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There was mud, singletrack, cyclocross barriers, and a bit of course confusion at the 111-mile Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas, which was won by Tokyo Olympian Tiffany Cromwell and Arkansas racer Tanner Ward.
Unlike many other gravel races, women and men race separately at the Belgian Waffle Ride events, of which this was the fourth and final stop of the year.
In the women’s race, Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM), Flavia Oliveira (Excel Sports), and Hannah Shell (Cervélo-Kask-Shimano) went clear early coming out of Lawrence, Kansas.
After Cromwell’s pace distanced Shell, Oliveira forced her way off the front alone. And for a time, the three women time trialed separately over the rolling Kansas hills in the wind.
In addition to straightforward gravel roads, BWR Kansas also featured miles of singletrack, and a 6.5-miles section dubbed the Snake Pit that covered part of a local cyclocross course, complete with two barriers, twisty off-camber sections, and rocks aplenty.
Coming out of that section near the end, Cromwell caught and passed Oliveira.
“That was very long,” Cromwell said at the finish. “Satisfying to win, of course. Flavia [Oliveira] was super strong at the start. When she got away early, I thought, I’m gone. I just rode my own pace, played the long game. That was like 40km in, super early. When I caught up to her, I thought, oh wow. But you could see she hit the wall, so I just had to plug on to the end.”
“I went through every emotion,” Cromwell said. “I was cramping, I fought through that. I was hunger flat, I saved myself from that.”
Course arrows, or the GPX route?
Race organizers made a last-minute change to one section of the course and announced at the start that riders should follow course markings like arrows instead of the GPX file that the race had distributed.
At that changed point of the course, the two leading women followed the arrows, but then did a U-turn when their computers beeped at them, saying they were off course. At this point, the lead media vehicle flagged them down and told them, no, the course arrows are correctly indicating the course, so they again U-turned and continued on.
At the same point a few minutes later, Shell followed the course on her Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. She saw a few male riders who were coming the other way, and eventually realized she needed to flip around. When she returned to the junction in question, fourth- and fifth-placed riders Sarah Flamm and Danielle Larson had arrived, and she pointed them to follow the arrows.
Larson finished third — but believed at the finish that she was fourth behind Flamm. Then, after Flamm arrived and explained that she had missed another turn when they were each riding alone, the women’s podium was solidified.
Roberge, Keller, Magee, Villafano follow GPX route
In the men’s race, a similar thing happened, but at the front of the race.
BWR Triple Crown winner Adam Roberge, who just won Big Sugar Gravel last weekend, came into Lawrence as the hands-down favorite.
At the changed point on the course, he and John Keller (Specialized), Jake Magee (Cervélo-Kask-Shimano), and Geno Villafano (Jamison Capital-Cannondale) were leading the race. They consulted their computers and followed the route.
Ward powers through the mud
Meanwhile, another quartet motored on, having followed the signs, also believing they were at the front of the race. That group of four contained Ward (First Internet Bank), Christopher Prendergast (Jamison Capital-Cannondale), Ethan Overson (Cinch), and Alex Hoehn (Wildlife Generation).
The ‘Snake Pit’ proved decisive. Ward entered the sector first, which began with a mowed and deeply saturated hillside, and quickly funneled into a mix of rocky singletrack and an actual cyclocross course.
Ward put in an effort, and pried open a gap. Pendergast chased alone behind, followed by Overson and Hoehn.
From there, open and often tailwind-buffeted gravel roads led to a final singletrack sector along the Kansas River, which was tight and windy but much smoother than the Snake Pit.
Pendergast put in a final dig in his chase to Ward — pulling to within a few bike lengths in the closing meters, but Ward held his advantage to the line, and celebrated his win.
“I have done a lot of gravel races this year: SBT GRVL, BWR San Diego. And I just had some bad luck with crashes, mechanicals,” said Ward, who this year won the Arkansas state road, time trial, and criterium titles. “So, I just thought I would show up to this one, give it one last shot before the season was done, and got it to work out.”
Behind, Roberge rolled across the line in seventh, and the Canadian was not celebrating. He spoke with race promoter Michael Marckx, insisting that he won. Magee chimed in that Roberge was indeed the strongest out there, and that their quartet was simply following the route provided by the race on their computers.
Marckx told them that the course change was announced at the start, where racers were told to follow the arrows, not their computers.
Women’s BWR Kansas Podium
- Tiffany Cromwell, 6:44:59.88
- Flavia Oliveira, 6:54:59.84
- Danielle Larson, 7:03:25.17
Men’s BWR Kansas Podium
- Tanner Ward, 5:43:22.32
- Christopher Prendergast, 5:43:22.73
- Ethan Overson, 5:44:24.61