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Photos of our athletes from the Belgian Waffle Ride
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Hard-Charging Monster Hydro athlete Keegan Swenson claims 1st at Belgian Waffle Ride

Oct 222020

With the current climate of events becoming non-existent this year the North American cycling world was hit particularly hard. One event chose to press forward and conduct a race! The Belgian Waffle Ride looked to host their new event in a new location in Cedar City, Utah. Normally based in San Diego and after years of success, the BWR would host a gravel-specific event in Utah consisting of 125 miles over dirt roads with 6,000 feet of elevation gain all while sitting at an altitude of 4,500 ft.

With a gravel style event, you can expect to see an array of different style of riders show up. To fly the Monster Hydro flag, we had none other than current XC MTB National Champion Keegan Swenson make the trip out to Cedar City just a few days after arriving home after a five-week block of racing in Austria, which consisted of four World Cups and the XC MTB World Championships.

Also showing up to the start line would be fan-favorite Tj Eisenhart, who stepped away from professional racing on the road last year to pursue his own program within the new gravel/adventure racing world. To round out the Hydro crew Brian McCulloch; current road professional, who won the Belgian Waffle Ride in 2018, would look to come back and put a stamp on the new Belgian Waffle Ride in Cedar City.

Keegan Swenson, who was a last-minute addition to the BWR field, was the dark horse as he’s an MTB specialist. Keegan completely shocked everyone by taking a narrow victory over last year’s winner and Tour de France veteran Pete Stetina. A remarkable feat, considering Swenson had just a back brake after an untimely tangle in the first few miles of the race with another rider.

We caught up with Keegan post-race to get his take on how everything played out during the 125-mile gravel race.

 

“I came back from Austria on Monday from being over there for 5 weeks racing the UCI MTB World Cups and World Championships I wasn't too sure about coming here to race, but at the last minute, I decided to, and I'm glad I did. It was a fantastic race, fun course, and challenging. It was a bummer I lost my front brake in the neutral start just three miles into the race. I just got tangled up with another rider, and his hood got stuck undermine, and it pulled the brake up and ripped it off, and all the fluid came out. After that no more front brake for the rest of the race.”

 

“Once I regrouped, I just realized I had to ride smart and almost plan for the descents and know if there were some hard turns coming up, I'd want to be in the front to control the pace and skid through the turns if needed to. Overall though, we ended up with a group of about six of us for the entire race off the front. We all worked together well until about the last climb, where we all started putting in our attacks on each other to see what happened."

 

“I tried to ride my own pace up the climb, and Pete (Stetina) attacked first and got a gap, but I just wanted to ride my own pace. I was confident that I could bring him back towards the top when it got more into the rough terrain. He probably went over the top of the climb 20 seconds in front of me, but I was confident I could bring him back on the descent and the following single track. I ended up catching him about halfway through the single track. He had a small issue in the single track where I then went to the front, but I couldn't get much of a gap on him with not having my front brake. It was nice to ride comfortably in the front though and control the pace because I wasn't riding how I usually would with only having a rear brake.”

 

“From there, we went onto the bike path where we didn't want to push each other too hard with other people on the path, so we had a gentlemen's agreement to keep it comfortable. After that when we went into the finish, I attacked early, about 400 meters out which was kind of far, but I've always been better at the longer sprints than shorter sprints. I'm glad I did though because it worked as I won by probably a bike length. Stoked.”

After only a few days at home to get over his jet-lag, Keegan wasn’t quite sure where his fitness would end up, especially after focusing his training on shorter races, as the World Cup MTB races are brutal, high-intensity affairs that generally last about an hour and 15 minutes or so.

 

“I felt good, honestly a little surprised with jetlag and just a few days at home. This week I took it super easy and only did one three-hour ride and a couple of easy one-hour spins all week. I think it was better to come in rested because, in just a few days, I wasn't going to get any stronger.”

 

“I wasn't quite sure of my form. I knew I was fit for the shorter World Cups, but I haven't done any rides over five hours in a month, or so. I was a little unsure of my fitness but getting to the end of the season, you have so many miles in the legs after all year of training I figured I was going to be okay.”

 

With a new discipline emerging in cycling in the current gravel space, it was new to Keegan as his whole career he has been focused on cross-country mountain bike racing. It’s rare to line up at an event where to your left is a former Tour de France racer and to your right is an Ironman triathlete.

 

“I thought it was fun; it's not something I usually do. We had some tactics & group racing with a lot of pace lining and then some real proper hard efforts up the climbs. It was fun; it was something different for me, and now it's time to call it a season and get some rest, then focus on 2021.”

TJ Eisenhart and Brian McCulloch both had great days as well where they showed themselves upfront and were able to make it through the six-hour race with no mechanicals or issues. Ultimately Brian came home in 8th place with TJ in 16th.

 

What type of training did you go through to prepare for this Belgian Waffle Ride?

 

TJ: “For training leading up to the Belgian Waffle Ride, I knew that the course knowledge was going to be significant, so I did a couple of recon rides of the course to understand how to ride it, saved some energy for the final climb, and had a bottle of Hydro Melon Mania ready to go at the base. That helped me have a strong finish to come home in 16th.”

 

Brian: “For the Belgian Waffle Ride in Cedar City I had the opportunity to come out early and pre-ride the course on two separate occasions. It is such a bloody demanding course that we knew it would be tough, so all of my partners backed me, and I'm happy to win my age category and finish 8th overall.”

 

How did it feel to be back at a larger race after a year of such uncertainty?

 

TJ: “It was an incredible feeling of euphoria being back at a big race! It was awesome seeing everyone you're so used to seeing in the gravel world. Everyone was so kind and loving.”

 

Brian: “It feels so good to be back at an event. My wife and I have a coaching company and we've talked with all of our athletes, and what we realized is that everyone is missing the community aspect because bike racing is more than just about the performance of racing but coming together. So, I'm happy to see Monster Hydro partner with the Belgian Waffle Ride and help make this a reality. The event was put on safely, and it gave everyone the confidence that we could come here and do what we do, and overall, it was a great time.”

 

What was the hardest moment of the race that you had to overcome?

 

TJ: “Man, the most challenging part about the race was probably trying to hold Keegan's wheel. He was ripping! The course was challenging in itself with so much different terrain. You had super soft sand, and you had dust so thick in the air you couldn't see a thing. The final climb was steep with soft sand to make most riders have to walk up. Then you finish with three miles of challenging volcanic single-track mountain bike trail! They knew how to challenge us out there!”

 

Brian: “All of it was hard, honestly, though there were about seven miles of a headwind going into the final climb, and that was so hard because it was mentally draining. You had to be all in, and you knew that the climb was coming so you had to meter your efforts appropriately, but you I think the wind out there at any time made it hard.”

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