2011 Tour of The Battenkill Pre-Ride Report

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On Saturday, I went and recon’d the new Battenkill course. I was glad that I was able to convince a good friend of mine from Saratoga Springs, Patrick Lawrence, to join me for the day. We made plans to meet around 9am in Saratoga and drive over to Cambridge together. I of course had to make my coffee run into Uncommon Grounds in downtown Saratoga around 7am, where I enjoyed a large cup of coffee and an outstanding bagel and egg white sandwich. The weather looked great if you were a duck, or a bike racer training for a hard, long, spring race in upstate New York. The run to UG is part of my morning ritual, anytime I’m down in Saratoga on the mornings before heading to races in the southern part of New England. The straight shot drive from Burlington is just too far to drive before a race, so I’m lucky that my parents still live down there – and I can crash at their place.

So, we hit the road around 9am, after I was able to down a few bowls of oatmeal, a protein shake, two more cups of coffee, and two more bagels with peanut butter. We arrived at the Cambridge Hotel, just as the young woman was opening up the lobby and getting things in order for the day. The place was pretty much totally empty, so she kind enough to allow us to use the restroom as our locker room to get kitted up for ride. Of course this time of year the rationale that goes into selecting what the proper kit combination is going to be is always amusing. Tights or just leg warmers? Medium embro or hot? Arm warmers and a thermal vest, or LS jersey and a wind vest? Rain jacket or riding jacket? In the end, the temp outside was about 40 when we started, and everything was WET. It wasn’t raining, and it was going to warm up to near 45, but the wind was blowing hard, and it was not particularly warm. I settled on arm and leg warmers, with my team Embrocation/Rapha riding jacket, and was perfect with the uber secret coffee embro.

Once on the road, I was happy with my kit selection – and we were rolling. Nothing to report about the first few miles of the course; the roads were in typical rough shape but nothing too crazy. The first dirt section where everyone ejected their bottles last year was super smooth and tacky. There were a few patches of ice here and there, but completely ride-able. Then back onto the pavement for the first little climb that comes after the sugar shack—that was all the same. Down the descent and left onto the dirt road approach to the swamp something road [Juniper Swamp Road – Ed.] , the super steep dirt climb that some people end up having to walk up was all fine as well. The hill was smooth and tacky, and steeper than you remember. Trust me. Once you reach the top of that the descent, the dirt was smooth and fast, and then back to pavement before you take a right on dirt again. This was the most shaded section of dirt we hit for the day, so it had more ice on it than the others, but the ice was covered with dirt from… a sanding truck? Yes, they appear to sand the dirt roads over there, so the hard ice with dirt/sand on top was actually the best line here.

Once you come off of this dirt section, you take a hard left then a right onto pavement. These two corners were both pretty sketchy with holes and piles of dirt left by a plow. At this point it’s fine all the way up to Salem, and then out to that paved stair step climb [Joe Bean Road – Ed.] a few miles out of town. The stair step climb was actually NOT as tough as I remembered it, so I felt good about that. I should mention here that my workout plan for the day was to ramp my efforts for 10min heading into the climbs and ride the climbs at a pace JUST under race pace, then ride steady tempo between the climbs or dirt sectors. For the most part, I was able to estimate the timing and effort pretty well all day, and I then planned to attempt to ride the last 20 miles (from just past the feedzone to the finish) at a hard steady pace. The dirt descent beyond the long stair step climb after Salem [Ferguson Rd. – Ed.] was in good shape overall, however the surface was pretty soft, and the little rollers in that sector always make it a bit tougher than you think it should be. Today was no different: it was hard to drive a steady 23-25mph pace through there.

