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On Saturday, the inaugural Belgian Waffle Ride Asheville rolls out in the soggy, rain-soaked Blue Ridge Mountains. The event is the second in the BWR series of 2021, and course designer John Murphy says that the never-ending climbs and technical descents will create ‘an epic race of attrition.’
Gravel racers are spread out across the country this weekend, with events from Nebraska to Montana. Here are the ones to watch on the technical, steep course in North Carolina.
Sofia Gomez Villafañe – back in July, the Clif Pro Team rider crushed the Crusher in the Tushar . . . and won the uber-tough gravel race on a mountain bike. We therefore know the Argentinian can climb. Expect a strong showing from this Olympian who is just off a ninth place finish at SBT GRVL. While Gomez Villafañe, who’s been racing mountain bikes since she was a teen, may still be learning the ropes of gravel racing, she’s clearly catching on.
Tiffany Cromwell – Cromwell crossed the line two seconds ahead of Villafañe in Steamboat Springs in her second gravel event and longest bike ride ever. Another new convert from a different discipline, the Canyon-SRAM rider will be an interesting one to watch in this race, where a win will likely come down more to attrition and less to bunch dynamics.
Flavia Oliveira: Fresh off a third place finish in the stacked pro field at SBT GRVL, keep an eye on this pint-sized climber. Oliveira has come on strong to the gravel scene in 2021, with an impressive third place overall and stage win at the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. She also boldly led the women’s field at Unbound before an unfortunate crash and puncture.
Jill Patterson: In July, Patterson won the Wedu Segment Challenge in Brevard, NC, just down the road from the BWR Asheville course on the 1,200 foot Pilot Mountain Climb. The coach and former roadie owns other notable Strava segments, as well, including Loveland Pass in Colorado. She placed 18th at this year’s BWR San Diego.
Other riders to watch: Tarah Cole-Freter, Marjie Bemis, Hannah Wheatley
Ian Boswell: Gravel has been good to Boswell this year, and in turn, the Boz is good to gravel. The 2021 Unbound winner nearly had another marquee win in Steamboat last weekend, finishing second in a sprint. He also participated (and won stage four of) the inaugural Migration Gravel Race in Kenya. When the Kenyan riders who were supposed to attend SBT GRVL and BWR Asheville had their visa applications denied, Boswell sent his SBT GRVL prize money to the Amani Project, the riders’ team, and sponsor.
Adam Roberge: Roberge is another roadie-to-gravel convert who is quickly learning the ropes. The Canadian finished third at Gravel Locos and fourth at last weekend’s SBT GRVL. For the 24-year-old, Saturday’s punchy course might be the perfect mix of climbing and time trialing
Jeremiah Bishop: BWR Asheville is no Pisgah Stage Race, but knowing this terrain should suit Bishop well. The 45-year-old former pro MTB’er has yet to claim a marquee gravel title, perhaps because he’s been waiting to race on this tricky technical terrain not far from his own Virginia backyard.
Russell Finsterwald: Apparently this marathon mountain biker has a thing for gravel. Finsterwald took the gravel world by storm back in July with his third-place finish at BWR San Diego. Last weekend in Colorado, he stormed to two sixth place finishes at both the Leadville Trail 100 MTB and SBT GRVL, landing him on the second step of the inaugural LeadBoat podium.
Kerry Warner: Pan-american cyclocross champ Warner’s background in nearly every cycling discipline could come in handy at Saturday’s mixed terrain race. The pro ‘cross racer got his start as mountain biker and dabbles in crits and on the road. He placed seventh overall in the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder.
Other riders to watch: Ben Wright, Stephen Vogel, Dylan Johnson