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After a winter of wild weather, even in the warm desert west, there was no easing into things at inaugural Belgian Waffle Ride Arizona on Sunday.
“It was full gas from the start,” Christopher Blevins said.
Blevins finished second in the 122-mile race, getting out-skilled in a sand pit by Keegan Swenson just before the parking lot finish.
Torbjørn André Røed, a Norweigan living in Grand Junction, Colorado was the third man across the line, with Pete Stetina and Russell Finsterwald close behind in fourth and fifth.
According to Stetina, who’s raced a dozen BWR events, “the Arizona course is the most mountain bike-friendly gravel course I’ve done yet. It was basically four hours of singletrack and moto trails to create the selections, then hopefully you had a group for the roadie-friendly finish.”
The singletrack would indeed prove decisive in both the men’s and women’s races; in the men’s race, however, it was “the most insane game of cat and mouse” between Blevins and Swenson that would take the race down to the wire.
Both men are headed to South Africa to race the Cape Epic in a few days; Blevins said that they raced the Arizona gravel race “like a Cape Epic stage, which is really what I came here for.”
“I had my highest heart rate of the year 30 minutes in, higher than Vo2 intervals,” he said.
Shortly after the start, Blevins, Howard Grotts, and Swenson formed an early selection into the first climb. Stetina joined before a mechanical sidelined him for a few minutes at mile 17. In the meantime, Røed caught the trio of mountain bikers after an early dirt descent, and the quartet would ride together for the middle third of the race.
Blevins said that Finsterwald and Lance Haidet came back with 50 miles to go; Stetina rejoined the leaders after 3.5 hours of chasing alone.
Then, the fun started.
“Pete attacked first, then Keegan and I dropped them into last singletrack descent,” Blevins said. “It was just us for the last 10 miles. It was the most insane game of cat and mouse I’ve ever played. We were basically track standing on more than one occasion, just trying not to be the one to lead into the sprint.
“I gapped him a couple times, he crawled his way back. We sprinted into last right hand corner that goes into a sand pit and I got there first. But I bogged down in the sand while he just floated through it. Maybe my line just wasn’t quite as good.”
Blevins also pointed out that his tire choice — 42mm — versus Swenson’s 45s could have been a factor in the sand pit, but he wasn’t making excuses. Coincidentally, Swenson’s beefier tire choice was part of a greater plan to “take some risks I normally wouldn’t at a race that doesn’t matter as much [as the Life Time Grand Prix or Cape Epic].”
“I like to race every race to win,” Swenson said a few days before BWR, “but that said, it’s not always possible. So it’s a treat to have a race without a whole lot of pressure where I can take some risks and race it more aggressively. Gamble on equipment if you need to.”
Sometimes, you gamble and you win.
BWR Waffle Men
- Keegan Swenson
- Christopher Blevins
- Torbjørn André Røed
- Peter Stetina
- Russell Finsterwald
Full results to follow