Belgian Waffle Ride 2023: Cedar City Race Recaps

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By Michael Marckx — The BWR UTAH song that keeps us on our (dancing) toes…

We are family.
We got all our people with us.
We are family.
Get up everybody and roll.

Together, as a family, we have the power to transform lives. We can achieve a lot together… And there is no better place than Utah to revel in the idea and glories of FAMILY.
Inspire. Mentor. Champion. Amplify. Create. Lead. Help each other. Have fun!
We can enhance the power of community by welcoming everyone into the family.

We are a growing, global tribe of bike-minded family members of different cultures, ethnicities, beliefs, and backgrounds.

And we believe in the power of family and it’s easy to sing this psalm after a BWR in Utawesome, where the family effect was in full bloom.

Family is just about the only way of life in Utah. The same familial sensibilities that we all know can make the world a better place are evidenced by the importance of ‘family’ in Utah. There is a Family Prosperity Index that measures 50 social and monetary factors to rank each state, and Utah has constantly ranked #1 in the nation. And Cedar City offers not only a taste of the importance of ‘family,’ but it also offers a spectacular canvas for our different kind of family to draw upon; a newer, two-wheeled family formed in the shared love of this thing they now call ‘Gravel.’ And this family has a genuine commitment to the values of diversity and equality, that we should be able to work together to find compassion and peace no matter how wide our tires are. This family understands that forcing the beliefs of one onto another, diminishes diversity and skews the scales of equality. By engaging in compromise and extending love to all of cycling’s children, who are our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, together we can create a peaceful, diverse tapestry of ideals and beliefs, expressed by spinning wheels and tales alike… in the gravel.

The race commenced exactly on time at 7:00 a.m., which was a testament to every rider agreeing to play by the rules, and those rules were simple: Love your neighbor like family. Every single mother, father, sister, brother played along. So away we went, like a family to church.

Before we get to the race recaps from our stellar pro family members, Melisa Rollins, and Brendan Johnston, I’d like to pause to further this idea of family…

And, thanks to Fred Brooks and Scosche for the use of their amazing Bronco as the lead vehicle that was able to manage the various unroad sectors easily.

Our Monuments of Cycling is a small family with a collection of partners like Jan Heylen and Sean Fondrk of Mumu, Steve Driscoll and Joe Staron OF IRC Tire, Greg Cowan of F2C, Katie and Tony of OmniGo Timing, Dave Towle, Paul Dunlap at the Wrench House, Almsthre’s Steve Yeager and Jen El Aile, John Perry, Adam Spahr, Amelia Durst, Jon Hornbeck, Jake Orness, Priscilla Savord, and the wonderful people at Cedar City, especially Brooke Twitchell and Officer Justin Ludlow. Our team is also Joe Schmalz, Randall Coxworth, Phil and Shelby Tinstman, and Shelby’s dad, Dyrk.

Perhaps the most important family present was that of Todd Hess, our Volunteer Coordinator from Cedar City. Todd spent the last four years as our boots on the ground in Utah, not only enticing locals in the Cedar City area to join in the family fun of putting on a world class gravel race, but Todd was also out reconning the various course features, meeting with local land owners and construction crews to help pave the way for all the approvals we need from the various private landowners, institutions and agencies in order to put on this event to our level of satisfaction. Without Todd and his family, this event could not happen. So, next time you are at a Feed Zone or pass a volunteer at a corner, make sure to sing out loud to them, “We are Family!”

Todd and his family engaged with this fine group of individuals, below, who in turn brought their families out to work the Feed Zones, Expo, and critical intersections for everyone’s safety.

SPECIAL THANKS TO RAWLEY MACIAS OF ROULEUR BREWING FOR OUR BWR BADASS ALES THIS YEAR! HE ALSO RODE THE WAFER!

Melisa Rollins Race Recap

Melisa was fifth at last year’s Unbound 200, but until this weekend she had never won a gravel race. We think this victory is the beginning of a long string of them. One very interesting tidbit about the women’s race was that after the initial Red Hills QOD/KOD sector that ends at the first feed zone at mile-29, Melisa and Tiffany Cromwell were a few minutes behind the lead men, and used the Rollers for Rouleurs 10-mile unroad sector to reel the lead men’s group back. It was phenomenal the way they worked together! Melisa also won the QOM category.

Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City was my first race on the dirt in 11 months. After finishing off my first pro season as an endurance gravel/mountain bike racer racing in the Lifetime Grand Prix in 2022, I decided to step away from the dirt in 2023 and focus on gaining leg speed and developing some race tactics by committing to a season on the road. However, after being in a high speed crash while racing the Tour of Belgium in early July, I decided it was time to shift my focus back to gravel after some time to recover. Being just a few hours north of Cedar City, BWR Utah was the first event to come to mind.

For me, there was a lot of anticipation for this event. I knew I had gained a lot of fitness and a lot of race savviness since the last time I raced gravel, but the legs you have on race day don’t always reflect that. I of course wanted to perform well here, but my first goal was to be present at the front of the race in the opening hours, something I’ve always struggled with.

