Heather Jackson Previews the BWR Cedar City Course
Ed. Note—2020, of course, has been a tough year for racing, but a few events in remote locations have shown a safe return can be accomplished, and the Belgian Waffle Ride's new incarnation in Utah is "go" for October 18th. Heather Jackson and Sam Long, two of the Wattie Ink. professional triathletes, will attend, and we caught up with HJ to ask her about her recent course reconnaissance. We also touched base with Michael Marckx, the director of BWR, about how he designs courses, and his process for Cedar City.
The Belgian Waffle Ride planned to unveil two new events in 2020, adding Asheville, N.C., and Cedar City, UT to its iconic Escondido, CA race. 2020 had other plans, of course, and now the Utah event will be the only one of the three to go ahead as planned. The course designers have traveled out to Cedar City several times, the latest trip coinciding with Heather Jackson's winter relocation to her training grounds in Tucson, AZ. We caught up with the champ about graveling on the Cedar City course and how she is preparing for the event.
The course designers tell us to prepare for wind. Is it as windy as advertised?
Yeah, it is windy for sure, and it's a strong wind. It'll definitely matter if it's blowing directly north-south or east-west, because most of the course runs north-south. Two of the days we rode it was always from the north, so the first thirty miles were straight into the wind. Then after the first KOM you turn west and drop back down south, and you fly for a bit. But...as far down as you go, you have to come all the way back up into that wind! And then right before the climb, between miles 85 and 105 you basically ride in a rectangle, and you get the wind from every direction.
Is dealing with the wind any different on your gravel bike than it is on a TT bike?
For me, kind of. I try to get as low as I can and obviously you're in a different position from a TT bike, but I try to ride all my bikes like a TT bike because that's the position I'm strongest in. So yes, I definitely get forward on the nose of the saddle and then try to settle in. That's why I run the same ISM saddle on my gravel bike as I do on my TT bike. I think the reason the race organizers reported the wind as so crazy is that there are a lot of straight stretches, like twenty miles in one direction and then twenty miles back. You'll have to be ready to sit in the wind for a long time, which means finding a group will be key. But if you're not in a group, you have to be ready to ride like a triathlete!
Is there any section that really stands out in your memory as either extra fun or extra hard?
The climb! I don't usually say that, because I like to climb! I was pretty thrashed when we did it because I did it on the last day of four hard days of riding, so I was already tired, getting a little irritable. I'm hoping it's not as bad as it felt when we rode it! I can't even think of a triathlon that has a pitch as steep—it's steeper than the climb out of Lake San Antonio at Wildflower. It's straight up, and you can't really stand because it's sandy! On the positive side, the steepness varies, switching between "Whoa, this is really steep," and almost flat, so you have places where you can recover. But it's almost four miles, and towards the end of the day, so you'll really want to be fueled for it!
How about the single track section towards the end?
It's cool. It's a little rocky, so you should watch yourself because flatting there would be the worst thing. There are definitely sharp rocks, but it's very rideable. It is super twisty and curvy though, and up and down. I'd say the biggest challenge will be fatigue at that point. There's a ledge off to the side with a not-insignificant fall, so you'll really want to stay focused. Lots of switchbacks, lots of S-curves, lots of ups and downs, and you're already bonking. The riders doing The Wafer may also be mixing in at that point, so managing traffic will also be something to consider.
How are you going to approach it tactically?
For me it will be important to be in a group because of the wind. I'll be aiming to be the closest I can be to the front, but without blowing all my matches! When we rode with the recon group I was like "Is this a joke? Is this how the race is going to be?" because it was just a bunch of guys in a group ride, going all out from the gun. I don't think it will be like that, since on the day of the race people will be facing over 100 miles, and we never rode more than 80 during recon. The big thing for me will be to avoid ending up alone during that windy, exposed twenty miles. After that, I think I'll be OK, since the longer the race the better it will be for me. After 90 miles people will begin to blow up, so not burning too many matches before that will be important. I am used to longer races, so I think that's one place where the advantage swings in my direction.
How about equipment? We hear you're running a new set of IRCs
The Boken double cross. They're pretty tready, almost like a mountain bike tire, but just a little bit less chunky. They mount a bit wider than the other Bokens, and seemed to grab this sandy gravel better. I slid around a bit less than normal, so I'm pretty stoked on them.
How about tire pressure? What did you run for the different days that you were riding?
I've been running pretty hard because we've also been riding on the roads a lot recently. The first few days I tried about 35, and then one day we went all the way down to just above 20, and it felt horrible. I could barely move. I felt like I was pushing a flat tire through snow. I went back up to 30 the next day. And that felt pretty good, so I'll most likely go 30 in the front and 32 in the rear.
Switching gears, we asked Michael Marckx about designing the Cedar City course, about which he had the following to say:
"For Cedar City, the approach I took was very different than the SD and Asheville courses. The Asheville course mimics the SD one in terms of road to dirt ratio and complexion of the terrain, but for CC, the area is so ripe with gravel roads and trails that had never even been ridden. So for the riders signed up for this inaugural event, they will go on trails that have rarely seen a bike tread. The CC course takes place at altitude, where most of the course takes place around 5,800 feet, but the highest point at mile 110 is 6,700 feet.
"As with the BWR in SD, I needed to add something that would make people feel uncomfortable, beyond the crazy climb at the end, and despite the urging from the locals who we had originally engaged to suggest routing, we added a 4.4-mile technical mountain bike sector that I easily rode on 32mm tires, which told me we had to include this sector at all costs. The fact that locals were saying we were crazy and that they would refuse to do the event if it was going to be that hard made it certain in my mind that was the correct way to go.
"It’s already surprising to me when people who ride a lot are still looking to have an easy, Grand Fondo type event, rather than a full-on spring class like event. Every year for BWR SD I was confronted with people who would say I needed to make it easier, so I kept making it harder. What that did was weed out the poseurs and attract real riders who wanted a challenge. In fact, the prime motivator for me, after moving back to SD and immersing myself in the peloton here, was the fact that we would have these group rides and lesser riders would somehow still be in the group for sprints. My idea was to make it so hard for these riders they just couldn’t sit in; they’d get dropped and be on their own. This ultimately meant that those riders would never do the event. That kind of rider also inspired the Purple Card. Everyone was given a purple card before the race and they could pull it out and serve it to riders who were just being Freddie Freeloaders. That card meant that the rider had to go to the front and take a pull.
"Back to CC, the course is 75% off-road and 25% road. There are proper gravel sectors, but also lots of dirt sectors. The tire requirements are wide is better: 40mm or more.
"The course, as any good BWR one would do, confronts riders with an ever changing terrain and wind scenarios. There are so many varied sectors that riders will be on their toes. Worse, or better, riders must pay attention every inch of the way, which means they will get tired a lot quicker…not just from the wind and energy-zapping gravel, but from the treacheries of the more technical single- and double-tracks, the sand and the bumps, holes and debris. I did about ten versions of the CC course and it is nothing like the original ones suggested to me by the locals, and I'm proud of that. I think that any good course reveals itself through iteration, and I'm confident BWR Cedar City will be great in its inaugural year."