Written by: Michael Marckx (SPY’s President, CEO and Belgian Hardman)
The SPY Belgian Waffle Ride ended-up being moved to April 15 from March 25 for a variety of reasons. The date change ended-up being to the advantage of the event and most participants, as March 25 was fraught with terrible winds and downpours later in the day, which would have made the already extremely difficult course unmanageable for even the most macho of cycling masochists. While the intent was to create a very difficult course with extraordinary and unusual challenges for a long bike race, we needed a bit more cooperation from the weather.
As it ended up, April 15 was a beautiful day, a stark contrast from the incredible heavy rains and cold weather of the preceding days. It was the perfect day for an event of this magnitude. One day earlier, and our trusted SPY employees would have had to ferry riders on rafts across parts of the course. This would have been fine, but not only did we not have enough rafts, we did not have enough hankies for all the blubbering riders.
The event had over 160 people start, many of who where either highly-credential cyclists and/or cyclists who compete at the pro level (or whom thought of themselves as such), as well as very well-prepared and incredible riders from all over California and a few other states, including Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado.
We had a pre-race festival atmosphere replete with Belgian waffles, eggs, coffee and other treats from the San Diego Trolley Stop Catering Company. Racers got checked-in and received their race numbers, course maps, event instructions and access to the porta-potties. Nicole Newfield and Lisa Spahn and the dozens of teammates from SPY elegantly navigated the treacherous terrain occupied by the collective psyche of 160 pre-race, fastidious cyclists and all of their extra-special and unusual requirements before such a long day on the bike. And then, all of a sudden, it was time. Everyone lined-up and I got to give the final event announcements, explained the Purple Card ideology once again, and the race rolled-out right on schedule, just after 8:30 a.m.
The first 23 miles were intended to be a processional, with all 160 riders riding in a 2×2 formation, side-by-side, eighty-deep. The pace ended-up being faster than the intended 20 mph limit at times, as the excitement of the ride created lots of energy manifesting in some sections of quick pacing. At an average of just over 20 mph, the tempo was effectively very pedestrian, even at the fastest moments. And yet, not so oddly enough, the riders at the front who created the quicker-than-slow tempo during this neutral section were never seen from again at the front once the pacing was left to the big boys. Is anyone surprised by this observation?
The race course went from Carlsbad, out to the coast through Leucadia, and headed north through Carlsbad and Oceanside before getting on the San Luis Rey bike path that took the group up to Oceanside, where the race kicked-in and a few of us ramped-up the pace to 30 mph for the leaders going into the first sprint, which was won by the MRI Monster Media SPY team rider, Phil Tintsman, of San Marcos.
Soon after, which strategically played into the dynamic of the race, the course hit its first of many dirt roads—this one, an inclined gravel road that helped break-up the group quickly. Steve Klasna hit this first tough section in Bonsall with power and quickly strung-out the field into a single-file, “bump and slidefest,” as riders struggled over the abusive terrain and gasped for air through the dust-filled air created by the leaders up in front of them laying down a fierce tempo, kicking up rocks, dirt and dust for the stragglers to suffocate through. At one of the twisting turns, I looked back into a dust cloud, as far as I could see, at the little specs of animated color flailing in the windy wake of Klasna and our lead group’s increased effort. This first section created the first schism in the field, separating those who were supposed to be doing the BWR and those whose egos were too big for the stomach…
Fortunately for them, the next ten miles of road up through Fallbrook was either up or down, but seemingly mostly UPPPP, to the first feed zone. So, going up through Green Canyon I sat in third behind two of the three least Purple guys I know, Ryan Dahl and Stephen Lavery (the other is Seth Davidson). These guys towed us all up to the first feed zone… It was here the first Purpleness behavior (selfish, cheap, uncooperative, and anti-BWR) truly manifested even though there were early signs of it going into the initial fast section. This serious Purple behavior by Todd Parks (one of the eventual Purple Jersey winners) occurred when he attacked the lead group while the feed zone volunteers struggled to get the food and beverages to the this initial swarm of riders.
Despite a warning, this unsportsmanlike behavior created a challenge for the rest of us who had to chase back on up and through Live Oak and over to the big climb up the 395. Shame, shame, shame…
From Rainbow, the course ran south through the beautiful Rice Canyon, and it was here the pace lifted again, with the main selection of 30 leaders racing single-file at upwards of 45 mph through the narrow backcountry road that looked more like Tuscany than the San Diego that most are used to seeing.
