Ed. Note—on the weekend of October 17th, hundreds of riders traveled to Cedar City, Utah to take part in the Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City, which was supposed to conclude the Tripel Crown of Gravel in this strange and chaotic year. Instead, Cedar City offered many riders their only crack at competition in 2020, and we were there to cover the race and hear how it all went down. Many members of the Wattie Ink. teams attended, including those on the Gravel Collective Project, applications to which open today. Read on to learn about what it's like to take on an event as part of the team, and think about joining us in 2021. 

At the finish line of the inaugural Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City, a racer sought out director Michael Marckx to offer thanks. "He told me 'I really needed this race, thank you,'" Marckx recalls. "Part of that surprised me, because it's just a bike ride, really, but a bigger part of me feels the same way: we've lost so many things this year, and just the act of toeing a line together makes things feel a little less fraught, if only for a little while."

The race gave members of the Wattie Ink. community a chance to race together for one of the few official events of 2020, and they came out in droves with the Elite Team, Hit Squad, and Gravel Collective Project all represented. Professional rider Heather Jackson joined the party, too, taking 4th place overall in her first official gravel race (we're not gonna count Old Man Winter from last February because A) it was called off 20 miles into the event and B) it was all snow, not gravel).

HJ and 2nd place finisher Kathy Pruitt, photo courtesy of LiFT Creative Studios

"BWR Cedar City was awesome. I’m just stoked that I was able to line up at a race at all in 2020," Jackson said. "Honestly, I had no idea what to expect in terms of the race: like how hard will everyone go out? Do people ride in groups or work together? Or more tactical stuff like that, so it was cool to experience that for the first time. I guess it’s tough to judge the 'atmosphere' of the race given the current pandemic in terms of the pre-race vibes and hanging out after, etc. It was a bit different there but mostly because everyone was being cautious and walking that line of having masks on and staying distanced but it was amazing seeing friends that we haven’t seen all year."

Jackson, posting after the ride, called BWR "one of the hardest days ever," and we checked back in with her a few days later to see if that description held up. "Definitely one of the hardest days ever! In my head it was going to be a very solid, hard 125-mile bike ride, which I felt more than confident about in terms of distance and time. I did plenty of prep for that. Where I needed to be sharper was for all of the surges: moments I needed to bridge up to riders or have that ability to go 300 watts for five minutes and then settle back in and then possibly do it again. I definitely wasn’t ready for 125 miles worth of that, so that is something for me to work on in the future. I’m just so used to settling in and time-trialing for 112 miles. The one other thing is that I have always struggled with altitude and Cedar City was very high for me. St. George 70.3 is just down the road and about 2000 feet lower, and that race has always been difficult. I thought that if we came in last minute, I could maybe trick my body for 24 hours, but I literally could not breathe well at all the whole race and kept having to calm myself down from what felt like wheezing/asthma/anxiety attacks where I couldn’t get any air in. So that is part of what made it so hard!"

The BWR course was no joke, as our preview suggested: 125 miles of primarily dirt, studded with singletrack, sand, climbs, and unfamiliar cattle guards. "I'd never seen a cattleguard like that," says GCP member Adam Harita. "In that picture I'm literally about to roll right into it. Steve Driscoll from IRC Tire was standing next to the cattleguard, which looked like a miniature jungle gym, and I shouted 'What do I do?' to which he replied 'Just roll it, man!' He was right! I had one foot unclipped because I was going to walk it, but Steve saved me—I flew over it and didn't look back." Another GCPer, Jake Steen, recalls the cattleguard differently: "I came into that first cattle crossing a little hot, and burped most of the air from my tires. Within a mile or so, I was down to 10 PSI, and every little bump would bottom out my rims. The group I'd been riding with slowly dropped me, and I limped to the next aid station, feeling frustrated and saddened about the prospect of a long, lonely day. Instead, I was over the moon to see three of my teammates waiting for me, and they got my bike serviced while I hit the porta-potty and refueled. My mood shifted back into excitement, and we spent the rest of the day together."

Harita about to tackle the cattleguard, photo courtesy of LiFT Creative Studios

"This was the one and only race I got to do IRL this year," said Stephanie Shew, another teammate. "And I finally got to meet some of the Watties I had been Zwifting with for the year. Our plan for a 'coffee ride' pace was going great until a major mechanical took some precious time and thought I may not finish. Thankfully my teammates Ryan Borrowman and Mike Kirkmire saved the day! I made it through 112 miles in good spirits, until my nemesis of the singletrack section approached. I clearly remember yelling to Ryan, 'I hate mountain biking!' to which he replied 'This would be much easier if you were actually on a mountain bike!' I conquered one of my least favorite things after 100+ miles of dust, and I think my bruised hip and I are almost ready to go back for next year!"

Hoff makes it look easy, photo courtesy of LiFT Creative Studios

Professional triathlete Ben Hoffman got in on the action, too, in his first official gravel race. You can see the infamous cattleguard above that Harita referred to. "I really went into BWR with minimal expectations and tried to keep an open mind. I have been riding a lot of gravel the past two years in training, but I knew the race would be something entirely different, and I was just happy to be on a startline again after a crazy year and long break from events. Fortunately, I do have some off-road experience, including Cape Epic in 2018, so I knew the start would be hectic, and it definitely was. There are plenty of moments in the opening miles of dirt when the group is still large and you cannot see anything unless you are leading, fully enveloped in a dust cloud and saying your prayers," said Hoffman.

"For the future, I might consider going a little less 'race oriented,' and err on the side of caution with regards to tires and tire pressure. Although I believe top ten was reasonable for me had I not flatted, the epic wheel change scenario I experienced completely took me out of any contention, and I would rather give myself a chance by avoiding a mechanical than to squeeze every ounce of performance and ride that edge like we do in on-road races. In the end, I really enjoyed the event and the community that gravel is creating. It feels a little rough around the edges, kind of like my introduction to more old school triathlon 15+ years ago, and I like that."

Following the race, the BWR atmosphere carried over into the evening and following day, as riders and teammates gathered to get some of the camaraderie they'd been starved for all year long. A group of Wattie Ink. riders - professionals, Gravel Collective Project riders, Hit Squadders, and Elite Team members - all gathered behind the host hotel, ordered pizzas, and sat at a campfire talking about the day and catching up. For the first time in almost a year, it felt like old times. It felt like family. 

Sound like something you want to be a part of? Our teams are our pride and joy at Wattie Ink., and we'd love to have you. Apply here.

Your author at the finish, photo courtesy of Wattie Ink.