Durango’s Sarah Sturm is used to not having the proper set up and still winning a bike race.
A year ago at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, Sturm placed second in the women’s pro road race from Durango to Silverton on a borrowed bike. She wore her mountain bike shoes and still rode away from the competition en route to the Iron Horse podium. Later in 2018, with the proper bike, she claimed the national championship in the singlespeed category at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships.
Sturm, 29, started her 2019 season Thursday at the Sea Otter Bicycle Classic, as she jumped into the pro women’s criterium road race in Salinas, California. She rode a gravel bike, the Specialized Diverge, and still conquered the rest of the field.
“Specialized signed me to their gravel team. I’ve kind of transitioned from the cross game into this gravel program,” Sturm said. “They decided it would be awesome if we all did a bunch of these races at Sea Otter on our gravel bikes. A teammate did dual slalom on a gravel bike, three of us did the crit on the gravel bike and we’re doing to do cross-country and the gravel fondo, all on the Diverge with drop bars.
“It’s something a little different. I tend to seek that out on my own, and it’s cool to be part of that with the team. It’s awesome to be part of something super creative with bike racing. Sometimes, bike racing can get stagnant and racers get bored doing the same races over and over again. It’s kind of cool to put a different twist on the race we know already and try different equipment.”
Sturm finished the race in 49 minutes, 32 seconds, 10 seconds ahead of California’s Shelby Reynolds and Christina Birch of Massachusetts. On a windy day, attacks didn’t last long, as the pack of 13 women stuck together. Sturm hadn’t raced a road criterium since her days racing for Fort Lewis College more than six years ago, so she tried to stay at the front even though it meant exerting more energy.
With six laps to go, Sturm made her move to get away from the peloton through a tight chicane section. The move stuck, and she was able to gradually increase her lead each lap until it hit 25 or 30 seconds.
Sturm said her team, friends and family were all stunned by the win and everyone was mostly shocked she didn’t crash. She got some advice on the plane ride to Sea Otter from Durango cycling legend Ned Overend, the 1990 mountain bike world champion. Overend has been a key piece to the Specialized team for decades and has spent much time in recent years working in gravel bike development. Sturm said his advice helped her win Thursday’s race.
“I told myself that I should probably listen to Mr. Overend,” Sturm said. “He was telling me to be super careful to not pedal through the turns. I knew I could corner faster than the other girls in the chicane with the way the bike was set up, but I had to be super careful. Once I got that gap, I buried myself to stay away. I didn’t want it to come down to a sprint because the Diverge has a spring under the stem that is not awesome for sprinting. It kind of absorbs your power, but it’s great for gravel riding. It absorbs the shock without affecting handling.”
Sturm will not race the IHBC this year and will focus on some big gravel events across the U.S., Scotland and possibly even Japan. She does hope to race at cyclocross nationals again this winter.
“I am hoping to make it to some UCI races this season,” she said of cyclocross. “At the very least, I want to make it to cross nationals. The Four Corners series here, you don’t get points if you just do those races, but it’s a great backup to prepare for nationals because it’s such a great local series here.”