Down and Dirty Update from Brennan Wertz

Down and Dirty Update from Brennan Wertz

It's been quite a season for you so far. Can you give us the abridged
version of how things have gone so far this year?

It’s been a heck of year thus far. Lot’s of new experiences, challenges, highlights,
and lowlights. The year began with some incredible local races in Northern
California before heading to Sea Otter to kick off the Lifetime Grand Prix, and
with it my mountain bike racing career. While at first I was far from the level of
many of my pure XC racing competitors, I’ve truly enjoyed the experience of
trying to figure out how to ride my hardtail fast in a race environment. Midway
through the season I raced the Leadville Trail 100, and while I may not have
been right up at the front of the race, it was a big step in the right direction for
me. Then a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to race the Chequamegon 40
mountain bike race, stop number five in the Lifetime Grand Prix. This race was
definitely the best I’ve felt on my mountain bike all year and I am proud to have
finally felt like I belong racing against many of North America’s top Cross Country
racers. Chequamegon and Leadville were also my two best results in the series
thus far, something I would not have imagined to be the case at the beginning of
the year…

On the drop bar front, the season has been full of many positives, but there have
also been some major setbacks. I fell ill the day before Midsouth in the early
season and then was infected with Covid the week before Unbound. I was
devastated to miss two of my main target races, but still managed to have some
other amazing racing opportunities and experiences. After being forced to skip
Unbound due to Covid, I thankfully made a quick recovery and raced to a podium
position at the inaugural FNLD GRVL event in Lahti, Finland. After that I spent a
few weeks training in the Dolomites in Northern Italy followed by a race called
Octopus Gravel in Andermatt, Switzerland that I managed to win! That month
long trip to Europe was a big highlight and set me up for some great late season
form, enabling me to land on the podium at the first ever USA Gravel National
Championship. By securing the podium place at Nationals, I also qualified for the
UCI Gravel World Championship in Italy. I am now in Italy preparing for this race
and can’t wait to see how our American team stacks up against many of the
world’s best cyclist from all disciplines.

Brennan Wertz

You mention you just finished on the podium at the inaugural U.S. Gravel
National Championship. How was that experience and how did the race
play out?

The experience at Gravel Nationals was incredible. After what has already been
a long season with many races well outside of my comfort zone, it was so great
to be back racing a proper midwest gravel race. The course was ~130 miles long,
featured mostly rolling terrain, without any major extended climbs, and some
ferocious winds. The remarkably strong and consistent winds coupled with the
deep and loose gravel conditions made the race a real power battle. I felt great
all day and did a much better job with conserving my energy than I normally do. I
made the race winning selection of four over the final key climb of the day and
then immediately put in a massive attack over the crest of the climb as we came
into a strong tail-crosswind section with about fifteen miles from the finish.
Unfortunately Keegan Swenson, Alexey Vermeulen, and Payson McElveen were
able to close down my gap and neutralize my attack. This was followed by a
cagey game of cat and mouse with many additional attacks on our way towards
the finish. Ultimately Keegan attacked at the perfect moment on the last small
rise with two miles to go and got a small gap he was able to hold all the way to
the line for the win. Behind Keegan, Alexey, Payson, and I sprinted it out for
second place. Alexey got the better of me by half a bike length and Payson was
a few bike lengths behind me. It was a epic battle all day and I thoroughly
enjoyed the race. I’m proud of the result and was honored to stand on the
podium at the first ever U.S. Gravel Nationals.

Brennan Wertz

You're now in Veneto, Italy for the UCI Gravel World Championships. How
is that plan coming along? Gravel is not really known as a team sport, but it
is my understanding you are going as a team. How do you think this is
going to work?

I honestly couldn’t be more excited to be heading over to Italy to represent Team
USA at the UCI Gravel Worlds. It’s a race I’ve had circled on my calendar since I
watched the inaugural edition on TV last year and I feel honored to have the

Yes, gravel is currently very much an individual sport at the professional level in
the U.S. Many of us have our own personal sponsors we work with and there
isn’t a strong team presence in U.S. gravel racing. But for the UCI Gravel Worlds,
our plan is to work together in support of Keegan and Luke Lamperti, which is
something I am extremely excited about. One of the elements of gravel racing I
don’t love is that it often lacks that team bond and camaraderie that is so
common in other sports. Before I was racing gravel, I raced on the road with a
team and before that I was a rower. Both of these sports required a high level of
teamwork and camaraderie, which is something I often miss. Hence, I am
extremely excited by the idea of racing together as a team.

The sport of gravel racing has deep roots in the United States and I hope we are
able to represent our incredible gravel scene well on the International circuit
against many of the World’s best cyclists. I believe we have a really strong team
and I’m looking forward to taking on this race with my fellow teammates in
support of our common goal of placing our leaders in contention for the win.

Brennan Wertz

What does the rest of 2023 look like for you after the World's?

My ten month long season is slowly coming to end, but there are still a few really
exciting opportunities to come. After racing the UCI Worlds, I will head to
Bolzano, Italy to visit my Italian clothing sponsor Q36.5 for their fall Press Camp
and Gravel Camp. I’m really looking forward to spending a week with my friends
from this cutting edge Italian brand and enjoying some nice gravel rides in the
Dolomites to close out the year.

After the trip to Europe I will fly straight to Bentonville for the final big test of the
year: Big Sugar Gravel. Big Sugar is the seventh and final stop in the Lifetime
Grand Prix and a race that I have been looking forward to for some time now.
The parcours features seemingly endless punchy rollers and loose, tire
shredding gravel. It’s a great event and will be a nice way to close out what has
already been an unforgettable year.

Brennan Wertz

Can you give us three things you have learned from your 2023 season so

The first major takeaway I have from this year is patience. I’ve worked really
closely with my coach Dennis van Winden of the Orange Seal Academy to trust
our process and not allow myself to get thrown off when things don’t go my way.
I’ve faced countless setbacks this year, but Dennis’ guidance has been key in
keeping me focused on the bigger picture and not getting too frustrated when
things don’t go how I would have liked..

The second thing I have learned from this year is that I may not be the fastest
mountain bike racer, but I really enjoy the process of stepping out of my comfort
zone and trying to learn some new skills. It’s been challenging at times, but I’m
proud of how I’ve embraced the challenge of learning this new discipline and look
forward to continuing to sharpen those skills in the years to come.

The third thing I have learned this year is that I suffer big time when racing at
altitude. The Lifetime Grand Prix has taken me to some pretty amazing places
this year all in the name of racing my bike. It’s been a privilege to be a part of this
series that is doing so much to raise the level of professional off-road cycling in
the U.S., but it’s also provided its fair share of challenges. One of the biggest logistical, mental, and physical challenges I’ve faced in the series is that fact that
three of the seven events in the series take place at substantial elevation, making
high altitude training camps pretty much a necessity. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed
spending so much time training in the mountains this summer but I have also
found that the thin air and lack of oxygen seems to affect me more negatively
than some of my competitors. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but it has been
noticeable this year. In doing all of this racing and training at altitude, I have
learned tons about my body, what it’s capable of, and where it’s limitations are.
It’s been an incredible season so far and I look forward to hopefully finishing it
out with a bang at these last two races of the year. Thank you to you all for your
support and encouragement and to my many wonderful sponsors for putting their
trust in me and my racing program.

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