In the opening miles I focused on sticking near the front, and I quickly found myself near Flavia and Tiffany. With their years of experience, I really tried to watch how they were moving and where they used energy. The three of us stuck with the lead men until the first KOM/QOM climb, the Rode Heuvels, where I summited solo, just 10 seconds ahead of Tiffany, and about 30 seconds behind the lead group of men. Tiffany and I regrouped on the descent as we approached the first aid station. Here we caught a man, and the 3 of us traded pulls— building on our gap to 3rd place. Our small trio slowly began to swell as we picked off riders dropped from the lead group, and as our horsepower increased, so did our speed. At mile 40 we actually caught the lead men! Now as we sat as a group of 30, Tiffany and I were able to relax just a little, sheltered from the wind and preparing for the single track.

Tiffany Cromwell and Melisa Rollins at the 2023 BWR Cedar City. Photo courtesy BWR

As we approached the first sector of single track the pace increased and Tiffany and I were dropped again from the lead men’s group. I was quickly realizing how evenly matched the two of us were on this day. I followed Tiffany’s wheel down the single track, and while navigating a technical corner, my front wheel slid out in some sand and I fell, smashing my derailleur on some rocks. I remounted quickly and worked to make contact with Tiffany again. When we made it back to the road and were trading pulls again, I noticed my shifting start to skip and knew my hanger was bent. With almost 70 miles still left to race, I was forced to only use my bottom 4 gears.

Tiff and I traded pulls for the next 15 miles, our duo adding and losing members periodically, but unspokenly, the two of us knew this race was between us. We summited the penultimate climb at mile 85 together and Tiff took the lead on the dusty descent to New Harmony. Here was where Tiffany’s bad luck struck. Her front tire washed out on a loose corner and she went down. Hard. I actually was a little worried, so I pulled to a stop and checked she was okay and handed her her bike before continuing on down the mountain. As I descended it sunk in that I was leading the race! But just as this feeling of excitement began, it started to shift into worry as I started to cramp severely. Everywhere. I don’t often cramp so I wasn’t sure what to do. I started smacking my legs. I coasted, I soft pedaled. In between smacks I would look back to check. Where’s Tiffany? Still not there. I finally made it to a flatter section and forced a little more power and a miracle happened. The cramps vanished as quickly as they appeared.

Melisa Rollins wins the 2023 BWR Cedar City. Photo courtesy BWR

I spent the final 40 miles completely solo. I was sad to have lost my competitor. It felt like a shame to have spent 5 hours racing together without being able to properly fight it out for the finish. But as the race went on, my time gap continued to grow. On the final major climb of the day, a 2.5 mile sandy dirt road averaging ~9%, but with pitches upwards of 20%, I was forced off the bike to walk due to my lack of gears. I panicked, thinking this would be where Tiffany would catch me and I would lose the race, but she never did. I cruxed the climb and made my way to the final single track sector solo, and after completing that started making my way to the finish. With a few miles to go the lead Moto told me I had 7 minutes and I cried. I had done it! I had just won my first ever gravel bike race, I just needed to make it to the finish. And I did. It was amazing!

Melisa Rollins after the finish of the 2023 BWR Cedar City. Photo courtesy BWR

Brendan Johnston’s Race Quote

Four-time Australian national MTB Champ, Brendan Johnston, uncorked his first gravel victory here in the US, and did so with one devastating attack on the final climb up the Kanarraberg, leaving his four breakaway partners at the bottom – gaining three-minutes by the top. It was the one & only, yet decisive, move of the day. He also won the KOM category.

Brendan Johnston (AUS) during the 2023 BWR Cedar City. Photo courtesy BWR

I was really pleased to take the victory here at BWR Utah! The course in Cedar City is actually one of the best I have competed on, so dynamic and challenging, however really quite high speed for the most part which made the racing exciting. I was feeling really good out there and had a plan to ride all the headwind sections with the group of 5 or 6 before turning back towards the north and picking up the tailwind and hitting the biggest climb of the day. I attacked the group at the base wanting to make as big an impact as possible for the remaining rough single track sector before the finish, cresting the top with a 5 min buffer to the chasers I was able to really enjoy the single track and the run into the finish. It was a special day in Utah for me and one I won’t forget meeting my family at the finish line for my first victory on US soil!

Brendan Johnston (AUS) wins the 2023 BWR Cedar City. Photo courtesy BWR

Hardman Award Winaar – Cody Cupp

Cody Cupp was enjoying a nice day in the Hell of the South, making it into every break and chasing back frequently to stay with the leaders. He managed to make it to the fourth Feed Zone at mile-100 where the temperature hit 95 degrees. It was here his crew handed him an energy drink that did not agree with him. He began barfing more than anyone we’ve ever seen toss their energy drink before, as the leaders pedaled away into the distance along with his chances at a podium. You can see in the picture below. But, Cody somehow managed to regain his composure with the five leaders up the road over 1-km ahead, and began chasing in earnest, finally catching them at the base of the final climb, the Kanarraberg. It was an extremely impressive feat and ultimately he finished third overall and won the Hardman award in the process.

