24 sectors of rough, bone-jarring Cali-cobbles—many of them them brand new—await riders along the new “Hell of the West” route
A couple years ago, Multiple National Champion, Karl Bordine, crashed while enjoying a four-minute lead on the Zwartenberg descent of the Belgian Waffle Ride (BWR), seemingly for no reason at all. His front wheel vanished in the sand, putting the solo leader promptly on the rocks of BWR.
And so it goes on the off-road insanity of the “Monument of Gravel,” one of the oldest multi-surface races on the US calendar that’s known as the most unique cycling event in the country as much for the pageantry that pervades its every funky facet as the actual diabolically deviant collection of Cali-cobbles that are the hallmarks of the BWR’s offering.
And so many incidents like Karl’s have happened on these sectors. There seems a tortured relationship with the BWR for the peloton and its equipment choice; here is one of the most storied races in North America, and yet or perhaps because of, it can proffer absolute heartbreak and misery in the form of mechanicals, crashes, punctures, sand, mud, and a multitude of other problems like riders running out of talent on certain technical sectors. Alex Howes, Ted King, Amanda Naumann, Peter Stetina, Amity Rockwell, Brian McCulloch, Allison Tetrick, Phil Gaimon, and myriad other potential winners have succumbed to the treachery of the ever-changing BWR course. THIS IS NOT A GRAVEL RACE in the traditional sense…
This 11th edition of the BWR runs 208km, with more than 98km of Cali-cobbles spread over 24 numbered sectors with varying degrees of difficulty. The off-road mayhem begins just 9-km in and punctuate the route thereafter all the way to the finish, with the aforementioned Zwartenberg in the middle of the race and the infamous Muur van Dubbelberg confronting riders at the 194-km mark.
The BWR CA route, like all the great races, has changed over time, but the spirit remains as Belgianesque as ever… incredibly hard, festive and something for the fans to celebrate. Each year, the earlier additions had more miles and off-road sectors added until the past couple of years where the course was barely altered. It is the first of cycling’s five Monuments of Gravel— one the most important one-day races on the calendar in the US - and this year the course will enjoy its greatest upgrade ever with over a dozen new sectors to confront riders.
The headwind blows over these roads and with or without the rain the riders who actually make it back to the finish line are often caked in mud, dirt, grime and smiles.
Holding to the notion of ‘Change is Good', this year’s BWR CA not only has some incredible off-road sectors added to its parcourse, it has had the longest stretches of Highway removed almost completely, creating a safer, more Cali-cobble intensive experience that is sure to test the world’s top pros in new and untold ways as they vie for a chunk of the largest prize purse ever for a ‘gravel’ race.
The route has gone from 83-km of off-road sectors to 98-kms, with these new Cali-cobbled sectors soon to be the most celebrated of them all. The removal of the long road/highway sections means riders wont have to share the road along side cars, making it much safer. All told, the added off-road sectors add more of what the BWR is so loved for and remove the parts that riders have come to accept but not embrace. The new routing also avails opportunities for added Feed Zones and off- and on-road mechanical support. There will be 11 Feed Zones and roughly two-dozen support vehicles, which should make riders feel safer and allow them more opportunities for hydration and nutrition.
Everyone knows by now the initial off-road sector, Lemontwistenberg, would always be a bottleneck for all but the fastest riders and in the haste to get here first, the race was often very fast and at times dangerous at the beginning along Del Dios Hwy. Much like the increased pace of the Peloton toward La troupe d’Arendberg in Paris-Roubaix, where it is to the great advantage of a rider to be amongst the first handful of riders, this type of frenetic racing wont need to take place along this stretch anymore. Now, with a re-imagined start to the race, riders wont hit this sector until 40km, not 20km as in the past. No longer the first Cali-cobble sector, it follows three other off-road sectors, so there will be no bottle neck, just chasing.
Riders will find this new parcourse to be incrementally more challenging in ways that will once again cause months of equivocation as to what equipment to use and which tires to trust. Adding to the tension that only the unknown can bring (cue JAWS soundtrack here), and unfortunate for virtually everyone, the course cannot be revealed until the county has provided a permit for the event. Their permits have traditionally been signed over just a couple days before the starting gun commences the “Hell of the West.”
For now, riders can trust an entirely new experience will be had on April 30 and May 1, with more on-course support for all, less highways, more dirt, sand, mud, gravel, water crossings, rocks, and much more money for the top riders to compete for. OH yeah, and there is also a prize purse for riders 18 and under.
The three-day BWR festival (April 29 - May 1, 2022) will feature more vendors, more fun, more opportunities to interact with other bike-minded folks and a new venue layout at North City with the massive Draft Republic as the epicenter of Belgian Bliss. More Lost Abbey libations and Belgian waffles will be consumed this year than ever before.
BWR CALIFORNIA COURSE BY THE NUMBERS
~10,000 ft of climbing
24 off-road sectors
Nearly half unpaved (61 miles)
18% more dirt than last year