Wow, what a year it’s been. I’ve traveled more than ever and ridden my bike more than I thought possible. But with all the travel and time on the trail, it's been a while since I last penned a journal for Above Category. So to remedy that, here's an update on where the bike has taken me so far this season and what's around the corner.
More than anything, this year has been about change. I transitioned from working full-time at AC to full-time racing gravel, traveling the world to train and compete on the world's most iconic trails. It's been an absolute pleasure and a privilege. But, it's also been extremely 'full gas'.
Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to explore some of Marin's beautiful gravel and paved roads with a film crew for a video project I was a part of with Pinarello. This was the first Scuderia Film of this season, and it was a joy to be able to help share the beauty of our majestic backyard.
After wrapping up the filming for the video, it was time to head to Italy to visit the Pinarello headquarters in Treviso. I knew it would be a memorable trip since I would be meeting the team and participating in the legendary Gran Fondo Pinarello as it celebrated its 25th anniversary. And the same video crew from Marin would also be along for the ride, capturing the action.
Dogmas & Dolomites
When I arrived in Treviso, I was presented with a spectacular, limited edition Pinarello Dogma F painted specifically for the Gran Fondo. I was part of a roughly 250-person cohort of international dealers, employees, and other 'friends of the brand' who made the trip to Italy for the Gran Fondo.
I truly enjoyed the experience of taking part in the challenging race, pushing myself and this beautiful bike to the limit and making many new friends along the way. And I managed to get 8th place, which felt pretty good, given the stacked field!
Photo by Brennan Wertz
After the warm welcome and rad roads of Treviso, it was time to head into the Dolomites, an area I had never been to but one I'd been itching to visit for many years. Through Pinarello, I had the chance to travel into these beautiful mountains to train and shoot a portion of the second Scuderia Film. This partner film to the first episode highlights the experience in Treviso and the mind-blowing scenery of the Dolomites.
While in the Dolomites, I stayed in a town called Badia, located in the valley/region of Alta Badia. This area is an absolute cycling paradise, whether you're looking to ride road, gravel, or mtb. There is an exquisite variety of riding and the furthest thing from a shortage of climbing. I stayed in a beautiful bike-centric hotel Ustaria Posta, which I'm more than happy to recommend. The owner of the family-run hotel, Igor, is the fourth generation responsible for the hotel and is also a fanatical cyclist. Igor was a massive help, always willing to point me in a new direction or send me out on some sinuous backroads or monstrous climbs.
I ultimately spent close to a month in the Dolomites, logging multiple 30+ hour weeks of training as I prepared for the remainder of my gravel season back in the U.S. While I was in Alta Badia training, I also had the opportunity to pay a visit to a few of my other European partners and longtime friends of all of us here at Above Category.
Partway through my stay in Alta Badia, I rode down to Bolzano to spend two days riding with the crew at Q36.5, taking part in their training camp and riding a stage of the Giro Delle Dolomiti amateur race. Connecting with people I'd only ever spoken to on the phone was awesome, and I became even better friends with much of the team at Q36.5. However, what struck me was how passionate all the employees were about cycling and how excited everyone was to spend 8+ hours together on the bike.
Photo, and the top header photo by Alex Roszko
While riding with the folks from Q36.5, I also had the opportunity to meet and ride with Uli Schoberer, the founder of SRM and the inventor of the power meter. I enjoyed the long dinner conversations with Uli, discussing power meter technology, the evolution of said technology, the sport of cycling at large, and our shared passion for the bike.
Towards the end of my time in Europe, I had one final week remaining and wanted to do something epic. I have long dreamed of riding self-supported across the Alps. This desire grew even stronger in 2017 after a failed attempt at an alp crossing on my mountain bike after getting snowed out on the high passes.
With one week left before I needed to fly back to the U.S. for SBT GRVL in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I decided to set off across the Alps on my road bike. And, of course, I was loaded with gear! As well as the usual essentials, I packed a spare kit, some phenomenal Q36.5 cold weather gear (since you never know what to expect in the high mountains), and my climbing legs and set off on a six-day adventure of a lifetime.
Photo by Brennan Wertz
I began the trip with another visit to the Q36.5 headquarters in Bolzano, Italy and then continued to the Stelvio Pass. I rode this legendary pass at the end of the first day, arriving at the summit hotel at sunset. Riding so late in the evening was magical, with hardly a car in sight and only the sounds of the birds and marmots accompanying me up the monstrous climb.
The next day began with a chilly descent down to Bormio, which required the extra Q35.5 gear I had packed for the journey. Upon arriving in the valley, I took off the additional garments and packed them away in my bikepacking bags, where they would remain for the rest of the trip.
The subsequent days would take me into Switzerland, then into Liechtenstein, back through Switzerland, over countless beautiful alpine passes, and then along the Bodensee through Austria and into Germany, where I arrived at my main destination of the ride: Friedrichshafen, Germany.
Photo by Brennan Wertz
Rolling into Bodensee
Upon arriving in Friedrichshafen, I met with Matthias, my main point of contact at Lightweight, my road wheel sponsor. I'd wanted to visit the Lightweight headquarters in Southern Germany for a while, and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about how these cutting edge wheels are made. Of course, there was lots of secrecy involved with the production of these über light wheels, but the team were kind enough to welcome me deep into their facility where they build all of their wheels, in addition to numerous aerospace and industry products.
We spent the morning riding around the Bodensee region before having a tour of the facility. A highlight of this visit was successfully conducting all of our meetings in German, a language I'm fluent in but haven't had many opportunities to speak throughout the last two years of limited travel.
Photo by Brennan Wertz, and Lightweight
After wrapping up my visit at Lightweight and a quick overnight visit with my nearby German relatives, it was time to set off back towards Italy. I took a much more direct route back, riding through Austria over the Brenner Pass before crossing the border into Italy. I managed to make it back in just two days, with the final day requiring a major push to make it back to Alta Badia before nightfall.
