Brennan Wertz Wins Huffmaster Hopper

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Uncategorized

Brennan Wertz Wins Huffmaster Hopper

The 2024 gravel racing has started with exciting racing in California’s Grasshopper Adventure Series. Last weekend, the second event of the series, the 88.8-mile (142.9 km) Huffmaster Hopper saw an all-star field. There was the long-standing, but friendly, rivalry between local favorites Brennan Wertz and Peter Stetina. Lachlan Morton and Sean Bennett, both former world tour racers, also joined the action in Colusa County Mountains, together with many strong riders from the NorCal scene.

After a hotly contested race, Brennan climbed on the top step of the podium. Peter Stetina came second at 41 seconds, outsprinting Sean Bennett by one second. Brennan set a new record for the Huffmaster, finishing 2:50 minutes faster than Tyler Williams did in 2021. On the women’s side, Flavia Oliveira Parks won in a small field of just six pro women (who raced with the men).

We caught up with Brennan after the finish:

JH: Congratulations on another win at the Huffmaster Hopper. This is your second win here, isn’t it?

BW: It is. In fact, this is my fourth time racing the Huffmaster. I won in 2022. Last year, I was in the lead when we hit some peanut butter mud. I was on a bike with limited clearances, and my frame clogged up with mud. That cost me the lead, and I finished third. You could say that I had something to prove when I lined up on the start line this morning.

JH: Tell us about the race!

BW: After weeks of rain and the threat of another gnarly mudfest at the Huffmaster Hopper, we were treated to clear skies and a perfect spring day. The racing was fast all day. On the first big climb, the peloton split down to myself, Pete Stetina, and Sean Bennett. We worked well together for the next hour or two, each taking opportunities to make the others suffer. As we approached the finish, I did a big attack while remaining in the saddle on a rough section of gravel with many potholes and washboards. From there, I put my head down and time-trialed to the finish for the win. It was a very exciting race to be a part of and a great first glimpse of everybody’s form going into the early-season races.

JH: I imagine choosing the right bike for the Huffmaster can be difficult, with a course that includes fast pavement, but also a gravel climb.

BW: Totally. Previously, the race has been won on an aero road bike with 30 mm tires. These days, most riders opt for gravel bikes with 36-38 mm tires and some light knobs. I rode my Mosaic GT-1 45. It’s the first frame Mosaic built for me, back in 2021, with extra-oversized tubes. That bike is so stiff, comfortable and responsive—perfect for a tall rider like me. We put on a new groupset, and I ran extra-large chainrings: 54×40. The 54 provided a nice big gear to push hard on the flats toward the final. I was actually considering riding my all-road or even my road bike, as both clear the 35 mm tires I ran. But with the experience of last year’s mud, I didn’t want to take any risks.

JH: Which tires did you run?

BW: For the past three years, I’ve run 700C x 35 mm Bon Jon Pass Endurance tires at the Huffmaster, on Enve SES rims. For me, that setup felt ideal for this course. In fact, my favorite courses are places where that setup works well: superfast, not super-technical, where aerodynamics play a role.

JH: Was there any time when you wished for a different setup?

BW: Not really. I knew I’d give up a little to other racers as we came over the final gravel climb. The descent has lots of rocks and clumps of dried-up mud. Every year I’ve done the race, I’ve seen somebody crash or puncture there, who lost their chance at winning the race. I took it conservatively, and Pete and Sean got a 10- to 15-second gap. With about 25 kilometers of relatively flat roads remaining, including some pavement, I knew I had time. Once we got into the final false flats, I was pretty much unstoppable.

JH: How did you make your move?

BW: I attacked on a section of rough washboard. With the experience of previous races, I feel I got my tire pressure dialed perfectly for this section. My size helped, too, to keep my tires planted. I did a hard, seated acceleration, riding smoothly over the washboard and maintaining traction while pushing 500-600 watts. I immediately went to the other side of the road, so the others struggled to jump into my draft. I got a gap and put my head down, time-trialing the 6 to 7 kilometers to the finish.

JH: I like it! A strategy that played to your strengths, both as a rider and equipment-wise. What’s next on your schedule?

BW: I’m heading to the Valley of the Tears in Texas on March 9. The week after that is Mid South. So there’ll be two races in two weeks, as part of one big road trip. Both courses suit me well.

JH: Best of luck out there!

Photo credits: Brian Tucker

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