Race Report: Peter Osborn's Belgian Waffle Ride

BWR San Diego: 132 miles and 11,000 ft of climbing. A distance and elevation gain I’ve never attempted.
Where to start? From postponement in 2020, to another postponement in 2021 to the hottest time of the year in July, I finally had a date to plan for.
I’ve always been a ‘mountain bike for dirt and road bike for road’ originalist so this whole "groad" mix had me questioning everything. After harassing my experienced friends with endless questions about bike, tires, nutrition, training, etc., I finally decided to go with my 2018 Giant Defy Advanced with its endurance geometry and generous 11-34 cassette gearing for all of the crazy climbing this course has. I bought this bike new at The Path Bike Shop and they always keep it in top shape. I went on the narrower end of the tire spectrum with Continental GP5000 tubeless in 28c — a straight up fast road tire I’ve had great luck with durability-wise. I knew I’d be surfing and dirt tracking in the sand and loose sections but with 80 miles of road and 52 miles of dirt/gravel it seemed logical.
I had basically zero time riding skinny tires off road so I had to get some solid training in. I did a couple of Blackstar, O’Neill, Caspers, and Ladera rides with lots of road in between. The bike was super fast and efficient but with no suspension and skinny tires I had to think twice about line choices, braking, traction, etc.  I found out my good friend Shawn (a BWR veteran) was riding it and we decided we’d tackle it together. We’ve had some tussles racing in the same class at Non Dot, OTH, etc. so we are close in pace.
BWR morning: Early wake up with not enough sleep, breakfast with coffee, and out the door for the drive down to San Marcos. On the way south on the 5 we saw lightning and thought it was odd seeing this during a SoCal summer. Sure enough when we got down to the venue it had just rained and everything was wet. I was kind of happy to see this as the dirt sections were supposed to be pretty dry and dusty.

The festivities were held at North City, San Marcos. It’s a cool downtown area with plenty of room for all of the vendors and cycling events going on. We parked in the parking garage, unloaded the truck, and packed our pockets with all the nutrition and odds and ends to survive the distance. We headed down to the starting one and blended into a group of about 4,000 like-minded individuals getting ready for the start. I asked Shawn for some last minute advice. He mentioned to hold back, draft, and take it easy in the pack. Don’t want to burn too many matches with such a long day ahead of us.

Boom! We started and were off through the gauntlet of cheering crowds. We got around the first turn and I realized I hadn’t started my Garmin. Ugh! Gotta record this epic ride. I stopped, started my Garmin (satellites take forever to lock in), and I was off again to catch up with Shawn and the pack.

The best way to prepare your mind is to break the course down into sectors. Several of these sectors have Belgian themed names that stick in your brain. The race packet for the event provided a sticker to stick to your top tube for reference of all theses sectors and aid stations. I did a little prep work watching the Pure Gravel training videos on YouTube that broke down how to tackle some of the techy sections.

After about 14 miles of road we got to the first test: a 30 ft long jagged rock pit. I flew through it no problem but could see the carnage right after with several people on the side fixing flats. Feeling good we hit some dirt single track and are on a solid pace. We are continuously on and off road with aid stations in between which I really enjoyed the challenge of. At about 3 hours in on a pretty stout road climb I heard Shawn’s bike mis-shift and we both pulled over to check out his bike. Shawn’s Di2 was stuck and we started to see if it was possible to reset it. Shawn tried the app and disconnected the plug but to no avail. We decided to split up and I would go forward while he went back to an aid station and to have a mechanic take a look. It would be impossible for him to finish with the gearing stuck.

Off I went and as the miles piled up, the heat was getting more and more intense, especially since we were heading inland. Black Canyon was a real heat grinder, with a hard packed fire road climb and several washboard sections that shook me to the core. I was glad to be wearing a decent pair of gloves because the hands take a beating. The road, rock, sand, gravel, etc. definitely take their toll and the off-road sections for sure burn more matches. At about the 65 mile mark I was starting to get the cramp tingles and after that they came on fairly steady on and off. There were nine aid stations and with the intense heat I was stopping at each one to refill a bottle and splash water and ice in the vents of my helmet. 
With the cramps I lost track of my nutrition and would slam electrolytes, pickle juice, Fig Newtons, and Coke at the stations. I even made time to stop at Julian Pie Company for a donut and chocolate milk with a group of 4 riders I was working with.

At around the 95-mile mark, cramping on the side of the road, Shawn caught up to me. Boom! A spurt of excitement and resolve set in and I was back on his wheel looking to ride strong to the finish. It was nice to be cruising again and back with Shawn. I knew the gnarliest climb of the BWR, Double Peak (23% grade road climb), was coming up at mile 125 and I was digging in to tractor up it. I had ridden it once before a week earlier and it was legit.

We got to Double Peak and with renewed vigor we motored up it no problem. No cramps, no problem. Lots of cheering fans lined the climb with several riders on the side stretching out cramps. We made it to the top and knew the climbing was over and the best part for me was next. My favorite section Dubbelberg Twistenweg. A fast, flowy downhill that took us almost to the finish. A little bit of road got us back to North Campus and there there was about a one mile crit course around the venue rolling over mulch, gravel, and road to the finish line. We made it to line cheered on by Brooke and friends.

It was a great day on the bike that soon after I was already thinking about the next one and which bike I’d use and the goals I would set for it. With the Belgian theme I of course picked up my ‘Finisher’ two bottles of Lost Abbey Kakaboulet beer, which washed down the Belgian waffles and frittes we voraciously consumed.

Here’s to the next one!