The original Belgian Waffle Ride is the California edition outside San Diego. I love the Belgian Waffle Rides, and even though they are incredibly challenging, they are a real adventure with pleasant surroundings. And what an en event it was! This is my story from when I did a Belgian race in California.
It's Thursday night. Twenty-six hours of travel wasn't the best preparations for a 205 km (128 miles) gravel race. But I am happy I made it to San Diego. The legend Nicholas Roche waits for me at the airport. He has an extra bed for me in Best Western Escondido. I am happy to share the experience with a rider with lots of stories. He is also a likable guy. We enter the rental car and arrive the room at 10.30 pm. That's 7.30 am Norwegian time. Okay, time to hit the bed.
I am a bit jetlagged. I wake up at 1 am but fall asleep again. Then, the same thing happens again at 3 am. Finally, I make it to 6 am, but there's no chance of sleeping anything more. Hopefully, the jet lag will be better in the next few days. So, I'm heading for breakfast.
Nicholas joins me. He has been up since 5.30 doing a podcast— he's a non-stop hustler.
READ FIRST: Belgian Waffle Ride Arizona
Soon we head out to Cadence Cyclery Encinitas to pick up my bike. Steve and his guys have been kindly helping put my Felt Carbon Breed together after it was shipped from Cadence Cyclery in McKinney. We make some final adjustments, drink a coffee, make a friendly chat, and get out on a recon ride.
We head out to what is supposed to be the most challenging part of the BWR couse; around Lake Hodges—a pretty technical single track, partly rocky or sandy. The big question everyone seems to be asking themselves here is tire choice. Initially, the BWR was ridden on road bikes with 30mm tires as most of the course is on asphalt. The last years they added more off-road parts, making most people choose a gravel bike with a minimum of 32 mm tires. Due to the unusually rainy winter, some would suggest wider tires would be better.
I'm riding with 35 mm Vittoria Terreno Dry. I got them from the Team Cadence Cyclery. It's not the narrowest or fastest, but it's a good mix of being fast yet have grip on the trails. Nico is on 32s but plans to change to wider tires.
It's about 17℃, partly sunny. And it's pretty. All the rain also made the hills green and the water. blue. It's a California dream.
After a good and long night of sleep Nic and I drive over to the expo. What I find unique about the BWR is the athmosphere. The vibe on the Expo, the shake-out rides, the race, and especially after the race is special. There are many brands at the expo. I catch up with my friends in Almsthre and Ryno Power.
There are a lot of riders out here; 1400 riders are registered for the event. All riders start together at 7 am. One big wave. One love.
– Hey! How are you doing, Jonas?
I hear a familiar voice as I am just about to start my Saturday recon ride. I turn around. It's Adam Roberge. The Canadian is racing gravel and is always in the mix for the podium. He's also a nice guy, and it's not surprising, but it's fun to see him here.
We ride together for a while. He shows me his tires - 42 mm! It seems like the discussion is ongoing. Nico is a little ahead of us when we hit the gravel section. No, there he is! He's standing on the side of the path with a flat on his 32s. Indeed, tires choice is a serious matter. I stop to lend him my handpump so he doesn't need to waste any CO2 gas patrons.
We ride back to the Expo and hang around for a bit. Such a friendly vibe. A good time to make new friends.
The rest of the day, I am hanging out at the hotel. Except for a visit to Sophera to buy a gift for my fiancé. Doing all these travels, I cannot come home empty-handed. I get her some make-up she loves.
– Ring, ring.
My phone rings. It's Nico. He tells me he found a crack in his handlebar and has to get a new one. He gets help from the Sram mechanic. However it's a little stressful right now, the afternoon before a big race.
While I'm chilling in the hotel, ready to sleep, Nico arrives. He got a new handlebar and set up his bike with 38s. He hasn't had much time to relax. We pack our stuff and get ready for an early morning and the start of Belgian Waffle Ride California.
Hopefully a jet lag-free night of sleep.