Without an early climb to separate things, the day started off pretty chill. I sat into the big group, dodging rocks flying off wheels, and tried to enjoy the easy pace while I could. The first climb 20 miles in is where the race really began. A few younger racers got on the front and pushed the pace on the way up and over the first climb to form the first selection of the day, coming out the other side with a group of 30 or more.

This group rolled along pretty well for 10+ miles. The pace stayed steady but was easy enough to recover from the climb and prepare for the hard parts of course that were coming.

At mile-42 we turned onto rough, rocky, and fast double track and the racing kicked back up. I tried to stay near the front for this section knowing that splits were going to happen and that it’d be harder to avoid unseen rocks if you’re buried further back in the field. It felt like we kept it close to full gas at the front for this whole double track section, hopping back and forth between the wheel lanes trying to rotate and draft off each other and dodging baby head rocks and wheel sucking rain ruts. The double track finished with a sand pit and a short climb, which I got into first and tried to push through as fast as I could. When we got to the top of the climb we had whittled the group down to maybe 10 or 15.
The next difficult sector was the single track from mile 52-58. I wanted to hit this first, but so did everyone in our group and after the fight for the trail entrance I was sitting 5th wheel. We were moving quick and on one of the more high-speed early parts of the trail I clipped a pedal on a rock I didn’t see, demolishing one side of my pedal and ejecting myself over the bars. It was one of the bigger crashes I’ve had on a gravel bike, and it took me a little to realize what happened, decide I wasn’t hospital hurt, find my bike, and straighten my bars, then get back to ripping. At this point I’d lost the leaders and knew I had to do work to get back to the front before the single track ended so that I wouldn’t be stuck in the wind alone once we hit the road. I managed to find the flow for the rest of the trail, passing racers one by one and making my way through the shattering lead group until I got back up to 4th, in front of Joe and just behind Carter, Brendan, and Tasman. It’s a good thing I got there because the 5 of us ended up riding together for most of the rest of the day.

Cody Cupp at the 2023 BWR Cedar City. Photo courtesy BWR.

Once we settled in after the single track we had a group of 6 (which turned to 5 when Brendan attacked over the top of the climb at mile 84) that was rotating and working together well to move through the fast dirt roads over the next 40 miles.

During this time, I was trying to just ride steady, relax, and keep the nutrition and hydration coming in. The nutrition component to these long races is something I haven’t quite gotten dialed in yet.

Cody Cupp gets sick at the 2023 BWR Cedar City, yet manages to recover to finish 3rd. Photo courtesy BWR.

Around mile 90 my body started telling me that it really didn’t want any more drink mix or gels, but I was racing for the win, and I know you need to keep the calories coming to be able to have the energy to throw down in the end, so I kept stuffing the sugar down. At mile 100 my stomach had enough. I had just taken a gel and drank some mix and my body decided that was it. I started throwing up, and it felt like I threw up pretty much everything I had in me. I didn’t stop, but I couldn’t pedal as I puked off my bike and I got dropped from our 5-man group.

At first I thought that might be it and I’d be limping it in solo from there, but once the puking stopped I felt surprisingly okay and also felt not content with settling for 5th, so I laid on the bars, got frickin aero, and gave it what I could to get back up to the lead group. I managed to make contact with the group just as we got onto the last big climb of the day at mile 104. It felt like I was back with the group for only 30 seconds or so before Brendan made his winning move at the base of the climb. I wanted to try to fight for it with him, but I had nothing in me after the chase back on and I had to just suffer up the brutal climb at my own pace, coming over the top of it in 4th with Joe maybe a minute or two in front of me.

On the descent off the climb, I was able to recover enough to be able charge hard on the final single track of the day at mile 112. I knew Joe was up there and I felt like I was hunting him down as I gave it everything I had to keep it pinned on the final 4 miles of trail. I closed the gap and was just about on his wheel when we hit the pavement.

Joe and I came back together on the pavement and rode together for a few miles until some fast, winding, and rocky double track just before the end.

I made my move on the double track, hitting the first corner as fast and recklessly as I could to get a gap on Joe then tried to rip the rest of it at full speed pushing in every corner.

Cody Cupp “recovering” after finishing 3rd at BWR Cedar City. Photo courtesy BWR

The final 5 miles of the day was flat pavement. When we hit the pavement I think I had maybe a 100–200-yard gap on Joe. From there it was a full death TT to the finish to try to hold onto 3rd place. That was the deepest I’ve ever gone on a bike. Nearly six and a half hours of racing in and trying to hold max effort for 5 miles. My head was tingling, vision was starting to narrow, but kept the gap there and managed to come across the line in 3rd. That was a crazy fight with myself, and I’m so stoked I was able to stay in the race after tossing myself off the bike and puking my guts out. Nothing feels better than finishing an effort like that.

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