Once you reach Rt 29, where we typically turned right and headed into the Village of Greenwich, we will be taking a left onto Rt 29 for about a mile, before turning right over a small bridge and train tracks. At this point we are on the opposite side of the river on a paved road. About a half mile up the road, Patrick surprised me with a “Whoa, whoa left right here, left…” Without even thinking, I think my response was something like “What? Up that fucking driveway? You’re kidding me?” He claimed his Garmin was on it, so we proceeded. This dirt road (or driveway) was only one lane wide, and wound up through the woods. I’m not kidding when I say “up” – this road has a section that is about as steep as that swamp road thing we will have climbed twice already. The first pitch is straight and steep, then is curves around to the left, and back to the right before it settles a little bit. We’ll round a right hand curve and continue to climb on rough dirt, before a small rolling decent that leads into another false flat dirt sector. Another small rolling downhill (keep an eye out for the huge hairy steer, on the left) and that drops us out onto the paved road that brings us back into the town of Greenwich, from the Cambridge direction. We are only on this for a few minutes, before we end up taking a left onto the road that we used to turn right onto, after going through downtown Greenwich. Now, back on the old course, we continued on, and hung a right to climb up toward the feedzone. That section was the same, as was the dirt sector named “Mountain Road” where the race came apart last year. Speaking of coming apart, my prediction is that the race will be splintered by the time we reach the feedzone this year. The amount of climbing and tough dirt sectors that have been added in place of the flat rolling section that we used to race going into Greenwich is SO much tougher. The race will not have a chance to come back together from the time we reach the top of the stair step climb after we leave Salem. From that point, I could see a lead group roll off the front on that climb, hold a gap on the descent, and then get into these new climbs and dirt sectors with a considerable gap on the peloton. There is really no place for any regrouping to take place from there on.

So, in an effort to test my fitness, I took the car key from Patrick at the feedzone and set out on a solo mission to the finish at a hard steady pace. Mountain Road was in great shape, smooth and fast, and just as rolling as you may recall. I hammered along there just fine, keeping myself just below a boil. When I reached the end of Mountain Road, I stood up to power up that right hand little pitch of pavement and noticed I had flatted my front tire, so I stopped and was just about finished replacing my tube when Patrick came by and said that he would keep going. I was able to get a solid 15min of hard effort before my flat, but now, with being off the bike and dealing with the flat, I had certainly lost some of my steam. From there, I got back on the bike and began ramping my effort back up along the dirt sector that leads into the sketchy descent that took out Colin and a bunch of other guys last year [Becker Rd – Ed.]. The descent was super smooth, and oddly felt less off camber than it usually does. Nothing worth noting on Meeting House Road, those rollers are still big, steep and dirty. From there it was all the same. I was feeling good about my effort and sensations as I was reeling Patrick in on the long pavement section after Meeting House Road, before we took that left onto the road that leads to the last dirt climb of the race, Stage Road. When I hit Stage Road, my legs were starting to wave the flag for a number of reasons. First, they were tired for sure, and second – the dirt was very soft and just sucked any speed or momentum I had: I was climbing the steep section at only 6mph I think. It was brutal. So I clawed my way to the top and began turning the pedals over again on the rolling decent into the finale. As I was approaching the 2K to go mark, I rolled up on a skunk that was lurking around the double yellow, walking toward me. With large snowbanks on either side of the road, I started planning my strategy for getting by this guy without scaring him into spraying me down. Luckily, at about 200 meters from the skunk, I heard a car approaching me from behind. Thinking quickly, I decided to use the car, and play a “pick and roll” to get around. As the car approached, I had to get up to speed, just as the skunk shot for the far side snowbank and turned around, ready to spray if he needed to. I had my eyes glued on him through the windows of the car passing me on my left as we made it by. Classic….

So, the finale is going to be a bit different this year. Instead of coming into town and turning right onto Main Street for the finish, we are going to come in, cross over Main Street, and take the first right and another right before finishing in the same area that the Balloon Fest Race uses. The road surface from the last corner to the finish is SUPER rough. It’s about 150M of total bombed out, Beruit style road. The frost heaves needed to be rolled like I was riding a pump track and the puddles were at least three inches deep. So, all-in-all it was an awesome day, not a drop of rain, or an impassible sector of road. The course is going to be hard for sure, and the new section is going to be a rude surprise for anyone that doesn’t go and ride it.



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