Many gravel races are starting chill, before the race settle in. This was nothing like it. The speed had been fast from the go, and when we hit the 2k climb after 15 minutes of riding, it already made the big wave spread into water drops. Riders are now everywhere.
I am in group 2 and feel terrible. I didn't feel great on my recons the last days, but I hoped to feel better today on race day. Unfortunately, I don't have a good day. My legs are screaming already.
Riders are gathering in smaller groups who are still chasing down each other. This is not the time to think about the painful legs but to focus on the wheels in front. Soon we hit the trails.
Many are having mechanical issues. Laurens Ten Dam, one of the favorites, has a flat. I stay away from troubles. I am not the fastest but hang on to the other riders in my group.
After about 55k, we come into a super steep gravel climb. Usually, I would say I like that kind of power climbs; it's a sandy, narrow trail with more than 20% sections. But today, I am suffering. My legs are so blocked. I feel as if I have already done a BWR. However, we are just 1/4 into the race. I manage to stay with a small group for a while.
Then after 70k, I cannot fight the pain anymore and have to go my tempo.
DO YOU REMEMBER: Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas
I don't like to get dropped. It is the second time today I have to see the riders ahead go. It's a bummer. Coming from Norway to race, I did not bring my racing legs. I take a deep breath and look around. It's beautiful. Green vegetation and black twisty tarmac. It's about 16°C. No rain. No wind. Perfect for racing. I cannot complain. I click lap on my head unit—time to change the mindset. I might not be in the front racing for a result, but at least I can enjoy this incredible route!
Not too long after resetting mentally, I get caught by Luke Hall. I rode strongly with him in Mid-South. He's with another rider and want's me to join him in the chase. I try to help. I suffer. I am not as strong as he is today.
We pass the feed zone, and I get new bottles handle out from Kat and Guillermo. They are leading One4nine, a project to help Mexican kids from less developed areas participate in cycling—a great mission.
Check out: One4nine
Again I got to let Luke go. Laurens Ten Dam passes me a minute later. It seems like he got his flat tire repaired. He asks how many who are in ahead. I answer: – Maybe 30.
I try to hang on for a bit, but again, I feel toasted. So I got to do my own thing.
We are out in the wild. A beautiful gravel road takes us up in Cleveland National Forest. Four eagles are flying just above my head. There are some high peaks in the horizon. They call it the Black Mountian.
The gravel downhill is fast. I overtake two riders but also get passed by two. We then come to an asphalt climb. I stop on the road shoulder to relieve myself. I got to say that feels good.
I'm on the bike a minute later and try to catch up with the riders up front. What? My legs are starting to respond. I feel better.
The view to my left is outstanding. Lake Sutherland with high peaks in the background. I might have been dropped once, twice, or thrice, but I'm happy to be here.
I look down on my head unit - Halfway and 102k to go!
My chain is making various noises. Then I catch a glimse of the Wrench House Mobile Service truck.
– Hey, do you have chain lube?
Paul finds a lubricant and adds it to my chain. I thank them and get back on the horse. It's like riding a new bike, and I start chasing down the riders up front. Soon we are a little group moving together as a unit. We keep a good pace. One of the riders is Heather Jackson. She is leading the ladies' class by many minutes already. What a strong woman!
The miles are flying. It's no wind, except the wind resistance as we speed up. We are slightly descending, and even on gravel tires, we are effortlessly doing 45 kph.
After a long stretch on asphalt and gravel, it's time to get into more technical stuff again. We have about 60k to go. I'm now in a good state, and after a Ryno Power gel, I hit the trails as the first of our group.
I find the momentum and ride faster than I ever did on a trail. The Felt Carbon Breen is maneuvering flawlessly through rocks and over roots, crossing walking bridges and dumps. I am in the flow state now, and imagine I am Matheu van der Poel. I am definetly not, but I feel fast as I catch riders from the Wafer, the shorter course.
I call the riders in front of me, and they are politely stopping to let me pass. There are many riders, and it's an added challenge to overcome. The rocks and roots weren't enough; there are also riders to overtake. It's like an obstacle course.