From here the real race began for this lead group, as Rice Canyon became Couser Canyon, and the next five miles climbed up to the first King of the Waffle (read: Mountain) finish line. Ryan Trebon set a crazy pace and this dismantled the group immediately, shedding people off the back, especially those that weren’t able to get any aid at the first feed zone, leaving them to cramp their way up the climb. Ryan led up and over this first KOM with Neil Shirley in second, Phil Tintsman in third and Lars Finanger in fourth place. Neil, editor of RoadBike Action Magazine, who as a professional cyclist claimed some impressive results—including a 3rd place in the USPRO Road Race Championship and 2nd Overall in the KOM Competition at the Tour de Georgia—then worked with Ryan, Phil and Lars over the course’s next section, which was probably the most challenging stretch next to the final 5.5 mile climb at the end of the race.
So, from the first KOM, three groups formed with the four leaders up the road being chased by two more groups, all working together in the spirit of the event, with no one rider (except for maybe one) not doing the work. This next section was relentless in terms of its schizophrenic nature: longer climbs, punctuated by very steep hills; gravel sections that were very challenging to get up and over; rough, sandy roads; and will-crushing repetition of pain. With the field now in shreds, our small group stretched out behind me over the dirt roads and we caught Greg Leibert who was in survival mode to get to the next feed zone. Greg, like a lot of us, didn’t get the food and beverages needed at the previous feed zone because of Todd Park’s attack there.
This all lead-up to feed zone two, which was set-up in slightly the wrong place, which was unnerving but added a new angle on the drama of the day.
Ryan, Neil and Lars were now slightly ahead of Phil (who had done his homework on the course), and after going through feed zone two, the threesome missed the immediate right-hand turn into the most challenging and dynamic part of the course, continuing on the wrong route which eventually did lead them back on course—albeit a shorter and less challenging detour. This left Phil in the lead on the course, passing through the Hidden Lake section of dirt, barricades and sand. And here it was the most dynamic and taxing part of the course for many—Country Club lane (with Paris-Roubaix as our template, this is the “Arenberg forest of the BWR,” standing as a hallmark of the course)—a nasty, grove-filled, clay-covered dirt road that starts out with a water crossing and then continues on for another two kilometers of dirt, mud, water and bumps, culminating in two dirty climbs where traction became a major issue for most. And, just as the dirt ends, one final backbreaking climb leads out of this section and takes the riders toward Valley Center. (As we would come to find out only about 20 riders made it to and through this section and thus completing the full course, with everyone missing out on the essence of the event.)
After Phil, the next group on the road of about 10 also missed the turn that Ryan, Neil and Lars rode through, but this group figured out the folly and circled back after a mile detour. They were now chasing our group, which has whittled down to Alan Flores, Ryan Dahl, Victor Sheldon, Brian Fink and Courtland Keith, with Phil up the road a ways carving-out a rut through the dirt, probably while doing a wheelie.
This slightly less than dirty-dozen group worked together, dropping only one rider, pushing east out Woods Canyon and around Lake Wohlford. Meanwhile, the chase group behind was working overtime with the real strong men of the race—Karl Bordine, Steve Klasna, Jason Siegle, Prenzlow Brent Zachary Poehlman and David Jaeger—pushing a fast pace to catch the tour-tiring lead group, with Phil Tintsman still up the road a ways clinging to a shrinking lead and battling the head winds along Highland Valley.
It was here, along Highland Valley and after the second KOM of the day at the 91-mile mark up Bandy Canyon, which took more impetus out of the legs of the leaders, that the lead group behind Phil (and the Trebon, Shirley and Finanger group) formed. This group stayed together over the brutal climb up Via Rancho Parkway, up Del Dios and over to Harmony Grove. Coming through this area into Elfin Forrest, the lead group worked it, with half the group digging deep to keep a very fast paceline while the other half sat-in and waited for the final climb that everyone knew would determine the final outcome of the race.
The course takes a hard right-hand turn and the road gets bumpy, turns up quickly and then becomes dirt. It was here that we finally caught a lonely and seemingly broken Phil, who had been out on his own for more than 40 miles. This section is gated and requires a dismount, and it was at this point that Brent Prenzlow —San Diego’s top Cyclocross racer—dismounted and remounted perfectly and began an attack that splintered our group of 10, leaving Phil behind all. The next five miles were among the hardest most of the riders have ever experienced: first a dirt and gravel road that forces riders to keep seated but taunts them to stand up to make it over the steep humps. Each time a rider stood-up, his back wheel would lose traction forcing him to sit back down and then lose power.
