2010 Tour of the Battenkill

Yesterday, I did the Tour of the Battenkill for the third time. This race has really grown up. I heard that there were more than 2000 riders in more than 28 categories. I’ll have to check if there were that many, but it doesn’t matter, the race is bigger than any other amateur cycling event in this part of the country. There were a lot of races. I did the Men’s 30+ again. We had 87 riders in our field. Many of the other fields were  full (sold out). There were four Category 4 fields with 125 riders in each race! Not to be outdone, there were eight Category 5 fields with 50 riders in each race. These are amazing numbers. This kind of participation is unique to Battenkill.

Everything about the race is different from your typical industrial park criterium, and as an “event,” it has developed quite the following. Many of the folks who follow the race, don’t even do it. They just complain/comment about it on the Internet. The race has generated a lot of attention and criticism because it has gotten so big so fast and the entry fee has risen to $95 (for most fields). That may be high for a road cycling event, but it isn’t compared to triathlons, ultramarathons, and other epic events. I don’t know if it was ever grassroots, but it is far from grassroots now. With thousands of riders yesterday, a bike tour (for charity) next Saturday, and an invitation-only professional race next Sunday; this race is now big time. I’ll leave the judging to others. I paid the fee because I wanted to do the course as part of the race. Sure, you could have gone for a ride on those roads for free today, or 364 other days of the year, but I wanted to be part of the event.

The race itself was fabulous again. The single 100 kilometer loop has several (seven or eight) sections of dirt road and is punctuated by several big climbs. You ride through some historic eastern New York towns, you ride through a covered bridge, and you are never far from the Battenkill River. The countryside is beautiful, with numerous farms on the course. There are so few road races left in the Northeast. While we were riding the loop, I’m sure there were other cyclists doing laps in an aforementioned industrial park. How blah! Being a single loop road course alone, makes this race special. Add in the element of dirt roads and you have a spring classic. The race’s nickname is Battenkill Roubaix. It was fitting that this year, the race was held on the same weekend as Paris Roubaix, the famous European spring classic that is known as the Queen of the Classics.

I was joined by teammates Arlen Wenzel and Spike McLaughlin. The three of us have made the trip together for the past three years. It has become a tradition to carpool to Cambridge, New York for the race. Our start wasn’t until 12:25 P.M., so we had time to hang out a bit and get a good warmup. The weather was much cooler than the past couple of weekends, so we mostly huddled in the car and chatted. We were shocked by the cool temperature (mid-4o’s Fahrenheit in the morning) and stiff wind. By early afternoon, the sun was out and warmed the air a bit, but the crosswinds and headwinds never went away. One good thing about the weather conditions was that they made for good road conditions. The dirt roads were in fine shape. Last week’s rain and a mild winter meant that they were mostly smooth, with the occasional pothole. The asphalt roads were actually in worse condition, with cracks and loose gravel. I stayed close to the gutter (shoulder) where I always had an escape route.

Our field shattered on the first series of climbs. I was able to hang until half way, when coming into the longest asphalt hill on the course, I dropped my chain. It was every man for himself at this point, so no one gave me a push. I had to dismount, get my chain back on, and chase just as the field was attacking the hill. I had been positioned nicely at the front and had planned to drift back and stay in the wheels, but I never had a chance. Oh well, that is how it goes. I was out there for the fun of it anyway. I hadn’t been in a road race since Battenkill last year and haven’t ridden close to another rider since cyclocross season. This was the first time I had been in a peloton in a year, so I was a bit nervous. After all, I don’t love riding in a pack anymore. The inherent danger of descending at 40mph shoulder to shoulder with 86 other guys just isn’t fun for me. It used to be, but now, the risk is all to real. I was comfortable enough to hold a line and rub shoulders without going down, but I have no desire to do a crit.

I was off the back and chasing as the field regrouped on the descent. There were a lot of stragglers, but I was passing them. Eventually, I got in a group of five riders. None of them seemed totally committed to chasing and we struggled to form a paceline. Eventually, we got it going and got to within 30 seconds of the tail end of the main field. We were so close, but I think the other guys had burned themselves out. We came into a town and I made one last bid to chase solo, hoping that I could get into the caravan of vehicles following the pack. Sometimes, you can catch on by moving through the caravan. This is how I ultimately reconnected last year, but this year was different, and the wind made it impossible. I never made. The other four guys caught up for a short bit, but I eventually left the group on a dirt road climb. I got caught by some of the leaders from other categories and just rode it in alone. I finished in 3:01:50, 11 minutes behind the winner. It was good training. For a warmdown, I ran for 20  minutes. My legs felt pretty good and I really did have fun.

Arlen finished 13th, and he was bummed out because he finished better last year. He had a good ride, but missed the critical move when a small group got away on the last big hill. Spike finished behind me, and he too enjoyed himself. We all agreed that regardless of the entry fee, we intend to be back in 2011. The three of us have enjoyed doing some different races in past three or four years. I like big events that are special, rather than the run of the mill races. They are trying to convince me to join them at the Shenandoah Mountain 100 mountain bike race on Labor Day Weekend. They did it for the first time last year and they loved it. I’m seriously considering it. It might fit into my race schedule nicely.

As for Battenkill 2010, it was excellent. The race never felt over-produced. Of course, I’m racing Ironman again this year. Nothing is more over-produced than that! The Battenkill volunteers were excellent. There was neutral support on the course. There was a little race expo. The roads were safe. That is all you can hope for in a quality bike race.

Race Results

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