After a few final recovery days in Alta Badia, it was time to make my way out of the mountains to catch my flight from Venice to Denver for SBT GRVL, my top priority event of the year. Would I have the opportunity to convert my Italian training into a result? Fingers crossed!
Back to the Track
I had some stress on the way back to the U.S., with my bike and luggage going missing, but fortunately, I was able to get my bike back two days before the race. SBT was my favorite event I attended last season and one I had been looking forward to since the conclusion of the 2021 edition.
The race began with the usual chaos I've come to expect at the larger mass start gravel events. With each event I attend, I continue to gain valuable experience, and I know to always stay near or at the front for the neutral rollout to avoid any mishaps. I was right at the front of the bunch when we hit the first dirt section, flying into the hard-packed washboard dirt at around 60kph. No sooner than my tires made contact with the dirt, I felt my chain fly off my chainring and begin dragging on the ground. Since I was on a 1x configuration, there was no hope of remounting the chain without pulling to the side of the road. The group was large at this point, with riders packed close to one another and moving rapidly. I had to coast to a stop and let about 300 riders pass me before I had a gap where I could safely make my way to the side of the road.
Upon arriving at the side of the road and dismounting, I quickly hooked the chain back onto the teeth of my 46-tooth single chainring and leapt back on my bike. I was way back in the group at this point, but I knew there were many hours of racing ahead and that there was no need to get worked up. So I remained chill, put my head down, and began working my way back to the front of the race.
Just as I regained contact with the front end of the race, after about 15 minutes of hard but controlled chasing, we hit the first dirt descent of the day. I positioned myself on the inside of the first corner, only to discover that there were massive brake bumps on the inside. As I hit these brake bumps, I felt one of my bottles eject from my cages. I've had phenomenal success with the Arundel Mandible cages, and this was the first time I had ever ejected a bottle while running their cages. I think the ejection was due partly to the size of the bottles I was using (the largest ones available) and how full they were still at the beginning of the race.
Photo by Linda Guerrette
The Hot Topic
As you may have heard, SBT GRVL was a controversial race this year in regard to hydration strategies. Numerous top contenders opted to use hydration packs, but I did not, which meant I was down to only one water bottle, with about 200km remaining.
Fortunately, at the first aid station (where no one stopped), I grabbed and filled two neutral water bottles provided by the organizers. I put one in the empty cage, stuck the other down the back of my skinsuit, and got back on the gas, knowing there was a selective climb approaching. I managed to catch back on after a few minutes, but this wouldn't be my last chase effort of the day.
On at least three different occasions, I stopped to refill bottles at an aid station where most riders continued rolling, forcing me to put in some significant chase efforts to remain in contention. One of these efforts was around 30 minutes with a small group of motivated and disgruntled riders who had stopped at the midpoint aid station, while a large group of race favorites continued up the road wearing hydration packs. This 30-minute effort consisting of 400-450 watt pulls on the front of the group was brutal, but I still felt good and remained calm as we made our way back to the front.
As we made contact with the leading group, some of the riders had a rather unfriendly exchange of words. I was bummed to have to chase so hard, but I also knew there was nothing we could do. The riders with the hydration packs had made a smart move, and I held no ill will towards them.
Photo by Linda Guerrette
As the discussion became increasingly heated, I could sense a 'rage attack' was coming. I was getting sick of listening to all the bickering and contemplated attacking myself. Just as I was about to throw down, Keegan Swenson and Ethan Villenada attacked, and I jumped right on. We quickly had a gap over the field and fully committed to keeping it. We rotated hard for 10-15 minutes, and as we approached the crest of the main climb of the day, we all sat up a bit and let a few riders from the exploded group latch on. We then got on the gas HARD as we honed in on the finish line. The pace was relentless for the final 50k of the race, with the group whittling down with each exposed crosswind section or steep pitch.
A Podium Push
On the final climb before the fast 10k run into the finish, I was finally dispatched from the front of the race as Keegan Swenson and Payson McElveen rode across to Freddy Ovett. I was in the chase group with Paris Roubaix and Tour of Flanders winner Niki Terpstra, and Alex Hoehn. We rotated a bit as we headed back to town, but we were all suffering from cramps. As we limped towards downtown Steamboat Springs and the finish line, I knew my best chance against these guys would be in the sprint. The last kilometer of the course is quite technical and tricky, but I had the upper hand since I did the race last year and the other two hadn't. Niki led things out through the last corner, and I was able to hit it hard out of the corner. I came around him in the final 200 meters and held off Alex as I charged to the line, ultimately landing in fourth place.
While I surely would have loved to win SBT, I was thrilled to reach the podium. It was an honor racing with such a stacked field of pro men and women, and coming away with a result I was proud of was a great validation of my training and preparation in the Dolomites.
After SBT GRVL, I have continued to travel and race throughout the Western United States, stopping in Whitefish, Montana, for The Last Best Ride and Ketchum, Idaho, for Rebecca's Private Idaho. In Whitefish, I finished fourth once again, and in Ketchum, I was second in the overall for the stage race and won the Dollarhide Hillclimb stage, setting a new course record in the process.
The season is slowly coming to a close. However, I still have two final races: the last stop of the Belgian Waffle Ride Quadruple Crown of Gravel series in Lawrence, Kansas and Big Sugar in Bentonville, Arkansas. I will be training in Boulder for the coming weeks as I make my last big training push before taking my off-season rest.
This crazy journey wouldn't be possible without the generous support of all my sponsors and those of you following along and cheering me on! I am immensely grateful for the brands I have backing me and the countless individuals who have messaged me or shouted words of support somewhere along the way. Thank you!