Dust. Sketchy. Fear. Excitement. Sacrifice. Trepidation. The Unknown. Chaos. Prepared. Hectic. Blinded. Follow. Trust. Open trail. Exhale. Reward. Family.
Dear Rouleurs and Graveleurs,
Yesterday we shared with you about the idea of 'Family,' while offering a recant of the men's race from my purview in the lead buggy. One thing I forgot to mention about the familial sensibilities of the race, beyond the coming together of different two-wheeled disciplines and the unique prosperity of Family importance in Utah, was that out on the course families gathered to cheer the riders on. Some were actual relatives of the riders, but others were just community members out marveling at the heroines and characters ripping apart the gravel roads of Cedar City.
Some of the most dramatic and noteworthy efforts were put forth by the women and if you were lucky enough to see the Pure Gravel live coverage of the event on IG or FB, you got to enjoy the color commentary from Joy McCulloch.
Joy took the time to reflect on her experience watching the women's unfold from the lead buggy and has shared this recap for all to enjoy...
The stories of the Women of the Cedar City Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City run deep with emotion and achievement. Each of the stories of the 71 women who toed the line for the Waffle and Wafer routes could be written in their own 100 page tome.
Our heroines - A woman noted for courageous acts or nobility of character - came from all walks of life, lives filled with children, 40+hr work weeks, pedaling on the trainer at ungodly hours, full school loads, and an immense breath of talent and drive.
Women have a unique challenge at mass start events, where their male counterparts outnumber them close to 5:1. Yes the men provide fantastic allies across the desert and through the single track, but they also become loathed adversaries as they drop 700 watt efforts like they are free, forcing the women to dig deeper into their suitcases of courage than they would like. Women often find themselves in a group of male riders who are very strong yet don’t have nearly the same amount of skill, technical ability, or race experience.
The distance alone of the event is daunting at 125 miles. Women’s road races rarely pass the 70 mile mark unless gran fondos and centuries are your jam. The 125 miles of BWR would be the longest one day race for any woman to race, with Ironman coming a distant 2nd at 112 miles of smooth asphalt. This month the European Classics - Tour of Flanders and Gent Wevelgem - finished in just over 3.5hrs and under 90 miles. Speaking with Rose Grant after the event, she had never ridden over 100 miles on the dirt and even training for the Leadville 100 in 2019, a 100 mile day on the road wasn’t an every week outing.
The second layer to the challenge is that the event is virtually a mass start. This forces everyone to ride extremely hard for the first 30-90 minutes in order to stay with “the group”, whichever group that may be. For the women, finish times ranged from 6:33-11:46 and most likely, each woman put out their highest wattage and heart rate of the event within the neutral roll out and first climb!
It’s a double edged sword because if the women started with just their group, they could be racing with just one other woman, and that’s a lot of work! However, with 15 staging pods, the women were spread out with the task of searching out those they were competing against. Much like looking for a needle in a haystack, next to impossible to sift through the riders if you haven’t done your homework to know exactly who you are competing against and what they may look like on the day.
The final touches to the unknown is just that - not knowing what fitness the others showed up with, but more specifically the unknown of what you could produce on the day. With the lack of racing in 2020, each rider was in this same position but that does nothing to negate the added stress of mulling over all the “what if’s” prior to clipping in to begin the day.
The chilling temps as the race course winded directly towards the rising sun coupled with a thick layer of swirling dust and sand, made the start one of the most epic in recent memory for most racers. For some, their race ended almost as quickly as it began, but as the dust settled and the sun crested over the foothills, clarity came along with it and the realization that they were racing!
Enter our cast of heroins, arguably some of the most accomplished, experienced, savvy and capable athletes on the course with countless years of racing and a multitude of victories and championships on their palmares.
The Legend: Sarah Jarvis- Cedar City local, first time to race her bike as she represented her city with class and tenacity.
The Fortune-Hunter: Melisa Rollins - 5th place on the day and her first debut at the ‘big show’ on a not-so-new CX bike, lots of grit, focused preparation along with a full career off the bike as an electro-chemist. This is Melisa’s breakthrough, in spite of Covid, as she makes the jump to elite mountain biker and, more importantly, gravel contender.
