Melisa Rollins and Brendan Johnston claim victory in Belgian Waffle Ride Utah
Coined the “Hell of the South (Utah),” the Cedar City edition offered up the same type of insanity, challenge, and the unparalleled experience that has made the BWR notorious and noteworthy
The Belgian Waffle Ride, affectionately known as the BWR, is undoubtedly the most unique cycling event series in North America. The Cedar City race was the fifth of seven BWR events in 2023 and offered the essential elements of a proper BWR with waffles, cycling at its extreme, and beer.
BWR Utah has drawn world-class cyclists from across the globe, often including former World Tour riders and defending champions of the notorious BWR California event held near San Marcos. On Saturday, August 26, competitors lined up for the full Waffle course to tackle 132 miles and 6,847 feet of climbing over gravel, sand, and rock.
Brendan Johnston and Melisa Rollins both delivered their first big gravel wins in the US at the Belgian Waffle Ride Utah over the weekend, with the Australian multi-discipline rider rebounding from a rocky patch while it was a home ground triumph for Rollins as she returned to rougher surfaces after a big road block through the first part of the year.
In the men’s race Brendan Johnston (Giant Off Road) managed to sail over the line solo in 6 hours 25 minutes and 38 seconds. He was nearly five minutes ahead of Carter Anderson (Ventum Racing/KÜHL) in second and it was another three minutes to Cody Cupp (Reeds Racing p/b Floyd’s of Leadville) in third.
Johnston bided his time in the leading group before taking advantage of a crucial climb, topping out at just under 110 miles into the 128 mile race, to make his winning move.
“For me it was a matter of using up the group of five in the long head wind sections, and if I had the legs send it up the main climb of the day from Kanarraville. From there it’s possible to make it to the finish. Fortunately I felt great out there and almost got better in the heat, and was able to really put some time in up the climb.” said Johnstone.
Riding for Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24, Melisa Rollins took the overall win for women, finishing 10 minutes over second place finisher Tiffany Cromwell (AUS) UCI Canyon/SRAM. In a race like this, trusting the equipment is paramount and Rollins dominated the course on her Felt Carbon Breed gravel bike outfitted with Kenda tires, SRAM components, Zipp wheels, bars and stem, Arundel cages, and a Velo saddle.
A Utah native, Rollins balances her blossoming cycling career with her work as a chemist based in Salt Lake City, UT. She swam competitively in high school, establishing school records in the 100 breaststroke, 200 freestyle relay, and 500 freestyle. Her road to the bike began in 2016 when her stepdad won a mountain bike in a raffle.
Cranmer recruited Rollins in 2021 following her Leadboat second place finish, and she competed in the LifeTime Grand Prix series in 2022. Rollins completed the series feeling dissatisfied and unmotivated although she produced a strong fifth place at Unbound that same year. A strategic plan was put into play for 2023.
The race in Utah fielded some powerhouses on the gravel scene. Rollins was right there with Flavia Olivera Parks and Tiffany Cromwell as they rolled out and pulled away from the field early on, then it soon became a battle between Cromwell and Rollins for the long haul.
“I was quickly realizing how evenly matched the two of us were on this day,” said Rollins. “Tiff and I traded pulls for the next 15 miles, the two of us adding and losing members of our group periodically. But unspoken, the two of us knew this race was between us.”
After summiting the penultimate climb at mile 85 together, Cromwell crashed. Rollins checked in with her before continuing, although she was soon to have her own mishap. “As I descended, it sunk in that I was leading the race,” said Rollins. “But just as this feeling of excitement began, it started to shift into worry as I started to cramp severely—everywhere. I don’t often cramp so I wasn’t sure what to do. I started smacking my legs, I coasted, I soft pedaled. I would look back to check. Where’s Tiffany? Still not there. I finally made it to a flatter section and forced a little more power and a miracle happened. The cramps vanished as quickly as they appeared.”
Rollins would spend the final 40 miles solo, wondering whether Cromwell was just behind. On the final major climb of the day, a 2.5-mile sandy dirt road averaging nine-percent, but with pitches upwards of 20 percent, she was forced to walk her bike due to a bent derailleur hanger from an earlier crash on the single track, leaving her with fewer gears.
“I crested the climb and made my way to the final single track sector solo, and then on to the finish. With a few miles to go, the lead moto told me I had seven minutes and I cried. I did it!”
2023 BWR Utah Men’s Results
1- Brendan Johnston 6:25:38
2- Carter Anderson 6:30:21
3- Cody Cupp 6:33:18
4- Joe Goettl 6:33:55
5- Andrew Dillman 6:37:27
2023 BWR Utah Women’s Results
1- Melisa Rollins (USA) UCI Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24
2- Tiffany Cromwell (AUT) UCI Canyon SRAM
3- Flavia Oliveira Parks (BRA) EXCEL SPORTS p/b SPECIALIZED
4- Sarah Jarvis (USA) Multisport Mastery
5- Chelsea Bolton (USA) Ventum / Eliel / KAV / IRC