Belgian Waffle Ride
by Michael Green • November 03, 2022
For those who aren’t aware, the Belgian Waffle Ride series is currently five races across the USA and a mainstay on the gravel circuit. The BWR races claim to be “unroad” and makes tire selection a bit like cyclocross - trying to find the best out of what you have. The problem is they don’t drop the route until the day before. For BWR Michigan, it was billed as 50% road, 50% unroad with 10,000 feet of climbing over 135 miles and unroad consisting of gravel, sand, seasonal roads, two track, singletrack and as I would learn water apparently.
I’d been stressing all week about gearing and tire choices wanting enough for the roads and light enough for the inevitable climbing and singletrack. I decided on 42T upfront and an 11x36 cassette with some filetread 42mm tires. Fingers crossed.
An early morning start, it was dark as we lined up in the coral. Sun started to give enough light for race start and at 7:30 Dave Towle announced the gravel pro’s and gave us our starting orders.
The race start was a quick zip across the property where I tried to make up some spots to be assured of getting a good group. A quick downhill lead to a two mile climb which had me a bit concerned of immediate fireworks. Thankfully the pace was mellow and I remained in touch with the pro field.
The next twenty miles was simply hammering the rollers around the far south end of the course. At times I was literally the last person holding onto the World Tour pace of the front group as others were getting spat out. There must have been fifty in total at this time and much like many gravel races, I was hoping for the pace to reduce as a selection was made. No such luck.
I was very aware of the potential to blow up too soon and only half heartedly tried to close gaps using as little power as possible. Eventually I let them go. I knew they’d be others like me overextending themselves - I’ll see them later. A short dirt section lead to some flowy singletrack on which I was so glad I was riding a cyclocross bike, the geometry was snappy enough to be ideal, and my tire selection was perfect. As I exited the singletrack onto a double track trail I came on a group of another twelve or so. I sat with the group as we rolled up and down the hills eventually coming upon some gravel.
I didn’t want to get into trouble by sitting at the back and letting gaps open up and so I moved up into the front of the group. I was conscious that I hadn’t finished my first bottle and stupidly started to drink, following wheels on a down hill. Sand had built up on the bottom and I was riding one handed. I tried to keep upright but I wasn’t so lucky and fell still holding my bottle - why didn’t I throw it??? The sand made a soft landing but I’d lost the group again. I quickly remounted and made up some gaps but I’d lost touch with the large group.
There I rode for the next thirty miles or so, others catching my wheel, me catching others, but never being more than three of us sharing pulls. I was feeling pretty good, mile sixty-six was entry into the next singletrack section where I intended to use the flow to make up some spots and I did - it was awesome, I was catching and dropping others quite easily. I took a bottle at the end from Mrs. Green and headed out on the next loop which was mostly blacktop and hills. Within the hour I was back to pick up three more bottles and food - two thirds of the way through, I was feeling good and intended to catch more and make up time hoping for technical terrain.
I was happy with my riding, I was catching others and dropping them as they tried to stay on my wheel. My strength was the slight uphill sandy climbs, singletrack and sandy, fast downhills. My weakness for the day was my pack riding on the roads and that I’d chosen to where road shoes and pedals which became a real nuisance as the race progressed as more and more hills became simply unrideable and clipping in after a hike-a-bike was becoming difficult and wasted unnecessary time. River crossings and part of the Iceman Cometh route came and went. I almost cleared the famous Anita’s Hill until my rear wheel slipped and entered the final VASA singletrack section. I was still catching others but by now the race was super stretched out. There wasn’t much group riding as the various different sections of unroad exposed the weaknesses of each rider meaning the whole front of the race was in ones or twos. I’d been on my own for 70% of the time, or there abouts and I was tired.
As we rode back into the finishing area, the race headed straight up the local ski hill, it was a total slap across the face. After 134 miles of hard riding and plenty of underbiking, this hill was just mean. I finished 31st overall for the day. BWR is an open race with no class awards but I was definitely happy with the result. Eight hours in the saddle was made extremely plush by my Bikeman Giordana FR-C pro shorts and chamois, in fact I had no thoughts of any discomfort, not once. If a Belgian Waffle Ride is local to you, or a potential destination race, register!! It’ll test you, irritate you and you’ll question yourself, yet it was a fun challenge, a really great adventure.