Racing BWR Arizona by Zach Calton

Racing BWR Arizona by Zach Calton

BWR AZ served as the season opener for myself, and much of the US Gravel Scene earlier this March. For the uninitiated, BWR’s signature touch is to make courses which make bike setup extremely difficult. In the case of BWR AZ, there are incredibly loose and selective descents both on single track and double wide moto trails which call for a mountain bike; but there are also extended portions of proper climbing that would call for a road bike or a very lightweight gravel setup. 

For me, I decided to lean into my MTB roots and run the largest tires I could, that meant a 2.2 Kenda Rush front tire, with a little bit of trimming work to make it fit in my Ventum GS1 gravel bike, and a 45mm Kenda Alluvium in the rear. I hoped this would allow me to make select groups on the technical portions, and if someone on a “faster” setup bridged  on the pavement, so be it. 

Zach Calton

The start was very hard as we approached the first turn into the aforementioned moto trails. Gravel is uniquely challenging in that you have to deal with both the trail and also an extremely wide skill gap between riders with various backgrounds and various equipment selections. Unfortunately my hopes to make the lead group heading down the first descent were thwarted when another rider on small tires got bogged down in a sand pit and ran into me. 

One benefit of the length and selection in gravel is the ability to mount a comeback. In a road race, or even a lot of shorter mtb races, an early crash and getting bogged down in the peleton almost always results in a race ruined, but I was able to get back on the rig, and make a few dozen passes before the trail went into singletrack proper and make the 1st chase group still. Our group put in some big digs and eventually caught the lead group of 5 or so. 

We got to a 90 minute section of singletrack at the McDowell preserve as a big group of 20 or so. I planned to race super aggressively here and utilize my tire choice to put some people under pressure. However, I came to find out that the pin I gave my feedzone help for my first feed had issues. So just prior to the singletrack I had to shuffle to the back of my group to try and get food.

I went into the singletrack in 8th or so and as I expected, gaps started to open. I dodged some cactus to pass and close one gap, then a 2nd and found myself in 4th. Right as I got there, Keegan and Lance hit it, Keegan using a suspension fork and massive tires, and lance having incredible cyclocross skills and following Keegan's lines quickly opened up 15 seconds on the rider in 3rd. After a few minutes of begging and pleading, I was allowed to pass with Howard Grotts on my wheel. The 2 of us chased like mad men for an hour or more, but ultimately never bridged to Lance and Keegan. 

Zach Calton

At this point I had gone 4 hours without food, and I was asking my fellow racers for spare gels. Howard and Kyle Trudeau were kind enough to spare me a gel each, and I raided a neutral aid for 2 more to avoid bonk. Our chase group grew, with Torbjorn Roed, Kyle Trudeau, Daxton Mock and eventually Pete Stetina and Sean Bennett latching on. As we approached the top of the course in the fight for 3rd, I knew my final chance to use my aggressive set up was coming. I attacked out of our chase group into the descent with only Torbjorn following.

I got a 20 second gap heading into the home straight but ultimately was no match for Torbjorn as he accelerated by me heading into the 5 mile finish drag. I came in 4th - a result I am super proud of.

It was an awesome day, the Sonoran desert was absolutely firing and I can’t wait to come back!


BWR AZ Podiumphoto credit: Brett Protasiewicz @bprotaz


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