TUESDAY, MAY 2, 2023
Brendan Johnston came into this year’s Belgian Waffle Ride California as a bit of a wildcard to his top competitors and American race fans. By the end of the day, the Giant-sponsored racer from Australia had made a name for himself in the U.S. gravel scene, earning a podium and the “King of the Dirt” title for the fastest cumulative time over the dirt sectors.
This was Brendan’s first time racing a BWR event, and he chose the crown jewel of the seven-race series. The California event is the original, challenging top pros and thousands of amateurs with its 207km distance and 10,500 feet of climbing. It’s not a road race, and not a gravel race, but a diabolical combination of paved roads, dirt and singletrack trails in the hills and canyons near San Diego. The event’s creators call it “The Unroad Race.”
Brendan might not have known the course as well as his competitors, but this is the sort of challenge he loves. From major pro road wins in Australia to multiple MTB marathon national titles, the 31-year-old is a multi-talented all-rounder.
Brendan arrived in California just a few days before the 12th edition of the original Belgian Waffle Ride. Pre-riding some of the sectors with his Revolt Advanced Pro bike and Pursuit helmet, he liked what he saw.
“It’s super different, and actually I really love it,” Brendan said before the race. “The dynamic nature of this sort of race, it doesn’t suit one person. Maybe at one point it does, but there’s so much to try to get through, it’s an all-rounder’s kind of day.”
Bike and gear setup always play a major role in how things play out at any Belgian Waffle Ride. Brendan talked to us about some of the choices he made, which in the end helped him finish an impressive fourth in the pro men’s race.
“I opted for bigger tires, I think that’s more of an Aussie thing,” he said. “I had the bigger 45mm Pirelli Cinturato H tire, and I think the next biggest in the front group was 35mm. For sure I think there’s merit in having the smaller tires, but I just found that early on—where I thought I was going to be under pressure just because of lack of experience with this sort of scene—I was actually cruising.”
His Revolt Advanced Pro frameset features a flip chip rear dropout that lets riders adjust the wheelbase by 10mm. Brendan chose the “long” setting for added tire clearance and stable handling on the rough dirt tracks. For added compliance, he used the Giant D-Fuse SLR seatpost to take the edge off.
For wheels, Brendan chose a CADEX AR 35 WheelSystem featuring superlight hookless rims with a 25mm inner width. The hookless design maximizes rim strength and creates a rounder tire shape with increased sidewall support, which is key for a rugged race like Belgian Waffle Ride. Brendan used a Shimano drivetrain combining the gravel-specific GRX shifters and derailleurs with a Dura-Ace road crankset.
In this race, punctures and mechanicals are always a factor. Brendan attached an Orucase saddle bag with two latex tubes and a multi-tool. He also taped two X-Sauce tubeless tire pluggers, pre-loaded with plugs, to the top tube. “They are small, light, and easy to access,” he said. “Just jump off, plug and go.”
For nutrition, Brendan was fully self-sufficient, carrying 15 GU gels and six bars. His Cuore of Switzerland bib shorts make it easy to load up. “The cargo shorts are great for storing rubbish, and the two extra pockets give me five pockets in total including the jersey. I used this for my strategy and ate ‘one pocket per hour,’ just doubling up on the center jersey pocket to cover the six-hour race.”
Brendan filled his large 750ml Giant water bottles with GU Roctane Energy Drink mix, and says he went through about six bottles along with a couple of plain water bottles.
Here’s a detailed look at Brendan’s full race setup:
Frame: Medium Revolt Advanced Pro 0
Fork: Advanced SL-grade composite
Flip Chip Setting: Long
Front tire: Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H 45mm (32psi)
Rear tire: Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H 45mm (35psi)
Seatpost: Giant D-Fuse SLR
WheelSystem: CADEX AR 35
Front and rear brakes: Shimano GRX
Front rotor: Shimano XTR 160mm
Rear rotor: Shimano Dura-Ace 140
Shifters: Shimano GRX Di2
Rear Derailleur: Shimano GRX Di2
Front Derailleur: Shimano GRX Di2
Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 Powermeter
Chainrings: Shimano Dura-Ace 52/36
Bottom Bracket: Shimano XTR
Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 11-34
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace
Saddle: CADEX Boost
Stem: Prove Tharsis 110mm
Handlebar: PRO Vibe SL Aero
Handlebar tape: Giant
Pedals: Shimano Dura-Ace SPD SL