Big Sugar Classic





Last race of the season in Bentonville, Arkansas, USA. The final event of the Lifetime Grand Prix included all the best American off-road specialists in a showdown to dig into the prize purse of $30k. I’m not part of the Grand Prix, but I was racing alongside the best riders in the pro category. One hundred miles (160 km), 7500 feet (2300m) of climbing on gnarly gravel roads full of loose sand and sharp rocks. This is a dive into my Big Sugar Classic.

– This was not part of the plan, I think to myself as I push the pace up a tough climb 41 miles into the race. The surface is loose and chunky gravel. If I pedal standing, my tire will lose traction and spin. On my wheel is John Borstelmann. Behind us, it’s a 2-minute gap to the rest of the field. We are in a duo breakaway and helping each other to fight the wind. 

A beautiful gravel adventure in Arkansas. Photo: Velophoto.tx.

John is known to be a powerful breakaway specialist who loves to go hard from the start of these gravel races. We were on an early move 10 miles into the race, but it didn’t stay long. A little later, I was up the road all alone, but again, I got pulled back by a 50-man peloton continually becoming smaller as riders couldn’t keep up.

I stayed with the head of the group, and when I saw John attack again a few miles before the feed zone, I made a huge acceleration and closed the gap up to him. Then we were two.

Soon, we got a considerable lead. We are the break of the day. But this wasn’t part of my original plan. I was going to conserve energy and let the LifeTime riders set the pace. But I felt strong… and I got excited…

– Good job, John says while breathing heavily as he takes the front over the top of the climb.

Fast start of the race, with many mechanical problems. Photo: Velophoto.tx

It was hectic in the front group. Crashes, punctures, attacks, and sharp turns. In the front with John, we can ride steady and choose better lines to avoid the sharpest rocks.

Watch out, I yell to John as four dogs run into the road. The two motorized bikes following us chase the dogs out of the road. We can keep riding, and the motorbikes roll on. They are filming and making content for Instagram. They are filming the race with a helicopter just above our head. The chopper is noisy, but being in the front seat of such an event is inspiring.

You would hear the helicopter when you were in the front of the race. Photo: Velophoto.tx.

– Welcome to Missouri, John tells me. The roads are faster now. It’s a better surface but continuously rolling hills. Up and down. I feel good, but we are pushing a high pace, and I know it might cope up with me eventually.  

It’s getting warmer. My head unit shows 27°C (80°F). I need to remember to eat and drink.

Then, at mile 65, I turn and see the chasers behind me. They are closing in, but we still have a 20 sec gap. Soon, we are starting a longer asphalt climb. John is pushing a pace I cannot keep up. I am getting caught by the front group. Only about 12 riders are in the group. I grind and manage to stay with them over the top. 

The front group is getting smaller. Photo: Velophoto.tx

Several riders are struggling. We are back on a gravel road. Riders such as Russel Finstervald and Alexie Vermuelen are getting dropped. I dig deep and close the gap to the first eight riders. This still looks good for me, but as the speed goes down, Russel and the other riders are closing the gap, and again, we are about 12 riders in the front group. There is one single warrior up the road. John hasn’t given up yet and is still a little ahead of the group. 

It was a day of many climbs and attacks. I am following Russel Finsterwald. Photo: Velophoto.tx

The group keeps a steady pace, and I hang on. We start a longer drag, and I begin to struggle. My legs haven’t recovered my breakaway effort yet. After all, during the first 3 hours, I had 327 in normalized power, which are solid number for me. To be able to recover such an effort, I need to be in my very best form. I am not there today.

The first time I give a gap to the rider up front, I manage to close it, and then it happens. I blow up! 

It’s a strange feeling. It doesn’t feel like it usually does when I blow up. I don’t feel like I’m boinking. I have just no more power in the legs to keep pushing. About the same time as I realize I will never see the front group again, the air goes out of me. I am depleted. 

Active riding at the head of the race. Photo: Velophoto.tx

The first rider who passes me is Alexi Vermuelen, with Laurens ten Dam. They are going fast. A few minutes later, the next group is coming. It’s Dylan Johnson and Konny Loser. I don’t even try to hang on. Empty. 

More riders are passing me. I don’t know if I will even finish now. What’s the point? My race is over. Well, I got to get home, so I better keep moving my heavy legs.

I am depleted, and all I think about is getting to the finish. Photo: Velophoto.tx

Take me home country roads 

Not long ago, Peter Stetina passed me and told me to hang on. I dropped in the next climb. Luke Hall flew by a little earlier, telling me to follow him. I had to let him go. I’m out of it now. I gave it my all, and the result doesn’t matter anymore. I just want to get to the finish. Get home.

Riding alone, with no result goal anymore, I am able to enjoy the scenery and cheer for other riders from the 50-mile category that I am passing. There are my housemates from our Airbnb, Ann and Chris. They are also part of the Cadence family. Ann had a crash earlier but she keeps going. I ride alongside them for a few minutes, and we encourage each other before I continue on my mission to get to the finish line.

Peter Stetina is behind and chasing after an early mechanical problem. Photo: Velophoto.tx

A little later, Lance Haidet is passing me, following two riders sponsored by Walmart. I love Walmart. It’s so American. I’ve been five months in the US for the last two years, but I am still a tourist in many ways. Walmart is originally from Bentonville. There is even a museum downtown. It’s on my bucket list.

Lance keeps a steady pace across the cornfield. Finally, I am able to hang on. It’s a relief after getting passed by so many riders. Eventually, I feel fresh enough to contribute. It’s only 5-6 miles to the finish line now. I will get there.

We are dropping the two Walmart riders. We can almost smell the food trucks at the finish—one more asphalt climb. 

Lance makes a last effort, and I tell him Hasta la vista. The final miles I’ll do in my rhythm. 

There is the finish line. The lead group finished 25 min ago but is still there. I wave my hands to get some enthusiasm from the spectators as I pass the line.

Great ride, man! It’s Alan Pocock, my fantastic support man. I smile and hug him. We made it.

I smile again when the speaker announces my fellow countryman and friend Torbjørn Røed winning the race. That’s insanely impressive! Viking power. Love it!

Sprint for the win. Torbjørn gets it! Photo: Velophoto.tx

It’s time for burgers and pretzels

I’m happy with the day. I gave it a go, and I felt strong. This boosts my self-esteem that I can be a prominent rider among the best American riders. Today, I only had my leg battery charged for 100k, but next time, I hope I’ll have energy for 100 miles!

It’s been a long season, starting with the win in Renegade Rambler, Texas, in February, and I’m tired. I’ve been in the form of my life, but I need to reset. I assume the hectic last months, including the World Championship, Belgian Waffle Ride, and fighting off a cold caught up with me.

Smiling for another successful season coming to an end. Photo: Velophoto.tx


Being off the front in such a race was super fun. It won’t be the last time I’ll try to break away. But it is the last time this year. 

Thanks to Alan, Ray family, Chad, Terry, Nick, Eric, Ann, Mike, and the rest of Cadence Cyclery for giving me VIP support in the US. I am so grateful to you!

It’s time to eat a burger, drink a cold beverage, rebuild, and get even better next season!

SEE MORE: Race stories 2023

  • Felt Breed Carbon
  • Zipp 303s
  • Sram Force AXS eTap 46T/10-44T
  • Specialized Pathfinders Pro 42mm
  • SRM Pedals
  • Fizik Vento Ferox
  • Met Manta
  • Ryno Power
  • CCN Sport TNT/Cadence Cyclery
  • Alan Pocock
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