The third and final round of the Belgian Waffle Ride Triple Crown of Gravel meant trading the skinny tires of BWR San Diego for meaty rubber and a true gravel setup to tackle the high desert terrain of Cedar City, Utah. Athletes were challenged with rocky singletrack, chunky dirt roads, and altitude over the 130 miles of racing. We asked four racers what worked and what didn’t. Here’s what they had to say. (If you missed the pre-race coverage, you can find it here.)
Photos by PureGravel
Whitney Alison, 1st Place Women
What Worked: I had the chance to pre-ride a lot of technical sections of the course as an instructor at the BWR Survival Camp p/b Source Endurance and suspected the first climb about 20-miles in was going to be really key as it had a technical descent after so gaps would happen. That meant I needed to go over the top at the front of my group. The lead Wafer men caught us right before that climb, so I committed to riding that climb all out if needed, knowing that I could recover on the descent. Three women, including myself, ended up making the group (I had to chase back on for about 30 seconds once we got off the descent). I also decided based on times last year and the amount of road or light gravel, that I would be best suited to run the ENVE 3.4 AR wheels with 40mm tires that had a good amount of tread…it would give me a chance to play into my strengths (sustained power) and let me get through my weaknesses as best as possible.
What Didn’t: I’m usually pretty regimented when it comes to hydration/nutrition for races but for whatever reason, Cedar City got me. I was starting to get pretty sick by the end as I didn’t bring any electrolyte besides my start bottles, and wasn’t going to stop. For most other events this year, I’ve been bringing a “finish” bottle for the last two hours with about 400-calories of NBS Carbo Hydration with some caffeine. I have to drink a lot of water to digest that but it’s a super easy way to consume a lot when food is no longer appealing and caffeine is a nice, natural boost. I really missed that at Cedar City, but knowing the rest of the field of badass women were only a few minutes back was enough to help me push through.
Griffin Easter, 2nd Place
What Worked: The BWR Cedar City was my second participation at the event. As a result, I was fairly confident with the course and terrain. I knew there were a few new sectors, but figured I would digest those as they came. My four biggest goals for the race were: hydration, nutrition, smoothness and doing something cool (bunny hop, skid, epic attack, nose tap, tail tap). I executed all four aspects well, most notably a post finish line skid.
What Didn’t: I was very happy with almost my entire ride, with exception of one key spot where my plan was flawed. I was together with Peter Stetina heading towards “The Tolweg” (a sharp rock saturated single track MTB trail). Instead of leading into that sector I followed Peter. The pace was manageable, but following someone in that terrain can hinder the line of sight with the number of “tire” hazards. We were maybe three quarters of the way through when a perfectly placed lava slicer rock reached out to me and said, “Hey nice to meet you!” I was very pleased to meet the lava rock, however, his timing was just “slightly” off. I was left with maybe 5 psi in the front tire and had to nurse the remaining sector until exiting and getting a wheel swap. I don’t think I could have continued riding on any other rim with that little air remaining in my tire. In short, if I could go back, I would have attacked into the single track in order to take the front and better see my line. Well played and a tip of the hat to Mr. Peter Stetina.
Brennan Wertz, 10th Place
2nd overall in the BWR Triple Crown
What Worked: While the course was quite technical and challenging, there was hardly a moment without an incredible 360 degree view. I always make a point to try to take in as much of my surroundings as possible since I am so fortunate to have the ability to travel to such unique places for races. Another very positive aspect of my race was my equipment. My Mosaic GT-1 45 was solid all day long and continued to inspire confidence in even the roughest sectors. I was really pleased with how the CeramicSpeed UFO Drip chain lube worked given how sandy and dusty the course was. I was also very pleased with my wheel/tire combo, something that can really make or break a race. For this race I opted for the ENVE 4.5 AR wheels and Rene Herse Hurricane Ridge 42c knobbies with the Endurance+ casing. We rode the first 3.5 hrs of the race at an average of around 23mph, so having the deeper and more aerodynamic wheels was a real advantage. When we got into the really gnarly singletrack and rocky portions of the course, the tires allowed me to take riskier lines than I might normally take. One final very positive takeaway was my understanding of the course. I was able to pre-ride a few key sectors and also drove some other portions of the course. This was hugely beneficial and allowed me to take to the start line with confidence knowing what some of the selective sectors would look like.
What Didn’t: I felt reasonably good on race day, but the last month of training has been pretty hit or miss as I have been working hard to get everything setup for next year’s race program. Going into this round of the BWR, I could tell I wasn’t quite where I needed to be if I wanted to be competitive. Another negative was how I handled the sandy sections. Sand is not something I encounter all that often in my training in the Bay Area. My less than optimal sand riding skills, coupled with three unfortunate crashes that occured right in front of me in deep sand pits forced me to dismount and run with my bike, and ultimately causing me to lose contact with the front group. A final negative aspect to last weekend’s race was the toll the dust and altitude took on my lungs. The combination of the thin air and the dry dust made breathing quite challenging. There wasn’t much I could have done differently to prepare for this, but I do think next year I will likely wear a buff so I can pull it over my mouth when in the really dusty sections or when sitting directly behind the vehicles in the race caravan.
Dylan Johnson, 11th Place,
3rd overall in the BWR Triple Crown
What worked: The BWR Cedar City course was sandy, at least for an east coaster like me. On top of that this race contains four miles of relatively rough singletrack for a gravel bike near the end. These two factors made going with wide tires a no-brainer for me and I’m very glad that I did. I ended up going with the Pirelli Cinturato H in 45mm and once they were mounted they actually measured even wider on my ENVE 3.4 AR wheels. Wide tires also allowed me to get away with running super low pressure at 24psi in the front and 26psi in the rear. More pressure and narrower tires equals faster is a notion that’s quickly dying out even on the road but is especially true for gravel. Once you leave the pavement the exact opposite is often true. Wider tires run at lower pressures are not only more comfortable but actually provide a lower rolling resistance as well.
What Didn’t: This year I got a bit overly ambitious with my efforts early in the race. I closed a lot of gaps that could have been left to my competitors to chase down and did a few too many hard pulls when I sensed other riders were hurting. This is a tricky one because there has been a lot of talk recently about the spirit or gravel racing and many agree that sitting on and not doing your fair share in your group is something we’d like to see left on the road. Regardless, the result of my efforts early in the race was a pace I couldn’t sustain and that came back to bite me about five hours in. This also goes against the advice that I always tell people about these long races which is that more than likely you’re going to go out too hard! I know this and even I still fall victim to it when I’m excited and feeling good at the start of a race.