Matt and Tim Smith were the two lone riders down the road by three minutes where the detour happened...
Lawrence, Kansas - October 31st in Kansas hosted the final of the Quadrupel Crown of Gravel that made up the 2021 BWR series. Aptly named the Hell of the Mid-West, BWR Kansas promised to challenge riders - and it exceeded expectations.
The morning of the race was cool and crisp, but dry and with a stiff breeze building. You could feel the atmosphere building and the time ticked down to the start. This was going to be an epic Hell of the Mid-West.
A neutral roll out took the pack on a tour through the streets of Lawrence, and as the sun began to peek up over the horizon the race hit the gravel and the hammer went down.
The 8,000 feet of climbing quickly made an impact, with short punchy climbs slimming down the group as the weather began to get warmer. The first four or five climbs were full gas, with the lead group quickly whittling down and fracturing to pieces, only to regroup just before the next climb - true to the BWR’s Belgium classic soul.
About an hour and a half into the first batch of climbs had blown the race apart, with maybe 25-30 making the selection in the lead race. As the pace lulled and the favorites took a break, Tim Smith (Cannonball Hub Racing) and I snuck off the front. We quickly built up several minutes of a lead and were out of sight of the pack.
With us up the road, the pack initially feigned disinterest, but then a series of surges fractured the group. The chasers hit an intersection at one point and that’s when the confusion hit.
Last minute changes to the course had rerouted the course. Some riders' GPSs were saying to go one way, while the course arrows pointed the other way - with riders following the head of the fracturing pack, who chose to follow their GPS. The confusion ended up with the majority of the chasers taking a shorter route and quickly Tim and I from the opposite direction.
This unintentional reset brought the front group back together just before the race hit the first single track. Not just any single track - freshly cut and covered in a layer of mud that hid rocks and challenged everyone's handling and running skills. The group blew apart, with several riders flatting out of contention.
Coming out of the single track, Logan Kasper (Flow formulas) had separated himself from the lead pack of less than a dozen. The group rolled well together and caught up to Kasper but much later on. But then the next batch of climbs emerged and with them the race-defining splits. Attacks started flying and the elastic snapped and four riders, Tanner Ward (First Internet Bank), Christopher Pendergast (Jamison Cannondale), Ethan Overson (Cinch) and Alex Hoehn (Wildlife Generation) went clear.
The leaders hit the cyclocross section together and Tanner Ward opened up the throttle and separated himself from the leading quartet. The cyclocross section was followed by 6+ miles of flowing single track before the final couple miles on gravel and then road taking racers back into Lawrence for the finish. Pendergast used the last singletrack section to close down the gap to Ward, but Ward had enough power left to clinch the win over Pendergast with Overson, Hoehn and Sam Morris (Above and Beyond Cancer p/b Bike World) rounding out the top 5.
BWR Kansas was the perfect end to the gravel season - delivering challenges and adversity for every rider to overcome and a great way to motivate everyone for more Belgian classic styled gravel racing in 2022.