The Gambler: Heather Jackson - the Ironman Champion and Kona Podium Finisher placed 4th in Cedar City as she tried her hand at the completely new discipline. With a hockey background and no stranger to extreme hours pushing past the norms of endurance, Heather would be a scrappy opponent in Cedar City!
The Opportunist: Crystal Anthony- 3rd place after a long drawn out fight with Jackson and Pruitt. Anthony is a professional CX and MTB racer with years of experience on the dirt and mixed terrain. Her calm collected approach to riding helped her conserve energy into the final miles.
The Dare Devil: Kathy Pruitt - 2nd place at BWR and former Downhill World Champion with well over 20 years experience racing and literally sending it in the dirt makes Kathy one of the most experienced riders male or female. However, she may not be the wheel you want to follow in the dirt if you aren’t up to snuff on your technical skills or aren’t sure how far you can push your equipment. Kathy will help you test both real quick!
The Vanquisher: Rose Grant - “To Overcome or Overpower” 1st place at BWR 2020. Rose has a long history of top endurance results including winning 2019 Leadville 100 after battling back from several injuries. Her experience competing at long mountain bike events as well as MTB Stage Races with a recent top finish at the Apex Challenge in Colorado placed her at the top of the list for potential victors in Cedar City.
Grant settled into the lead after the baton was passed from Anthony to Pruitt. Crashes, mechanicals, bad legs and other misfortune played a role in this shuffling of the deck and when Grant appeared in a strong pod of male riders, it was clear she could maintain the lead barring any incidents. It’s a tricky place to be - racing for the win, yet the sole woman. Grant’s group of men would be viewed as the groupetto, as they were racing for 30th on the road. The motivation was waning as Grant silently rotated in the top 3 along the asphalt and gravel rollers. With riders sitting on licking their wounds, Grant was motivated to keep the pace high since she knew Jackson, Anthony and Pruitt were riding in a steady group behind.
The main goal of each of the groups was to keep things together until the base of the final long climb as the value of the draft was high and any chance to keep the mile per hour up was a bonus. As Grant’s group reached the base of the climb and the gradient began to kick up, the riders naturally split up and found their own groove. Grant had the assurance that she had a descent gap on the chasers, yet the sensation of them breathing down her neck was real and she kept the tension tight on the pedals.
We waited half way up the climb for the ladies racing for 2nd and as they rounded the corner together, we knew it would a tough battle to the top. Pruitt, Anthony and Jackson were clearly all-in as they charged up the gravel, not willing to allow the climb to separate them. Once they crested the climb, there was a technical portion of dirt before a long gravel descent that finally broke them up as Pruitt did what she does best on the technical dirt. She was the first to exit and positions were never traded after that point.
The toll of the day became clear at our next check point as the time between riders began to widen and the gaps were no longer whittling down. It was almost as if the fight had been to the top of the climb and once the rubber band to the other riders had snapped, the riders relinquished and rode as steady as possible to the finish with the main goal to not make any mistakes and lose out on their top 5 finish.
The remainder of the heroines of the BWR Cedar City would continue to navigate the Southern Utah landscape until just before 7:30pm, almost a full 12 hours out on the course. We would like to celebrate each of these racers and honor their commitment and sacrifice to come out and battle the Hell of the South.
We'd like to once again thank the wonderful Cedar City team, which includes most notably, Brad Abrams, and a host of police, sheriffs, civil servants, and enthusiastic volunteers. Also, we didn't get to thank Doug Johnson for his course work and clean-up!
We already have a new, more spectacular course that features more climbing, forest areas and glorious gravel sectors.
We will continue to grow as a family in the best ways. Mothers Fathers Brothers Sisters all welcome the new and uninitiated to the gravel family, and its strength and allure will come by way of extending love to all of cycling’s children. Together we are creating a peaceful, diverse tapestry of ideals and beliefs, colorfully expressed by the coming together of two-wheeled friends of different tire widths.
Some think this is the finish line. We see the start of new challenges and a growing family of loving bike-minded people who want to get dirty.