I get my way through and get closer to the finish. I'm stoked about my speed on these trails. I am twisting through rocks, around trees, avoiding cactuses, over roots, and through the sand. And I'm not even glimpsing snakes. Getting close to one rattlesnake would be my nightmare!
I catch riders from all categories and keep a good pedaling rhythm. But the kph is low as we start the last 15k. The BWR is full of Belgian grit and the organizers loves to make it challenging. The more brutal, the better. Therefore, the last miles are not going to be easy.
The course makes a left turn into a wall. I am climbing up a steep asphalt road to Double Peak. The view is breathtaking, I remember from yesterday, but now I don't waste a second to look at it today. I am grinding my way up the climb, and spectators are cheering.
– He's going fast, I hear spectators say as I pass them, giving me another energy boost.
I sprint over the top and through myself down towards San Marcos. On the tarmac, I reach a speed of up to 80 kph. The police are stopping the traffic, as they have been doing well the whole day. It's as safe as it gets for a gravel race. To be honest, it's probably the best-organized gravel event I have done in the US.
The final stretch is through the Expo. I pass my friends at Ryno Power, Almsthre, and Cadence Cyclery, make the last turns, and sprint across the line. 33rd overall but more importantly; A finisher!
Finishing BWR has always given me an explosion of feelings. My legs are screaming in pain. I am tired. I am relieved to make it home in one piece. And I am excited as it was a massive day. A day I'm not going to forget. I would have loved to feel better from the start, but finishing strong and catching riders to the line is satisfying.
There stands Nico. Adam Roberge is over there. Laurens ten Dam is passing saying hi. I catch up with Iver Silk. Chat with Innokenty Zavyalov. Thanking Kat and Guillermo. Meet up with friends and share the moment with fellow riders. I don't know their names. It doesn't matter. We are all here together—all friends.
I had so many highs and lows. I hated and loved this. My sack is full of impressions, and it's hard to comprehend and explain all the experiences.
I'm covered in dust and mud. I probably smell like sweat, and what's worse. But I don't care. I made it, and now it's time for a well-deserved Belgian waffle.
San Diego and Belgian Waffle Ride, get it on your bucket list for 2024.
LOOKING FOR COACHING: Check out my coaching services here
Next up: Sea Otter Classic
Belgian Waffle Ride is a huge gravel series in the US, and I look forward to being part of the main event of BWR, the race in San Marcos outside San Diego in California.
There are fast sections on asphalt roads, which added sections of unroad, some more challenging than others. I haven't done this one before, but after doing BWR Kansas and BWR Arizona, I have a feel of what I'm about to get into.
The field is packed with strong and well-known cycling names, and I expect it to be a real physical challenge, yet a day to remember as a great memory.
I fly in from Norway Thursday 13 and have a few days to cope with the travel and the jet lag. Cadence Cyclery Encinitas have prepared my bike, so I am taken care of already. Since the Mid South I have been fighting a cold, but the last week it let go and I have been training well during easter, and hope my form is good.
Follow my story feed on Instagram and come back here for the whole recap after the race.
READ THE RACE BIJBEL: Click here (external link)
From the organizer:
The only Euro-style Spring Classic on American soil, the BWR is once again supported by the Lost Abbey Brewery, the coolest Belgian-inspired brewery anywhere west of Flanders. With the race venue hosted at the nearby North City in San Marcos, where the BWR Expo will have Draft Republic at the center of the festivities! Not to worry, not only will the race offer up the same type of insanity, challenge and unparalleled experience that has made it notorious and noteworthy, the BWR at North City also offers a special final Kermesse Kross circuit that all riders will get to enjoy, tackle, or otherwise survive in order to get to the actual finish line. This final cross-style finish will give fans and riders an extra bit of fun in celebrating the survival of all three of the BWR course options.
READ MORE AND REGISTER: Belgian Waffle Ride website (External link)