Belgian Waffle Ride Utah: Courtney Sherwell’s Recap

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Courtney Sherwell has an impressive list of gravel victories in Australia, with a Dirty Warrny win in 2022, victory at the UCI Gravel World Series in Beechworth, Gravelista, in 2023 and this year a win at the new Uncorked Gravel race, but now its time to branch out into the hub of the international gravel racing scene, the United States. The 35-year-old rider from Bendigo is part of the increasing flow of Australians overseas to up the ante by taking on a new group of races and rivals that include those recognised among the world’s best in the Unroad discipline. Photos courtesy Mason Hender.

By Courtney Sherwell — Having ripped off the bandaid at my first US gravel race, BWR Arizona, the anticipation for the 2nd race of the Triple Crown was high. What else was high, was the altitude that this round would be taking place. This race would be at the highest elevation I’ve ever ridden at. This coupled with the wintery conditions forecasted for the weekend, I knew this was going to be a very challenging day and nothing I had experienced before.

Courtney Sherwell. Photos by Mason Hender, courtesy BWR.

The first challenge of the morning was deciding on how many layers to wear. We woke up to a light dusting of fresh snow with temperatures dipping to minus 4 degrees which had me so grateful for the revised start time of 9am. Shivering through the neutral sector, the race didn’t heat up until we left the town of Summit with the peloton squeezing through a tunnel which splintered the bunch and caused a pile up that I briefly got caught behind. It was from here that I set my highest power numbers for the day as I clawed my way back to the front bunch.

Fast forward to kilometer 55, we’re about to hit the most decisive sector of the race and I see my partner John get pushed off the right side of the road into the gutter of sand. I lost focus and positions after seeing this which had me on the back foot leading into the double track sector at kilometer 56 putting me way back in the group as we entered the decisive rough double track sector. The next 12kms felt like 50. Sofia disappeared into the distance never to be seen again managing to maintain a good position and hold on to a stronger front group, while the rest of the women’s field was scattered amongst the remaining riders that didn’t make the front splits.

Courtney Sherwell. Photos by Mason Hender, courtesy BWR.

For the next 50km, I found myself in a group of around 8 riders including Eva. I thought at this point we must be in a good Top 5 position, unsure of how many riders were up the road. I felt strong in the single track but wasn’t fully able to capitalize on this as some of my group weren’t as comfortable in the technical sections and I thought it was best to stay in a group as long as I could. My MTB background certainly helps in these sections and I really enjoy them.

For the next 50km, I found myself in a group of around 8 riders including Eva. I thought at this point we must be in a good Top 5 position, unsure of how many riders were up the road. I felt strong in the single track but wasn’t fully able to capitalize on this as some of my group weren’t as comfortable in the technical sections and I thought it was best to stay in a group as long as I could. My MTB background certainly helps in these sections and I really enjoy them.

The race directors car was soon hovering around our group which filled me with hope that we must be towards the head of the race but with no time checks or updates, it was still unclear on what was unfolding. A time check with 50km to go had Sofia up the road on her own which meant Eva and I were sitting in 2nd & 3rd. Our group wasn’t working well together at all with fatigue starting to take its toll but I was still feeling strong. Before turning onto the last major climb of the day, I got a glimpse of Hannah and Emily who were very quickly chasing us down.

Courtney Sherwell. Photos by Mason Hender, courtesy BWR.

I crested the climb with Emily and at this point I was worried as I was really feeling the effects of the altitude. Emily and I were pulling equally strong turns, motivated to not let Hannah and Eva catch us. I knew then that we were going to be fighting for 2nd & 3rd. I lead our group into the last single track/unroad sector for the day; this was my last chance to use my skills to get clear and charge home for 2nd place and I managed to build as substantial gap over Emily. I caught a group of guys that helped drive the pace home on the last road section and I even managed to drop a couple in the last km’s. I knew I was being chased hard though and had to keep pressure on the pedals until the final few hundred meters when I knew I’d done enough to hold off the chasing girls.

Crossing the finish line, I wasn’t truly sure that I was in 2nd place. Seeing my partner John run over to me completely ecstatic and confirmation from spectators that I did finish in 2nd place made the realization come true.

It was great to finish strongly and in a great position amongst such a high quality group of athletes and to show my supporters and sponsors what I am capable of.

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