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CEDAR CITY, Utah (VN) — Peter Stetina relied on his legs, technical skills, and good luck to win Saturday’s Belgian Waffle Ride Utah, one year after he lost the race in a close sprint to Keegan Swenson.
The race looked like it was headed for another sprint between Stetina and road pro Griffin Easter after the two dropped the other elite men in the waning miles of the 135-mile race. But in the course’s long and technical section of singletrack — which came less than half an hour from the finish — Easter struck a rock and suffered a flat tire. Ahead, Stetina picked his way through the rocks, got onto the paved section back into Cedar City, and crossed the line alone.
“I pushed it to the limit and was able to put him on the back foot in the singletrack and he punctured — it’s unfortunate, but when you’re pushing it it’s not really the waiting moment,” Stetina said. “So I found a way to win in a different way, the old cagy vet.”
The victory is Stetina’s second on the 2021 Belgian Waffle Ride circuit, and earlier this year he claimed the race in San Marcos, California after attacking on the final climb.
The showdown came after a hot and dusty day that saw riders tackle an abridged course that was shortened by a handful of miles due to deep sections of sand on a technical descent. Still, riders faced plenty of long and challenging sections of moon dust-like grit and sand on the course, which traces a loop around Cedar City. Heavy rains in August led to a dry and hot September, and the trails and doubletrack went from mud to grit to dust in a matter of weeks.
Huge plums of dust could be seen for miles behind groups of riders on the course.
The men’s elite field rumbled out of downtown Cedar City at 7:30 a.m. and headed out onto the dirt. The group gradually wore down as strong pacing on the front shed riders on the early climb 25 miles into the race. Then, the group was further whittled down as the peloton rumbled across a series of rolling hills with deep sand in the trough of each roller.
Perhaps 20-25 elite men came into the New Harmony climb, and that’s when Easter took over.
“I was on the front and was just drilling it — I think there were six or seven of us afterward,” Easter said. “I was on Pete’s wheel. I was hurting and not feeling great but I was able to stay there.”
The front group of seven riders powered across the valley floor and into the final ascent of the day, a steep climb at mile 110. Stetina upped the pace, and only Easter was able to follow.
“I couldn’t ditch him,” Stetina said. “He was one of the strongest riders of the day.”
Indeed, Easter is a relative newcomer on the U.S. gravel scene, and he is the revelation of the 2021 event. Easter was a star on the Fort Lewis Cycling team in the early aughts, and then rode pro for several domestic road teams, among them Team Illuminate, 303 Project, and Airgas cycling. Earlier this year he signed with a Venezuelan pro team called Start Cycling Team and spent several months in Belgium racing.
This summer, he was third at the Wasatch All Road, and he won the third stage of Rebecca’s Private Idaho.
Easter said he tried and failed to plug his tire multiple times, and was even passed by German rider Paul Voss as he worked on his bike on the trail.
“It was low but I was able to ride it, I tried to throw a few CO2s in and ended up riding the low front tire out of the singletrack” Easter said.
Easter said he’s considering racing more gravel events in 2022 and beyond.
“I’m at a crossroads — I’m 29 and work is looming,” Easter said. “But I’m also coming into my own with these races. I love gravel, it’s really fun. It’s hard and there’s a lot of fast guys doing it.”
2022 Belgian Waffle Ride Utah
- Peter Stetina, 5:57:31
- Griffin Easter, 5:59:56
- Paul Voss, 6:01:11
- Adam Roberge, 6:05:34
- Alexis Cartier, 6:09:17
- John Borstelmann, 6:09:17
- Matt Jablonski, 6:11:46
- Serhei Tvetcov, 6:11:46
- Steano Barberi, 6:20:06
- Brennan Wertz, 6:20:06