The Grind: Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City kicks off Saturday

First big gravel race since The Mid South in April scheduled with distanced waves and extensive set of COVID-19 protocols.

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The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

While the majority of gravel races were canceled along with so many other events this year, a few smaller competitions have started to pop back up. This Saturday, the inaugural Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City is slated to be the biggest gravel race since The Mid South in April, but the event will look and feel quite a bit different than the highly packed original Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego.

For starters, there is the start: Instead of a mass of a thousand-plus riders bunched up at the line, BWR is corralling groups of 50 riders into pods. Further, individuals in each pod won’t be packed in together like at the start of a cyclocross race, but instead will be lined out along a road, each rider six feet apart from the other.

This Belgian Waffle Ride will look quite a bit different than San Diego, for a few reasons.

All told, the start ‘line’ will be roughly a half-mile long with riders spaced out at intervals along it. And masks are required for all participants at the start and through the feed zones, which will also be socially distanced and set up for self-service with individually packaged items and sanitization.

There are two distances: a 78-mile Wafer and the 125-mile Waffle. Both will begin with a four-mile neutralized start. Inevitably, groups will come together initially, but race promoter Michael Marckx believes the course’s climbing and technical nature will quickly parse riders out into smaller bunches.

Who is coming: Former winners, pro roadies, triathletes, and mountain bikers

TJ Eisenhart checking out the Cedar City course.

The current start list contains more than 500 riders, including a number of high-profile riders from various disciplines.

Former BWR winners slated to start include Pete Stetina, Neil Shirley, and Brian McCulloch.

From mountain biking, you have riders like 2019 Rebecca’s Private Idaho winner Kaysee Armstrong, former worlds bronze medalist Kathy Pruitt, and 2019 Leadville winner Rose Grant. Current US XC champion Keegan Swenson, who recently set an Everesting world record, is a ‘maybe.’

From triathlon, you have five-time Ironman champion Heather Jackson, who will be doing her second gravel race — or her first, if you don’t count the canceled-midway Old Man Winter in February. Also on the start list are top athletes like two-time Olympian Tyler Butterfield, seven-time Ironman champion Ben Hoffman, and four-time Ironman 70.3 winner Sam Long.

Race organizer Michael Marckx expects the course to quickly pare down the field into small bunches.

And from the road scene, you have riders like 2014 Gent-Wevelgem winner Lauren Hall, former U23 time trial champ TJ Eisenhart (who is a gravel racer like Stetina now, to be fair), Rally pro Heidi Franz, along with former pro Burke Swindlehurst, who founded and runs the popular Crusher in the Tushar.

What is the course like?

Whereas the original Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego is essentially a road race with a number of gravel sectors thrown in, the BWR in Cedar City is a bona fide gravel race with a little pavement mixed in.

Cedar City is in the southwest corner of Utah near Zion National Park, and the course sits at about 6,000 feet above sea level.

Held in southwest Utah at an average altitude of 5,800 feet, the long course climbs about 6,000 feet over 125 miles, and includes everything from wide-open gravel roads to straight-up singletrack.

Marckx has written a detailed course explanation that is littered with his signature Dutch/English sector names like Onduiken Eightmile, Hommel Pummel, Muur Desert Mound, and Tarwegras Fulgas. It’s worth a read just for his turns of phrase like “a decidedly deranged climb out called Als stroop een zandheuvel opduwen, which translated from Dutch crudely means, ‘pushing up a sand hill like molasses.'”

A $3,500 purse will be split evenly between men and women, and there are also Strava-based competitions for King/Queen of the Mountain and King/Queen of the Dirt, and Sprinter, where the lowest cumulative time over three segments for each category will determine the winner.

I will be making the drive out from Colorado to do the race, so check back later this week for reports from Cedar City. Or, say hello if we meet at BWR! I’ll be the guy in the mask with a VeloNews kit on.

Besides the overall women’s and men’s titles and prize money, BWR also has a few Strava-based and competitor-vote-based competitions on tap.

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