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How Belgian Waffle Ride came to Canada

BWR's first event outside the U.S. lands on Vancouver Island in 2023

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Belgian Waffle Ride ranks as one of the most iconic gravel races in the United States. Now, the series is coming to Canada. On May 26-28, BWR will land on Vancouver Island for three days of gravel racing, riding and events.

Jon Watkin is the man behind organizing BWR’s first Canadian event. With a long history of organizing events on the lower island, from road provincials to cyclocross nationals and Canada Cup XCO events as well as his own Burnt Bridge Gravel Fondo, Watkin is looking forward to showing off what the Cowichan Valley has to offer.

“Cowichan is so well positioned to give participants a mix of road surfaces. From pavement to gravel and singletrack, there’s a little bit of everything,” says Watkin.

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“We want to take the riders to places that are worth the effort to go to. That’s terrain, views and the existing hot spots of the Valley,” Watkin says, adding a tease that some of the three local mountain bike networks, Tzouhalem, Mt. Prevost or Maple Mountian, could find their way onto the route. In proper BWR fashion, the route will be challenging. “It will be hard. Really hard. Road will probably only be about 50 per cent of the course.*”

With the event expecting up to 1,000 riders to show up, the Exhibition Grounds provide a space big enough for an event of this scale. “There’s expo space, RV spots and camping and plenty of parking space.”

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While Watkin is organizing the event, he’s quick to credit to Cowichan Valley locals as the instigators of BWR’s migration north. Allison Keple and Jason Sandquist have years of experience racing the BWR in San Diego.

“It’s really Jason and Allison pushing it that brought the event to Canada. They got to know the directors and pitched Cowichan Valley,” Watkin shares. The original series’s organizers finally relented and visited Vancouver Island. What they saw quickly convinced them to bring the series north. “They were really impressed with the terrain and the overall vibe of the Cowichan Valley,” recalls Watkin. With BWR sold on the venue, they needed a race director. That’s when Watkin and his Panache Cycling Sports were brought in.

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While it will be Belgian Waffle Ride’s first event outside of the U.S., Watkin is expecting the combination of the BWR’s reputation with a Maple-flavored twist to work out as well as, well, waffles and maple syrup.

“If you look at BWR California, they have 3,000 participants. The smaller ones still have 70o or 800 people. If you look at our community on Vancouver Island, where a local ‘cross race easily attracts 300 people, hitting 1,000 seems realistic,” says Watkin, adding that the May 26-28 dates overlap with an American long weekend.

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BWR’s eponymous snack will surely make an appearance in Canada, too. Photo: Unroad Unltd.

If the event does go well, it could just be the start. The Panache organizer has plans to introduce BWR to other parts of Canada, too. As for his own event, Burnt Bridge, there are big plans in the works for that event as well now that UCI is involved in mixed-surface racing.

Registration for Canada’s Belgian Waffle Ride debut is open now. In keeping with BWR tradition, the full course will not be released until weeks before the event.

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*Correction: Alison Keple, who designed the course for BWR Cowichan, got in touch to say the final version of the course will look more like 50 per cent road, not the 10 per cent originally reported.