Last year I swore I would never do the BWR again. It rained, the course was changed, and it was mostly a pavement road ride. The Lost Abbey brewery was the halfway point and once we rode by and smelled the malt it was all over. DZ, Eboz, Robbie and I either crashed out or abandoned and the Lost Abbey’s siren song was too alluring. We drank some great beer and had some good laughs but I had no desire to go back. I race mountain bikes, I don’t know how to pace line and I’m freakishly un-aerodynamic.
Since Cervelo was the title sponsor this year they sent Dave a C5 and somehow got him to commit again, and, I’m notoriously bad with peer pressure and couldn’t turn down the invite to join. Why not. I missed the Rock Cobbler in February due to my wife’s frequent contractions and the fear of missing baby Reese’s birth so I was ready to get dirty on the RSL.
After debating whether to drive or ride from the hotel Dave and I rolled in around 6:15. Driving was the smart choice. There was tons of parking. I checked in, pinned my number and had horrible road race flashbacks. All several hundred of us lined up around 6:45 and stood in the cold until about 7:05. The silence being broken by the gun shot explosion of tubeless tires blowing off rims and the vapor cloud of Stan’s. Dudes- you can’t run tubeless 28’s at 120psi.
The start was neutral and casual. Way more chill than the last year. I witnessed no crashes, however, there were more tire explosions.
There was the usual jockeying for position and just before the first dirt section I managed to jump into the top 15. Positioning here was crucial. It was hilarious to watch roadies flail and flop around in the dirt and sand. I managed to jump about 8 or 9 places heading into the dirt single track and was on Josh Berry’s wheel the whole time. He seemed surprised about the challenging terrain but we both summoned our MTB backgrounds and flew through.
I got a little cocky. I was flying along and feeling great and at mile 25 it cost me. An off camber fire road section sent me flying off the bike at about 30mph. It was Cedar City deja vu. I went one way and the Moots went the other. I managed not to get hit by the other riders. I surveyed the damage- my bars were cockeyed and I was bloody on my left side but the bars straightened right out and I was back in action. It was hard to think about riding another 120 miles all banged up but I gave it a shot.
When I hit the pavement again it was just myself and another rider. I forget his name but he was super nice. Oh and as a side note- everyone was ridiculously nice, it felt way more like a MTB atmosphere. After a few miles we looked back and realized we were about to get swallowed by a group of 15 so we sat up. The lead group of 5 was gone and we might as well save some energy.
We hit the first KOM climb about mile 50 and I looked up and caught sight of the lead group and the support cars about 3 minutes ahead. Our little peloton was slowing down and my legs felt great so I made a gamble and decided to try and chase them down. It payed off big time. I bridged the gap and caught Josh Berry, Scott Lundy, Phil Tintsman and the two other riders on the second climb. Lundy was genuinely happy to see me and I was beyond happy to be with the leaders.
We had work to do. Not being a real road racer I’m used to slogging hours on my own and unfamiliar with the delicacy of a double pace line. These dudes were more than patient. I finally got the hang of it and hopefully the size of my slipstream made up for the deficiency of my technique.
The best part about being in the lead group is a) the CHP escort and b) the supports cars. Intersections are blocked and bottles are handed at the flick of a wrist. This was beyond my comprehension and as such I ate and drank more than just about every precious race combined. I felt amazing.
We hit the long second KOM fire road climb and two guys popped. It was just Phil, Josh, Lundy and myself. I had a feeling that I was the weakest rider and just tried to hang on. Josh broke at the top of the climb and we were drained. On the descent we were pushing hard to chase him down. Weaving around cars and traffic at 50mph is terrifying but at least we were behind the photo car so I tried to look cool. That’s what really counts. If I went headfirst into an oncoming bus the photog would have had an amazing angle on it.
We reeled Josh in just before more dirt singletrack. He stopped to pee. He caught back on. These crazy road pros. I had to pee my bibs several times. I didn’t have a prayer of stopping and then catching these guys.
Josh broke away around mile 100. He was gone. A minute and a half. Then forty seconds. So close. By the time we were on the long road climb by the reservoir Phil, Lundy and I were cooked. It was a pitiful sight. I tired to hold Scott’s wheel but just kept slipping off. Sorry Phil. I was an anchor and around 118 the guys dropped me when we hit the single track again. Mile 125 we were back in the road and I was filled with…something. I came back to life and out my head down. The details are foggy and I was fighting delirium but I overtook a bonking Phil around the oasis and caught a glimpse of Lundy as we were cresting Double Peak. I was in third and hanging on. Mile 140-146 was a screaming descent of trail and then busy pavement. I knew at 40mph and a few minutes left I wasn’t catching Scott but no one was catching me. I was stoked. I had hoped for a top 20 finish so I was really surprised.
I finally do get the appeal of this gravel grinder scene. It really is the best of both worlds- the terrain, the speed, the comradarie. Josh was a machine and ended up soloing the last 40 miles and winning by 20 minutes. Amazing.
The after party was great- the highlight being waffles smothered with ice cream, syrup and whipped cream. I had several. Waiting 4 hours for awards was a bit tedious but gave me time to reload for more waffles. What a day. Just to finish was beyond impressive. There were many times I wanted to call it a day- and had we wound our way by the brewery I just might have.
BWR Racing Setup- 10 Speed Coffee, Moots Vamoots RSL, Ergon SR3 Pro Carbon Saddle, Schwalbe Pro One 28 tubeless tires, Skratch Labs, Fulcrum Racing Zero wheel set, Shimano Ultegra groups, Garmin Vector Pedals, Alé Kit.