Canadians triumph at Belgian Waffle Ride BC

Haley Smith and Rob Britton win the inaugural gravel race.

Photo: Unroad UNLTD

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Canadians Haley Smith and Rob Britton won at home on Sunday, taking the wins at the inaugural Belgian Waffle Ride BC.

The race debuted on Vancouver Island and featured the BWR signature mix of ‘unroad’ and pavement. The Waffle course was 219km/136mi with 2600m/8,500ft of climbing. 50 percent of the course was ‘unroad’ (“long, muddy, wet, dry, rocky, loose, hilly, ugly”).

BWR 2023 calendar

Riders from any type of cycling background have been known to be successful at BWR events, and the British Columbia race was no different.

“It took everything I love from every discipline and put it into one,” Smith said.

The women’s podium represented that wide swath backgrounds — Smith is part of the endurance MTB/gravel elite, Austin Killips, Rebecca Fahringer, and Katerina Nash are current and former ‘cross pros, and Flavia Oliveira Parks is a former Olympian road cyclist and current gravel pro.

Vancouver Island is known for its techy BC singletrack, and the race organizers wasted no time in getting riders on trail. The first singletrack came in less than 10 miles from the start; Smith said that most riders used it to make an early selection.

“It was pretty decisive,” she said,” and most people put in a full gas effort for the first singletrack.” 

Haley Smith and Katerina Nash (Photo: Unroad UNLTD)

Smith and Nash, former World Cup pros, were the first to descend the initial singletrack; Killips later bridged up to the two. The three formed a relatively tight trio among other riders for the first few hours of the race. When Nash and some of the others stopped to pee about 2.5 hours in, Killips and Smith soldiered on. About an hour later, Smith rode away from Killips.

Smith said that, despite the technical nature of the course, pack riding was essential throughout the many miles of road riding. She rode with others until the final 40 minutes of the race — “a massive climb.”

Killips rolled in 18 minutes behind Smith, who, despite having worked the race into her Unbound training, hopes that six days is enough to recover.

Britton, who lives in Victoria, not far from the race course, said that the combination of legit BC singletrack and relentless climbing on dirt and gravel road made anticipating how the race would play out challenging.

“But it made for some fun times to be honest, it’s rare you get a ride legitimate mountain bike single track in these events that I’ve done. Honestly the course raced a lot better than it rode in training.”

In terms of dynamics, Britton said that after the mountain bikers pushed the pace to make the first singletrack sector, the race played out in a typical fashion.

“Maybe because of the lack of depth it was a little more relaxed in the middle section of the race as riders were playing it a bit coy before the big climb on the backend,” he said. “Plus it’s just so easy to draft (on pavement) and if there’s no one off the front people weren’t overly keen to ride for the sake of riding as no one was going to catch us from behind either.

“It was nice countryside so I guess if nothing else we did a bit of sightseeing!”

Britton’s did most of the sightseeing alone, however — the former Canadian national road champion turned off-road pro — made an impressive break with 100km to go.

“This race was a big target for me as soon as it was announced, and as the day got closer I became more and more focussed on the event and the tactics I wanted to use to try to win it,” he said.

Britton topped a nearly all-Canadian podium, with Irishman Nicolas Roche as the outlier in second place. Road cyclist Evan Russell was third, and mountain bike pros Carter Nieuwesteeg and Geoff Kabush rounded out the podium in fourth and fifth.

Full results here. 

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