grail CF SLX
The Panaracer GravelKing SS Plus tyres had been recommended to King by race organiser Amy Charity

No doubt King is used to training with power data from her triathlon background, as she has a Quarq power meter integrated into her crankset.

There’s just one thing we’re not sure about. Is Orange Seal a sponsor or chosen for the colour..?

  • Frameset: Canyon Grail CF SLX (orange, obvs)
  • Frame size: Small
  • Bike weight: 8.44kg
  • Brake/shift levers: SRAM Force eTap AXS
  • Front derailleur: SRAM Force eTap AXS
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM Force eTap AXS
  • Front brake: SRAM Force Hydro
  • Rear brake: SRAM Force Hydro
  • Crankset: SRAM Force eTap AXS 46/33, 170mm cranks, Quarq power meter
  • Cassette: 10-36 12-speed
  • Chain: SRAM Force AXS
  • Wheelset: DT Swiss GRC 1400
  • Tyres: Panaracer GravelKing 38 SS+
  • Sealant: Orange Seal
  • Cockpit: Grail double handlebar extravaganza
  • Tape: Canyon
  • Pedals: Shimano XTR
  • Saddle: Fizik Argo Tempo
  • Seatpost: Canyon S15 VCLS 2.0 CF
  • Bottle cages: Canyon SF
  • Computer: Garmin 530 Edge
  • Rider height: 5ft8in
  • Rider weight: 60kg
  • Tyre pressures: 31psi
  • Saddle height (from centre of bottom bracket): 71.4cm
  • Tip of saddle nose to handlebar (at centre): 57.5cm
  • Other key kit choices: Orange KASK Protone helmet, orange KOO Spectro sunnies, jazzy orange kit

Ian Boswell’s Specialized Diverge Rock Combo

Ian Boswell Specialized Diverge
Boswell rode the same Rock Combo tribute Diverge he rode at Unbound.
Ian Boswell

Racing for team Wahoo Frontiers, Ian Boswell was outsprinted by EF Pro Cycling’s Alex Howes at SBT GRVL to take second place, averaging an incredible 22.3mph over the entire course.

Boswell’s Rock Combo tribute Specialized Diverge had another outing for the race, after previously winning the belt buckle of Unbound Gravel on the same steed.

For this race though, Boswell’s SRAM ‘mullet’ set up had been updated to the brand-new SRAM Red AXS XPLR, featuring the wide-ranging 10-44t cassette paired with a single 46t chainring up front.

Ian Boswell Specialized Diverge
Boswell used tyre inserts to help prevent flats.
Ian Boswell

Boswell has stuck with the 42mm Specialized Pathfinder Pro semi-slick tyres, inflated to 44psi and fitted with CushCore tyre inserts.

Perhaps the quirkiest part of Boswell’s build is the cockpit. At the end of the 130mm Specialized Future Shock 2.0 stem, Boswell’s running the Coefficient Cycling RR handlebar. This 42cm carbon bar features not only significant sweep, but it also has a negative rise, encouraging a lower, more aero position over the front.

There’s also an integrated GPS mount on the bar, although with a fully waymarked course at SBT GRVL, it’s perhaps more useful for the power data from his Quarq power meter than for navigation.

The bar tape Boswell chooses is Supacaz, but he also runs some Cat Tongue grip tape on the flatter aero tops of the bar, to give him extra purchase when riding on the tops, such as on longer climbs.

  • Frameset: S-works Specialized Diverge
  • Frame size: 58cm
  • Bike weight: Unknown
  • Brake/shift levers: SRAM AXS Force
  • Front derailleur: N/A
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM Red XPLR
  • Front brake: SRAM Force
  • Rear brake: SRAM Force
  • Crankset: SRAM Force with 1× 46t chainring and Quarq power meter
  • Cassette: SRAM XPLR 10-44
  • Chain: SRAM Red AXS 12-speed
  • Wheelset: Roval Terra CLX
  • Tyres: Specialized Pathfinder Pro 42mm with CushCore inserts
  • Sealant: Specialized Rapidair
  • Cockpit: Coefficient Cycling RR 42cm, 130mm S-Works Future Shock 2.0 stem, Cat Tongue grip tape
  • Tape: Supacaz
  • Pedals: Look X-Track Race Carbon Ti
  • Saddle: S-Works Power Mirror
  • Seatpost: Specialized Terra
  • Bottle cages: Specialized Rib Cage II
  • Computer: Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
  • Other accessories: Session Safe Plug Tubeless Repair Kit S-TR3S
  • Rider height: 6ft3in
  • Rider weight: 165 lb
  • Tyre pressures: 44psi
  • Saddle height (from centre of bottom bracket): 79cm
  • Tip of saddle nose to handlebar (at centre): 63cm