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American gravel racers have a few new twists and turns on the 2021 competition calendar.
On Monday promoters of San Diego’s Belgian Waffle Ride — with 4,000 participants one of the largest cycling races in the U.S. — announced the postponement of their marquee race from May 2 to July 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Belgian Waffle Ride will also postpone its event in Asheville, North Carolina from May 16 until August 21.
The two delays come with news of a brand new Belgian Waffle Ride event, slated to run August 31 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Now, Belgian Waffle Ride will have four races on the 2021 competition calendar: San Diego (July 18); Asheville, North Carolina (August 21); Cedar City, Utah (September 25); and Lawrence, Kansas (October 31).
Michael Marckx, Belgian Waffle Ride’s founder, said he weighed the predicted timeline for local COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as well as the current gravel calendar, before deciding on July 18 for the San Diego race.
“I’m told that by late June people in San Diego will have access to the vaccine if they want it — then I added a few extra weeks,” Marckx said. “I looked at the calendar of competing events of friends and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and awe arrived at July 18. It’s the week after [Crusher in the Tushar] and we don’t sit on top of anyone else.”
BWR is the latest major U.S. gravel race to change its dates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mid South Gravel recently canceled its March event and replaced it with a race-from-home challenge. California’s Rock Cobbler pushed its February date back to April, while the Grasshopper Adventure Series has pared down its 2021 series from eight events to five.
Unbound Gravel, the race formerly known as Dirty Kanza, is proceeding with its June 5 race date.
Most U.S. gravel races saw cancelations of event changes in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Belgian Waffle Ride canceled its San Diego race after initially postponing it from May until November 8. The debut of the event in Asheville was ultimately pushed back from 2020 to 2021.
Belgian Waffle Ride proceeded with its October event held in Cedar City, Utah — the company launched a series of rules around social distancing and mask-wearing, and it sent its 800 or so participants off in wave starts.
Whether or not the San Diego race will see similar rules around social distancing is yet to be seen. The new date does come with several other new features: a new start/finish venue; revamped 135-mile course, and a mixed-surface criterium as part of a three-day festival of cycling.
Since its debut in 2011, the event has started and finished at the Lost Abbey brewery in San Marcos
“You can imagine a Red Hook-style event but with a couple of dirt features inside of the circuit,” Marckx said. “That would be Friday night, then on Saturday we’ll have the expo and some type of family fun ride, then the races are on Sunday.”
Partnership with Steve Tilford Foundation
In 2020 the Belgian Waffle Ride expanded from one to three events, calling the series the ‘Tripel Crown.’ The addition of the Belgian Waffle Ride race in Kansas effectively grows it to a four-race series for 2021.
The cornerstones of Belgian Waffle Ride’s event in Lawrence, Kansas are partnerships with the Steve Tilford Foundation charity and the Sunflower Outdoor and Bike — the local bike shop in Lawrence, Kansas owned by Dan Hughes, a four-time winner of Unbound Gravel (formerly known as DK).
The new event features a 111-mile route over undulating terrain that encompasses 8,000 feet of elevation gain — 80 miles of the course will be held on dirt. In a release, Hughes said the key to a good ‘alt-surface’ race is the course and overall vibe of the event.
“A good event should be equal parts suffering, vanquishing challenges, and doing it all for a worthy cause, and BWR Kansas has all of those elements in abundance,” Hughes said. “I look forward to melding our gravel experience with the horsepower of BWR and seeing where it takes us.”