BWR events never fail to deliver a fun atmosphere, grueling courses and plenty of community time with fellow racers. After completing the BWR North Carolina course, I can confidently say this might be one of the hardest gravel races that exists in the world. It was advertised as 13,000ft of climbing, but for my ride I clocked 131 miles with a whooping 15,640ft of climbing….wowza! If that number tells you anything, it means we were either riding up or down for most of the day. Even the single track sectors were punchy and mimicked somewhat of a rollercoaster feel out there. This was my first time riding in this area and it was absolutely beautiful through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The course had a great mix of what I would call “true gravel” roads but a fair bit of road and single track sectors. I also appreciate that BWR does such a good job with traffic control out on course; I always feel safe at these races because of their commitment to rider safety through intersections. Now your safety on the dirt sectors…that part is up to you!
For my race, I ended up second place in the pro women’s field. With the nature of the course, there was naturally some yo-yo’ing given rider’s strengths and weaknesses. It was a drag race from the start since the first selection at Reeb Ranch single track came early at only 7 miles into the race with a mostly downhill start. For most of the day, the top 3 women were together with a small group of men. I opted to push the pace on a lot of the climbs in hopes to tire other riders out on such a long day and minimize loss on the techy sections as that is generally my weakness as a fairly new rider. A lot of the dirt descents were pretty loose so you had to be cautious to avoid flats but also to keep rubber side down! I really enjoyed the road descents, many of which were windy - but in a good way. Like the ones you can really lean the bike and whip your body around the turns and feel like a kid out there as you meander through the mountains at over 40mph. What a thrill! The top 3 women split up around mile 80 through a dirt sector that included numerous rocky sections and what seemed like never ending switchbacks. From here, I went on to ride most of the day alone but occasionally riding with some of the men. One of my many highlights was linking up with Zach Allison on one of the gravel descents and trying to hold his wheel which really tested my skills! As many of us experience this, it’s often quite nice to see friends or make new friends at the end of such a long day smashing pedals.
I also want to address the numerous comments regarding the women’s podium at this event. A transgender athlete won the women’s overall, which has caused some controversy. For those following women’s road cycling, you are aware of the UCI rule that this is currently allowed. Rather than sharing my personal opinions about the UCI rule, I think it’s most important to recognize that all athletes, no matter how they identify, should have a space to compete and race. Additionally, underneath all helmets is a face and a person who deserves respect, dignity and a safe space to ride bikes. In the future, I feel a separate category may be appropriate but event promoters are also learning what is best to preserve both female cycling while also creating an inclusive space for all to ride. These things take both time and grace to resolve. I plan to continue to support and attend BWR events in the future as I trust they will navigate this with respect for all riders going forward. I want to thank all event promoters for the work they do and the difficulty they face in these decisions.
Now, for those that like the numbers and the nitty gritty details on the bike:
Bike: Trek Checkpoint SLR
Drivetrain: SRAM 1x with 46t front chain ring and 10-50 rear cassette
Wheels: HED Emporia GC wheels
Tires: WTB Vulpine 40’s
Total Distance: 131 miles
Total Elevation gain: 15,640ft
Fueling: 110g of carb per hour in form of Skratch Superfuel, SIS gels and peach rings
Photo credit: UnRoad UNLTD for Belgian Waffle Ride