Most cycling aficionados agree that the cobble-heavy Paris–Roubaix—often held in awful weather, to boot—is the toughest one-day race in the world. One of the most challenging races that's open to mortals who don't have a one-in-a-million genetic predisposition for pushing pedals all day long (and a fridge full of EPO and plasma)? The Belgian Waffle Ride.
<iframe width=”620″ height=”412″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/Cl62Bj_rToM” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
"And it will become more difficult," says Spy Optics CEO and ride founder Michael Marckx, "as it has done every year since it was inaugurated."
To understand the BWR, you have to know a little bit about Paris–Roubaix, the annual suffer-fest that happens in early April in northern France. Like many races that are early in the pro-cycling calendar, it's often cold and damp. Although the course changes, it's usually around 160 miles, which is long even by pro standards. But what makes it unique are the cobbled sections: usually 27 in all, covering more than 30 miles at the tail end of the race.
Hellish on cyclists and their gear, it doesn't get tougher than the Paris–Roubaix. Some call the race "A Sunday in Hell," but most refer to it as "Hell of the North."
Years ago, Marckx wondered if he could create a similar ride in sunny SoCal, specifically an area of San Diego called North County. Soon the Belgian Waffle Ride was born, a ride that also takes place in April and includes miles and miles of off-road sections in lieu of cobbles. And, for good measure, the event benefits the Challenged Athlete Foundation, a nonprofit that helps folks with physical challenges compete in sports. The name Belgian Waffle Ride is a tip of the hat to a similar ride that starts with tasty breakfast goods before turning into a day of pain: the French Toast Ride.
There's even a special Southern California twist that comes late in the race that has some cyclists wondering if they're seeing things.
"The Oasis comes at about 117 miles into what's been a brutal ride and precedes the last, final, terrible climb. It comes at a place [that] is dirt and gravel; it's very difficult to stay even upright," explains Marckx. "You crest this hill and you're in this godforsaken canyon and you come around a turn and there's five really hot bikini-clad girls there, spritzing you with water. And there's an aid station that they're manning. That's the oasis."
For each of its three years running, the event has sold out and had a mile-long waiting list. Last April, 500 cyclists started the 135-mile ride. Neil Shirley was the first to cross the finish line, with a time of 6 hours, 39 minutes, and 44 seconds. Three hundred ninety-six participants finished, and the last cyclist crossed the line 12 hours, 26 minutes, and 23 seconds after starting the event.
"The good news is that people go through all this training to build up for the day… it's one of the most difficult things you can really do on a bike," says Marckx. "Those who actually survive it walk away with this incredible sense of accomplishment, which gives them a fulfillment and happiness the likes of which they won't get any other way. The end game is happiness, but they way we take them there isn't the most direct."
Ready to face the pain? Register now. The event is typically sold out in 48 hours.
More from GrindTV