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Gravel

Groad Trip: Belgian Waffle Ride Quadrupel Crown

BWR Kansas provided dynamic and dramatic end of season racing, and I achieved a season-long goal

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I am participating in and supportive of the Life Time Grand Prix series, but those six races only scratch the surface of the wealth of gravel and off-road races.

Due to the robust prize purse and media attention, many racers chose to focus almost exclusively on that series. For me, there are too many other illustrious events to focus on just those from a single organizer. The Belgian Waffle Ride races are a crucial component of the US gravel scene and are an illustrious entity with their own unique flare.

Thus, when I laid out my season’s goals, the overall BWR series title was a major objective.

Read also: Flavia Oliveira Parks and Pete Stetina win Belgian Waffle Ride Quadrupel Crown series

The Quadrupel Crown was based on time this year, adding together a rider’s cumulative finishes from California, North Carolina, Utah, and Kansas. Next year, the folks at BWR are moving to a points system, adding the dynamic of picking and choosing the races better suited to one’s characteristics. The time-based challenge this year meant it was all about damage control.

BWR’s template is one of diabolical sectors. Rather than a straightforward race, the course designers delight in serving up a few sections that truly test a rider’s bike handling and courage. I call it the underbiking world series, because the recipe for success is still an efficient pedal-friendly setup that is just robust enough to survive the gnarly sections. If one were to opt for a setup for the rough stuff they’d lose time and energy over the remaining 80 percent of the day.

I’d suffered through BWR California with a freshly broken wrist to limit my losses, and won North Carolina and Utah. Griffin Easter was sitting in second and I had a healthy 20 minute lead on him starting Kansas, but we all know how even a single tire slice can erase tens of minutes in gravel. My priority was to button up the title, but I wasn’t about to be conservative; I also came to race hard to honor the Lawrence event.

A concussed shifter and a neutral zone attack

While only one hour from the gravel mecca of Emporia and Unbound’s flint hills, Lawrence’s terrain couldn’t feel more different. The dirt roads are a more maintained champagne gravel and it’s much hillier. But in-between those rolling Gucci Gravel roads, we detour into sinuous cyclocross-style sectors, replete with rock gardens, off camber corners, and steep ravine run ups.

The race started hard, with continuous attacks. By the halfway mark we had a group of 20 as we entered the dynamic Perry Lake trail. The race was on, and mid-way through we had to roll over an old oil drum serving as a creek’s stepping stone. I failed to pull up enough and promptly endo’d, well actually my body fully scorpioned (YouTube that term and enjoy).

Luckily I was OK, but my bike was not. I’d bent my shifter in and after straightening I tried to shift and … nothing! I was single speeding and stuck in a small climbing gear. I checked all the cables of my electronic shifting and while everything seemed intact, I figured I must have ripped a junction internally.

As I pedaled away, I planned on stopping at the next road and troubleshooting. I couldn’t believe it, the series was slipping out of my fingers with three hours to go!

BWR Kansas
Stetina exiting one of BWR Kansas’s “diabolical” singletrack sectors (Photo: BWR photo pool)

Miraculously, five minutes after the fall, my gears started clicking! Somehow I must have given my shifter a concussion, slamming it so hard as to send it into shock. Luckily Shimano’s system is robust and it woke back up and jumped into action. I slammed a caffeine gel and got chasing, minutes down. Up ahead, Griffin had opened up a healthy lead over the other contenders and had made a solo pursuit for overall glory, knowing he had minutes to gain in the standings it was an all or nothing move.

Luckily for me, Nicolas Roche, a fellow WorldTour-to-gravel convert, was here to experience the US scene. He was struggling in the technical bits and we linked up behind the front group. With his massive engine we put the pressure on. Catching, attacking the chasers — eventually we caught Griffin. The race was reset, I was still in this.

Over the next hours we whittled down the group further. As we entered the infamous Snake Farm trails only six riders remained.

It was dicey and the lead changed probably four times in that trail network. Upon exiting we were only three with 15 miles to go and one more singletrack section. It was Griffin, Adam Roberge, and myself. It was clear this would be the final podium. We shared the load to establish our gap until right before the final section.

Here is where BWRs differ from many events: adhering to their origins as a road event with off-road sectors, there is a lead support car for the front group. As long as you stay in front you can get neutral bottles on the fly like a road race, only once you’re out of the running you need to stop at aid stations.

Right before the final section, the car pulled along side us and said ‘last chance for a bottle.’ Griffin and I moved over and as our hands touched the bottles, Adam attacked as hard as he could. We were very unimpressed, to put it mildly. That’s not something either of us would have pulled, but all we could do about it was begin to chase.

Griffin Easter, Adam Roberge, Stetina, and Brennan Wertz lead the charge (Photo: BWR photo pool)

We entered the final single track 15 seconds behind, resolute to catch him in the technical bits. Alas, it was never to be. This final section of trail is a real maze and early in the section, the course arrows diverged from the GPS. It’s a tough split second decision when in full flight. Griffin and I elected to follow the chalk arrow on the ground while Adam followed the GPS track. Our way added half a kilometer of more technical trail and with that we’d never see Adam again. We rolled in together with me edging Griffin in the sprint for silver.

A debate ensued.

It could be argued either way: did Adam cut the course, or did Griffin and I detour longer? Furthermore, it’s so canopied and the network of trails so dense that it makes it difficult to navigate on the fly. The GPS track could be right, or it could be a glitchy straight line plot between two data points. In the end it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to win by a relegation, and Adam had no ill intention.

We stayed downtown, experiencing Lawrence’s scene. All riders received a gift card to use for food at a multitude of establishments. In proper autumnal fashion, mine went towards a Bavarian pretzel and multiple beers. Now it’s time to recover for Big Sugar this weekend, the finale of the Life Time series and my 2022 season. I find myself in a podium hunt despite all my personal struggles this year!