The excitement of race day was palpable at the Main Street Park in downtown Cedar City, UT. The women were gathering together—excited to have their own staging area and start time, yet fearful of the unknown of what that would be.
It was a slam dunk. Without having to sift through the stifling dust as the sun rose to find the other riders who may be their competition, they were all standing on the grass together. A united group who would soon begin throwing watts at each other, but of their own volition—not because the men were riding harder into the headwind. The playing field had been leveled, and we soon would have a race on our hands.
Looking at the start list prior to the event, three names stuck out as contenders for the win. Whitney Allison, Heidi Franz, and Lindsay Goldman.
Whitney Allison has been chipping away at the elusive gravel win this season, and with a long list of road/time trial palmares dating back to 2013 to include Amgen Tour of California and Colorado Classic, there is no denying that Whitney can race her bike, and suffer deep into a stage.
Heidi Franz has been racing in Europe with Rally Pro Cycling to include the Giro Donne and, most recently, finished second on a long road stage at Joe Martin Stage Race, securing 3rd overall and the QOM Jersey for the event. She would bring peak form to Cedar City and partnered with a strong cyclocross skill-set; she would be one to watch for sure. She also had a teammate—Holly Breck—which none of the other riders had.
Rounding out the podium contenders was Lindsay Goldman. Another rider with a strong road pedigree and pension for time trials and long breakaways, Lindsay has been knocking on the door of top 5 finishes on the dirt this season, and Cedar City could be her day.
Other strong women in the field included Melisa Rollins, recently added to the Twenty24 team roster. Lindsey Stevenson, Abus Pro Gravel team, Anne Donnelly, longtime gravel racer racing for Hylands with mountain bike racers Nikki Peterson and Sarah Kaufman.
The women’s field began about 10 minutes behind the men’s waffle group and 10 minutes ahead of the wafer men and women. With 130 miles to traverse through washboard gravel roads, sandpits, single track, and block headwind; the neutral roll-out started calm and smooth as the group headed to the 4-mile mark.
As the women neared the first dirt section coming off the gravel road, the chasing men of the wafer caught the group. This happened at a perfect spot before the road kicked up and became more technical through Little Salt Lake. With the added horsepower, the group picked up speed, and selections began to happen.
Descending into the first aid station, Heidi Franz was in the lead with Goldman and Allison close on her heels. A minute or so back was a group of 8 women, rounding out the top ten and beginning the chase for the podium.
The three leaders began working well together, with a small select group of the wafer leaders. Through cow paths and down jeep roads, the women were doing the lion's share of the work at the front, and we saw that Franz was getting into difficulty. Her body language didn’t read fatigue, but a slow leak to her front tire was taking her out the back. With finesse, she aired up her tire as her compatriots steadily built a gap, and the hard chasing 8 riders behind her kept chipping away at her lead. This wouldn’t be the last we saw of Heidi on the day, which is what helped make the battle for 2nd place that much more exciting.
The Wafer men turned off the course at mile 55, leaving Allison and Goldman riding a team trial—not unlike the ones they did in years past as teammates racing on the road. Added to their group were the occasional male Waffle rider—the simple fact of having more bodies in the group was helpful, especially along the long false flats and open sections. However, since these male riders had begun 10 minutes ahead of the women, more often than not, they could not match the pace or effort being laid down by Allison, who continued to keep the pressure on.
There was never one big out of the saddle attack or decisive technical descent for Whitney. She just would not let up. As the gradient increased, she hunkered down and would not relinquish her pace. The separation began to happen at mile 58, halfway through a long moderate grade on gravel. Goldman’s pace began to waver as Allison clicked a gear and dug deeper.
Coming into aid station #2 at 70 miles, the gap was 90 seconds and only continued to grow from there. Each rider, Allison and Goldman, were solo and staving off the hungry group of chasers. To their credit, each are experienced breakaway specialists and time trialists, so this type of effort, both mentally and physically, was not foreign to them. The concern rested on how motivated and how cohesively the chasers were riding.
The chase group was down to 5 women: Donnelly, Rowlins, Stevenson, Franz, Breck, and Helena Gilbert-Snyder. The fatigue of the chase was wearing on the group and with the leaders so far out of sight, motivation was waning. It’s a flip of the coin to work hard or rotate in harsh desert conditions, knowing the lion's share of the climbing was still ahead, and you may be acting as the catalyst for a competitor to launch their attacks. With Franz back in the mix, having a teammate with Breck able to help, she was poised to make another run at the leaders as the route turned upwards.
Heading out of Kanarville, both Allison and Goldman remained solo and rode the men they caught off their wheels. As Allison headed into the single track on the Turnpike after mile 100, she had a whopping 9-minute gap to 2nd place on the road. Goldman rallied through the aid station, grabbed a coke, and rode into the trees. She was barely out of sight when a feisty Franz showed up and ducked into the shadows. The chase group had been shattered on the climb, but the women were entering the single track in close succession.
Helen Gilber-Snyder was 4th into the trail, with an impressive charge away from the group. The order would stay the same to the line, but with a fierce battle between Franz and Goldman for 2nd place.
The Turnpike is a 5+ mile section of true mountain singletrack. Once the riders exited this section, they would have another 12 miles of asphalt and dirt and climbing to get back to the downtown park and the finish line. Allison’s lead had not been eroded yet, so we waited to follow 2nd and 3rd out of the single track and see how the drama would unfold. As the riders entered a narrow canyon with rocks from one side to the other, Goldman rode the segment, and Franz opted to carry her bike and run. Franz being the more experienced dirt rider, knew the treachery of the rocks ahead, so she took a more conservative approach. Goldman, on the other hand, had no idea what the rocks could do or would feel like, so she just rode them. That split-second decision and in portion naiveté solidified 2nd place for Goldman. As she exited the rocky section on a piece of brand new asphalt, she went into her tell-tale time trial mode and widened the gap to Franz.
Allison was in the lead, still holding over 7 minutes on her chasers, and finished hands up in the park for her first gravel win and win at the Belgian Waffle Ride. Goldman charged hard to the line, holding off Franz, and the pair finished 2nd and 3rd. Helena Gilber-Snyder, the youngest in the group, rode to an impressive 4th place finish, and Lindsey Stevenson of the ABUS Pro Gravel team rounded out the top 5.
The women raced their race hard from the start and showed class, sportsmanship, and camaraderie along the 130-mile route. Having their own start and wider gaps to the Waffle men ahead and Wafer group behind provided them the chance to RACE and do it how they wanted to and could. Being separated from the other groups gave us as reporters and photographers ample opportunities to report from multiple places on the route, keep track of the leaders and chase group to show the excitement and drama of the day.
Although not on the podium, a winner on the day was Whitney Post, who won the Triple Crown Challenge, having complete BWR San Diego, Asheville, and Cedar City! Congratulations Whitney!
Next up: BWR Kansas! We cannot wait to bring live action from the road, gravel, and trail again!
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