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Given the popularity of mass-start events featuring dirt routes and drop-bar bikes, it’s easy to understand how the Belgian Waffle Ride can be mistaken for a gravel event.
Closer inspection reveals that even though the 200+ kilometre route through northern San Diego County is defined by multiple dirt sectors making up a third of its distance and a majority of the elevation gain, the reality is this is a road race at heart. It’s just that the dirt sectors can make or break the race for any rider — or bike.
A diverse event attracts a diverse assortment, and the seventh edition of the Belgian Waffle Ride, held Sunday, brought out riders with experience in Grand Tours, mountain bike, ITU triathlon, road racing, and even fixed-gear crits. At some point on the course, all these skills became useful.
With a course that traversed everything from creek crossings to high-desert summits, and surfaces from smooth pavement to mile-long bone-jarring rock gardens, no one bike or rider would be consistently perfect. At some point in this race, every rider could count on having the right skills and equipment — and also the wrong skills and equipment.
In the end, Brian McCulloch (Elevate-KHS) took the win in the men’s field with just a half-second margin over Ted King, an unbelievably slim margin for a mass-start event over varied terrain, and the closest finish in BWR history.
But just to show how fortune can change in an event like this, the women’s defending champion Larissa Connors (Sho-Air) bested her competition by 30 minutes, with Laura King holding off Alison Tetrick by a few minutes.
In the men’s race, two dirt sectors and Highland Avenue established a select group of about two dozen, and once they approached the Black Canyon climb, riders and existing Strava records began to fall off quickly. The 10 survivors to make it out of Black Canyon together included multi-time Ironman winner Jordan Rapp, Ted King, multi-time Red Hook Crit winner Colin Strickland, and McCulloch, the eventual winner.
Cooperating on the open road but consistently attacking in the hills and the dirt, this group stayed mostly intact until McColloch launched forward and crossed through the final aid station with slightly over a minute in front of the rest. With the formidably steep Double Peak climb still in front of them, King went on own to close down the gap and the two returned to Lost Abbey Brewery together. McCulloch managed to make it to the last corner first in full criterium mode, and narrowly claimed victory after six hours and thirty-four minutes of ride time.
The popularity of this type of mass start event and this event in particular has attracted Canyon Bicycles as a multi-year sponsor, and race director Michael Marckx has indicated the event will see in increase in depth and profile in coming editions. A 30% attrition rate during the day shows the challenge of the Belgian Waffle Ride, and its 1200 starters gives an indication of the appeal of that challenge.