Gravel is Back: Boundary Rides BWR
Race report written by Jay Prasuhn, photos provided by BWR Photo Pool
The Obed Boundary Rides Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City
The waffles, they’re a rite of passage: before the famed Belgian Waffle Ride, the assemblage of competitors set to take on the event always partake in a pre-ride meal of waffles, drowned in syrup, bacon coffee, with a helping of trepidation. Imagine a classic roadside diner breakfast, but full of super-fit, ultra-amped cyclists.
And I decided to pass on the waffles.
Instead, it was a cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter, instant oatmeal and a bottle of cold Starbucks double espresso drink in my hotel room. I was girding up for the BWR Wafer (the “short” version at 78 miles, versus the full Waffle at 125 miles), and if I was gonna do the solo breakfast, I’d make it a real effort, dressing while watching a gold panning reality show, thinking about how the day would unfold. No commiserating with fellow riders about.
Such is life in pandemic event world for a longtime triathlete-turned-graveleur. Go hard, have fun—but wear a mask. To BWR event organizer’s credit, the waffles were all pre-packaged, with athletes encouraged to grab and go; no loitering with friends. I was taking part in the first event of the year for me: the inaugural Belgian Waffle Ride: Cedar City. Heck, it was probably the first event of the year for everyone out there. Despite it being mid-October, the field had the spring racing giddies. And while I passed on pre-race frivolities in an attempt to keep my race experience as low-key as possible with as little social interaction as possible, I knew I’d get enough entertainment on race day.
Held traditionally in the San Diego hinterland, the BWR branched out, with the bucolic town of Cedar City, Utah playing host to the first event outside San Diego. And while state of California put the kaibosh on mass start events, forcing the BWR San Diego from taking place this year, Utah was still full on. I loaded a pickup truck with my Obed Boundary, and hit I-15 east through Las Vegas for Cedar City.
Race morning had all the hallmarks of a good day. Flying Obed’s brand new battleship grey and hi-vis orange colorway for the Boundary gravel bike, was glad to have shod my bike the day before in a new set of IRC Boken tires; having heard about the brutal Tolweg, I felt like I might need a bit more traction. What’s the Tolweg? More on that later…
It was a shocking 38 degrees in the dark of the morning, but with nothing but sun on the forecast, knew it would be a game of simple layering. Armwarmers and a vest was all that was needed; they’d be peeled away as the day’s temps rose on into the lower 80s.
The opening five miles were neutralized, with mask mandatory for those miles. After passing through a tunnel underpass, the race was on; gaiters were pulled down, and instead of breathing through a cloth covering at 5,800 feet, we were breathing the dust of 800 bikes, kicked up on the fireroad—at altitude. Breaks were forming, some folks were crashing (this was mile five, guys!!) others flatting, ensuring they would be riding many, many lonely miles. I navigated my Obed Boundary past the unlucky souls, digging to find a steady wheel; one that would carry me clear of the uninitiated, but not so fast that I’d be out of my comfort zone. I know what blowing up at altitude feels like.
Happily, I found my crew of 15 or so riders, all of equal fitness, and it wasn’t until the sorting had ceased that I could look up and….wow. The sunrise front-lighting the dust and riders ahead of me, backdropped by few peaks that line the southeastern Great Basin was just beautiful. To be racing again was a hell of a feeling.
We climbed the first KOM of the day near Little Salt Lake, an area of Parowan Valley with petroglyphs of the Fremont culture living on cliff walls, a reminder of ancestral history. The course also came close gorgeous red rock outcroppings including Cedar Breaks and famed Zion National Park…but there would be no time for sightseeing.
The middle section of the course was simply fitness….until the sand. Riding along at mile , I spied a slow-down in the three riders ahead. It wasn’t until I was on the scene—at speed—that I realized they were mired in a sand trap, the doubletrack turning into six-inch-deep beachhead. Twice I tried to hop the spine from one track to another for better footing—and twice I laid it down. At least it was sand, and I popped back up, a cup of grit bouncing around inside my shoes.
The last 10 miles had riders smelling the barn (and the Belgian ale event organizers had for finishers), but not before we all had to navigate a nasty little diversion. With notable sectors of the course garnering Belgian names (to stay on theme), there was a diabolical three-mile section aptly named The Tolweg (or toll road in Dutch). Organizers had another term for it: the turnpuke. It was three miles of baked-in rock garden, a serpentine traverse with zero flow, requiring total mental focus and deft bike handling skills to prevent a spill on the jagged rocks littering the trail like tombstones.
Coming out of The Tolweg exhausted but unscathed, the final miles to the finish into Cedar City were but a ceremonial victory lap for all finishers.
BWR Cedar City certainly scratched the itch many graveleurs had been waiting for, for months. It’s a question when the next event will go forward anywhere across the country, but hats off to the BWR organizers for laying out hard and fast ground rules, to ensure competitors were safe with an event mask mandate at a very spaced out expo, the mask mandate in the early miles, and plenty of disinfectant wherever you looked. It was a great litmus for how things can be going forward.
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