This road, called Questhaven, forced riders to do the dirt dance following the heavy attack from Brent Prenzlow, who is more at home in the dirt than all but Ryan Trebon. This section goes up, but it does so in a series of steep bumps that intermittently back-off before going up again, punctuated by one very, very steep climb before it settles into a gradual climb. From here, we turned right to keep the climbing theme, pushing up San Elijo to the top of Twin Oaks Valley Road, which provided another 1.5 miles of grinding-up and unrelenting pain. Once at the top, we had to do a U-turn (giving us 45 seconds to ask ourselves if we really wanted to climb the coming wall) and head back down one-quarter mile to the dreaded climb up Double Peak, which is a right-hand turn that takes you to the hardest section of the entire day… after having already ridden 112 miles. At this point, the leaders were strung-out like a clothesline, with big and small gaps separating each guy. Klasna, Jaeger and Prenzlow summited together with Flores gapped just enough to miss-out on the final push down the hill and back to the finish. Then Siegle, Poehlman and Bordine made the U-turn at the top, with Tintsman and I struggling to get our bikes up the hill without falling off. I zigged-and-zagged like a paperboy who skipped his Wheaties.
The run back down the mountain and west to the finish at SPY headquarters was marked by a series of stop lights, which played into the advantage of a few riders, allowing a couple of groups to form.
Klasna, Jaeger and Prenzlow maintained the gap that they earned up the hell of the final climb and rode in together, finishing in an intentional tie at a rolling time of 6 hours 26 minutes and 12 seconds—keeping the spirit of the event and taking the GC victory decisively over the next group, which coalesced along the stoplight-affected lead-up to the finish. Poehlman, Siegle, and Flores came in with Flores taking the sprint; Poehlman second; Bordine followed shortly thereafter in 6th and Siegle in 7th.
Phil and I rode back down the hill, stopping at a number of lights, which afforded both Brian Zink and Steven Davis to create a group to finish with. We all worked nicely together to keep the pace high to finish and came in all together in one glorious tie for 8th place. We finished several minutes back from the winners.
(Earlier on, Ryan Trebon, then Neil Shirley and then Lars Finanger finished prior to the finishers listed above, as they had gotten off course, missing the water crossing and Country Club Lane, the “Arenberg forest of the BWR. They were the leaders on the course at the time and therefore ended up finishing well ahead of the chasers that done the full course).
After our group came through, there was a steady stream of finishers and cheaters coming through the finish line over the next three hours. What became clear over the next few hours was that a number people didn’t study the course or follow the course map and ‘accidentally’ and intentionally missed some sections, not surprisingly the most difficult sections. The saddest part is that only about 20 riders did the full course including the toughest and best section on Country Club Lane. Still more cheated, cutting out the final climb up San Elijo and over to Double Peak. This will be something we address for future events, working to ensure that the course can’t be missed, cut, diced or purplized. Fortunately, this year we had 4 zones on the course where riders had to get their numbers marked to separate the hardman from the poseurs.
To avoid this in the future, these riders will not be invited back and the course checkpoints will be heavily monitored with riders at the end not being afforded post race amenities if they haven’t completed the entire route.
The rest of the afternoon and early evening were spent by the racers and supporters reveling in the glories and challenges of the day over more wonderful Belgian delicacies from the San Diego Trolley Stop crew, including more waffles, mussels, fries, bread, cheese and all sorts of wonderful glycogen-replenishing sustenance. Adding to the air of celebration, Belgian Waffle Ride Ale was consumed in mass quantities thanks to the event sponsor, The Lost Abbey Brewery.
Overall, new friends were made, the SPY staff ingratiated themselves to the 160 riders they served at the start, at the three feed zones and the finish line activities. The event cause, The UCSD EyeMobile from the Shiley Eye Center, received thousands of dollars in donations from the racers and SPY and got to showcase its Mobile Eye Center to everyone in attendance.
Rutley Family Chiropractic served over 30 racers, post-event. Four massage therapists served an endless line of nearly-dead racers.
BWR participants also got to enjoy the custom event jersey provide by Squadra and designed by StageOne’s Joe Yule.
I got to give an extended, Belgian Waffle Ale-inspired awards ceremony presentation, going into details about the incredible performances (as well as the ignominious ones) that were laid-down on the roads and trails of North County. The results presented were these:
Ryan Trebon (SPY)
Neil Shirley (Road Bike Action)
Lars Finanger (SPY Swamis)
1st (tied) David Jaeger (SPY)
Steve Klasna (Big Orange)
Brent Prezlow (Celo Pacific/Focus)
4th Alan Flores (SPY)
5th Zachary Poehlman (Adams Ave)
6th Karl Bordine (MRI Monster Media)
7th Jason Siegle (Sdg/Felt)
8th Michael Marckx (SPY)*
9th Phil Tintsman (MRI Monster Media)*
10th Brian Zink (Team Revolution/ZOCA)*
11th Steven Davis (SPY)*
(*Note: 8th-11th tied)
First Female (KOW):