The Belgian Waffle Ride Survival Camp presented by Source Endurance was held over the last weekend of January. It promised to be a tough three day weekend with over 180 miles of riding covering as much of the course as was possible and picking up over 15,000’ of elevation gain.
To maintain some of the secrecy of the course, which will be revealed in good time by the organizers, I cannot share any of the nitty gritty details, but here is a brief overview of the three days and a long list of takeaway, pointers and tips that I picked up!
Day 1 covered the last miles of the course including the infamous Double Peak climb, which while only one mile long at 8%, will be at around Mile 130 on race day and will break many the hard man and women.
Day 2 was the long ride of the weekend including the relentless Black Canyon which goes on and on! Some of the more well-known sections also were ridden this day; HodgesGate, Omkekeerde and Sandy Bandy all of which may or may not be in this year’s race.
Day 3 covered the neutral role out section which is the first umpteenth of miles (it’s a secret)! Some more of the dirt sections including LemonTwistenberg and then another ascent of Double Peak, this time with 180 miles on our legs!
So beyond covering the actual course details here are the things that I took away;
- There is a lot more road than I anticipated. It’s roughly 65% road and 35% dirt.
- Most of the road is very well maintained and pretty fast, there are bike lanes on a lot of it. There are cars as it’s not closed and on the trails you may encounter other users, be vigilant.
- The dirt breaks down into three type; gritty fire-road, gravelly service road and dirty single track with some technical sections.
- 95% of it is ridable, the 5% that isn’t is so unridable it’s easier to just carry your bike, lift it over the obstacle or dismount and manhandle it, a good example of this is a stream at the bottom of a tricky drop.
- The elevation gain accumulates deceptively and grinds you down over time, it’s like being on the ropes and having combination after combination thrown at you. The knock punch comes with Double Peak.
- Bike Choice. I rode my Lynksey Cooper CX and this is what I will ride on race day. For me, based on my last year of gravel rides, the titanium frame far outkicks my coverage. There were plenty of road and cross bikes on the camp but having used it for Dirty Kanza 200 last year I had no qualms that it would be the bike of choice. It soaks up the bumps and can take a good beating. Over the weekend we had several carbon frames break, one from a crash and the other from a broken derailleur hitting it. What I loose (well gain I suppose) in weight, I make up for in security.
- Choose a gearing ratio that will work all day. I rode a 46/36 with an 11/34. I spun out a couple of times going down but I rarely ran out going up. That said I am in planning stage of upgrading the Lynskey drivetrain and by the time I get to raceday I’ll be running a 50/34 and 12/32 which will give me the same exact ratio for climbing but I will have one extra cog on the cassette as I will move from 10 speed to 11 speed. I’ll also have a Stages PM on the bike, racing to power only makes sense as I train to power.
- Tire choice for road and off road. As mentioned the terrain is very mixed. I took the opportunity to try out Clement XPlor USH’s. These are a big tire for the road at 35mm wide but they really held their own on the gravel and dirt sections letting me stand on some of the climbs. The tread pattern lends itself to reduced rolling resistance on the road. I used Slime filled Bontrager inner tubes and ran them at 75psi with no issues at all.
- Bottle Cages. These need to be super tight, there was definitely a fair share of bottles being ejected.
- Spares in general. Adam Mills from Source Endurance has written a great write up of all the things that you need to consider carrying. One thing to point out is that if you have a 10 speed groupset you can reuse a SRAM Master Link or a KMC Missing Link. If you are using an 11 speed groupset the master links are not reusable! Either way carry a couple of spares just in case!
- Mountain Bike Pedals and Shoes. Don’t ruin your road shoes! Walking up muddy or gravelly hills or through a stream will not do them any good and you may fall flat on your ass! I rode in my Shimano XC70 which are pretty svelte but stiffer MTB shoes compared to my usual Giro Privateer which I would say are heavier and better for walking in. I have Crank Brother Egg–Beaters pedals. I have them on my CX and MTB bikes too, they are simple and work!
- 140ish miles with 15-17,000’ feet of gain is a long day however you slice or dice it! Eating, drinking and pacing will be critical for the day. In January the weather was mostly cool and somewhat cloudy, come May the weather will be significantly different. Sunscreen people, sharp tan lines are nice but not if you can’t move as you are burnt to a crisp!
- Hydration and Nutrition are critical. I’ve done enough endurance events to know what works for me but it’s always good to have a solid reminder. If you empty your tank it’s very hard to recover and keep going at the same time. On course on the day will be GQ-6. I had a chance to try it and quite frankly I didn’t like it, but that’s my issue! On the day I’ll be using my tried and tested SkratchLabs hydration mix. One change that I have found really works is to mix this with Base Amino. So I’ll have a bunch of pill baggies with my own “secret drink mix”! In terms of food Clif will be on course. I have no issue with Clif Bars and the new nut butter bars are great. That said I like real food for as long as I can but there is a limit on how much I can jam into my jersey pockets. Whatever I eat I’ll be consuming 200-300 calories per hour. That’s all I say about eat and drink, you know what you need to do…there is nothing that I can add to this conversation.
- Pacing; keep the road paceline tight but spread out on the trail. Working as group on the road is much more effective than working solo. As much of my riding is solo I find it very in-nerving riding in a group. It’s a mental strain concentrating on the wheel in front and focusing on not half wheeling and making sure you do your fair share of pulling and not falling off the back! I got a great tip to not overgear when following, this avoids the constant pedal and coast effect, lighter pedaling is more consistent. I got to practice this a lot and got significantly more comfortable at it. Off road give the person in front some space. You need to know that you can exit the obstacle before you enter it and giving the person enough room to clear it or get out of your way can save you time and trouble. In addition make sure you are in the right gear in advance of the obstacle, shifting during could end up in a thrown chain or worse still a thrown you!
- Ride over the hill. Sounds obvious right! The key here is to ride up and over the hill, get up to speed on the descent before easing off the gas. This allows you to sit in and rest on the descent where you can eat or drink something.
- No Loitering; get in and out of the Aid Stations. Lingering 10 minutes at 6 Aid Stations in the course of the day will add, wait for it!! An hour to your day. Get in, out and on your way!
- Sensible descents mean you finish. We had one camper wipe out on a descent. He broke his bike frame and separated his shoulder. Riding within yourself and finishing is better then overcooking a corner and ending up broken!
- 110% money well spent! In addition to the above it was a great opportunity to meet some of the key folks associated with the race who know the roads and trails like the back of their hands; Michael Marckx, Phil Tintsman, Adam Mills, Neil Shirley and Janel Holcomb were excellent instructors for the weekend.
- I got the opportunity to ask a lot of questions…and I took it!
- I was able to get a sense of my fitness, where I am and where I need to be. In much the same way as Four Days of Fitness I was humbled by other people’s abilities to spin the pedals! I am not so much in the wrong gene pool as in the wrong ocean!
- I got to practice some things that are well out of my comfort zone (riding in a paceline) and get a good idea of what is needed to complete the Belgian Waffle Ride.
- A ton of swag, free beer, an awesome jersey that actually fits and race day entry were all included!
- We were well supported by the great guys at VeloFix San Diego who spent the three days providing on course support and who cleaned and lubed our bikes each night!
- Thanks to Danny Munson for these awesome photos! I choose a select few to post, there were plenty more! Danny was out there all three days!
- Best of all I got to make some new friends who will be welcome faces enduring equal suffering come race day in May!
- If you need more info check out Neil Shirley’s thoughts on the BWR.
So that was that, up next is Rock Cobbler…