From boats to bikes: Brennan Wertz's unconventional entry into the world of pro cycling

How Pinarello’s Brennan Wertz transitioned from being a world champion rower to pro gravel racer

Pinarello gravel pro Brennan Wertz
(Image credit: Pinarello)

Twenty-five-year old Brennan Wertz doesn’t follow metrics. He follows fun. This may seem counterintuitive for a Pinarello-sponsored athlete to say but it’s the truth. His ultimate goal in cycling is to push his limits and have fun doing it. 

The 6-foot-5 gentle giant has been an athlete his whole life and has had an unconventional entry into the world of pro cycling. His journey begins in a boat.

Boy Meets Crew

Wertz grew up in Mill Valley, California, in a home that valued good work ethic, sportsmanship and perspective.

Both of Wertz’s parents rowed collegiately and even met through the crew community. But despite their athletic careers, they never forced Brennan into elite sports. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

“When I expressed an interest in learning to row, my parents were hesitant at first,” Wertz recalls. “They never wanted me to feel pressure from sports. They wanted me to keep a sense of fun in whatever I pursued.”

Even so, Wertz pressed onward in his youth rowing career, eventually earning a spot on the prestigious Stanford varsity crew team. During his time at Stanford he also rowed for the U23 men’s national team with whom he captured the U23 world title. 

But a persistent injury to Wertz’s ribs left him considering other athletic options toward the end of his time as a collegiate rower.

“I had inflammation in the muscles all around my ribs,” Wertz says. “It was excruciating to make a rowing motion, but when I rode a bike, I had zero pain.”

A crew team glides past in Boston

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rolling Out a New Career

Wertz grew up mountain biking for fun. After all, Mt. Tamalpais (“Mt. Tam” for short) was in his backyard.

“Mountain biking was always a recreational part of my childhood,” Wertz notes. “It was something my dad and I did for fun and I always really enjoyed pushing myself on the bike.”

Post-grad, Wertz returned to the bike. It was a safe haven from the pain he sustained from his crew injury. At the same time, Wertz got a job at Above Category - a high-end bike shop in the Bay Area - and also picked up road cycling.

“I had just come off years of intense training for crew, so I was physically really fit,” Wertz says. “I loved the dynamics of riding with a group, but also going out for solo rides with no plan, no power meter. Just exploring and pushing myself on the bike.”

Pinarello gravel pro Brennan Wertz

(Image credit: Pinarello)

Athlete Gone Gravel

Wertz quickly found success in amateur road racing, moving from being a Cat 5 racer to a Cat 2 in just about a year. He raced for the Mike’s Bikes team in late 2019 and early 2020, and earned the top podium spot in the road race and time trial at the prestigious Valley of the Sun stage race in Arizona.

Then, the pandemic hit and racing was no more for the foreseeable future.

Despite his promising path in road racing, Wertz felt he was better suited to the more adventurous side of the sport.

“I gravitated towards gravel riding because of its amazing culture,” Wertz says. “Every race is like a big party. Everyone is socializing with each other regardless of team, there are food trucks, music. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Through his connections at Above Category Wertz was able to partner with Enve and Mosaic to design an entirely custom gravel bike leveraging a Mosaic GS1 frame to suit his 6-foot-5 frame and gravel ambitions.

“It was awesome getting to meet so many people in the industry and my custom bike turned out amazing,” Wertz says. “I took the bike to Unbound where I got 10th, which was a solid result for my first-ever big gravel race.”

After Unbound in 2021, Wertz focused on doing the remaining races in the Belgian Waffle gravel series —where he finishing second overall in the series— and did “as many gravel races as [he] could."

Fun is the Ultimate Metric

Unlike most elite athletes, Wertz isn’t concerned with metrics. To him, it’s much more about the journey and having fun growing in the sport.

“Rowing taught me to be comfortable with pushing myself,” Wertz says “Plus, having nearly ten years of an extremely solid aerobic base gave me a great starting place to appreciate the fitness needed for competitive riding.”

Today, Wertz rides full time for Pinarello and is coached by former pro Mike Sayers. He recently set the course uphill TT record at Rebecca’s Private Idaho. But Wertz isn’t worried about setting records or power maxes.

“I enjoy pushing myself on the bike and I find fun in every session and race - I want to ride my bike as much as I can,” commented Wertz. “I told myself when I started riding at a higher level that it needed to be fun for me to continue pursuing it, so that’s my main metric: is this still fun? If the answer is yes, I’ll keep pressing on.”

Wertz’s next race of the season is Big Sugar in Arkansas, the sixth and final race in the Life Time Grand Prix series, on October 22. 

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1