by Dave Christenson
The Belgian Waffle Ride is a 146 mile race in and around San Marcos, CA. The course takes in 18 dirt sectors ranging from singletrack and steep, pitchy climbs to cyclocross style sand. The dirt makes up 41 miles of the route at different points throughout the course. The course also takes in some 13,000 ft of climbing, some on dirt and some on paved roads.
The H24 team fielded three riders for BWR: Nate Freed, Robbie Chrisman and Dave Christenson. We rode our standard team issue Giant TCRs and Token C28A clinchers wrapped with 28c IRC tires. The race is as much a challenge on equipment as it is on the legs, as any mechanicals can put a serious damper on aspirations for a high placing.
The plan was to try to set up Robbie to be up in the front group and hopefully to get Nate and myself there as well. So, after some pre-riding and some insight from Nate, (who’d ridden all the dirt sections previously) we figured that the first two dirt sections would be where the race’s first major selection would happen.
The race rolled out at about 7am and the first 18 miles were neutral. This was the most nerve wracking part of the race, rolling through with a group of 250 riders all jockeying to be near the front. Finally, a long false flat just before the first section of dirt came and we were able to move to the front. The first section was ridden full gas in a long single file line of riders and no opportunity to move up. Coming off the first dirt section there were already huge gaps and riders scrambling to get back to the front… then a quick regroup of an already reduced field, and we hit a second, longer section of dirt that would really separate the top riders from the rest. This section was very technical, with it mostly on singletrack and lots of climbs and descents. It was ridden full gas as well, and I found myself a bit too far back. My ride was hampered even more by riders who’d flat or crash or not be able to hold the wheel in front. I had to find any opportunity to get around them as they wouldn’t move off the singletrack so I’d ride off course through the tall weeds and hope there wasn’t a rock or hole that would toss me off my bike. A final steep pitch of a barely rideable climb and we were back onto paved road. I managed to come off the dirt in the second group with Nate and Robbie had made the select front group with 4 or 5 other riders. This was all in the span of the first 25 miles of the race, and the field was already shredded with only about 40 riders still in contention!
The group Nate and I were in started chasing, and we were initially content to just sit in and get pulled along having Robbie up the road. We came to another dirt section at around mile 35 or 40, and I saw Robbie changing his flat tire on the side of the gravel path we were on. I waited for him and Nate stayed with the main group. I tried to make it as easy for Robbie as possible as we chased the main group finally getting back on after about 25 minutes of riding pretty hard. Robbie did a lot of work to chase as well.
Once back into the main group there wasn’t much cohesion for a chase. Nate, Robbie and I went to the front and swapped turns for a while, but guys would attack and it just wasn’t a smooth or very motivated group. I suppose everyone was still afraid to go too deep with about 90 miles still left to race. It was about this time that I noticed that Robbie was no longer in our group. I wasn’t sure what had happened to him and Nate had no clue either, so we just kept riding.
We came to the day’s next big shake up in the form of a long dirt climb followed by a long dirt descent. When the group hit the bottom of the climb a couple of riders hit it pretty hard and I just followed them. When I looked back a few minutes later I saw the group in tatters and found myself off the front of the main group with 5 other riders. We swept up along the way including Jon Hornbeck (Holowesko/Citadel), Steve Weiss, John Behrens, and a few others I can’t recall. We worked well together for the next hour and a half. The fatigue was definitely taking its toll on concentration, as every dirt section it seemed one rider in the group would crash or get thrown off the bike when we hit some deeper sand.
With about 25 miles to go after a long dirt section, our group split and I found myself dropped with one other rider, John Behrens. It was agonizing because the group was so close to us, but we just couldn’t bridge the gap as the fatigue really started to set in. John and I just kept on pedaling and working together, which was great to at least not be out there alone. We caught one of the riders who had pushed on just after the final big dirt section after he’d been dropped and the three of us rode together till the climb up Double Peak.
Double Peak was the most heinous thing you could throw in at this point in the race: a long steep climb up to a dead end and back down to finish off the race on a 6 mile descent. John Behrens pushed on ahead of me. It was definitely a climb you just had to take at your own pace, with whatever you had left, and you were cursing not putting a 32 cog on. I ended up getting caught right at the top of Double Peak by a rider, and he and I descended to the finish together and finished in the same time. I finished in12th place, and I was really happy to see my teammate Nate Freed come across the line in 15th place shortly after me.
What an incredible race: so challenging, but so much fun at the same time. It was probably one of, if not, the most difficult race I’ve ever done. Definitely a lot of ups and downs: you were having the time of your life one minute, and cursing the decision to do the race the next. All in all it was one of the best organized races / gran fondos I’ve ever done. Big thanks to all the people that made it happen, and all the volunteers and fans for their support along the route. I’ll definitely be back again.