The Tour of the Battenkill is the closest thing I have to a home-town race, having lived in upstate New York for a good swath of my young adulthood. I grew up, as it were, riding those roads – testing myself on the repeated hills, dirt roads and whipping winds. As such, I look forward to Battenkill all year and think that it’s one of the best-organized and most intense races of the calendar. I knew heading into this year’s race that the team was well-prepared and motivated for a result. I’m happy to say the result was just about as good as we could have hoped for.
The weather on race day was about as expected for upstate New York in mid April: windy, moderately cold and with passing rain showers. An exceptionally wet winter actually improved the conditions of the dirt roads, and in many sections we found the dirt to be smoother than the pavement, which made for fast, spirited riding on the dirt sections.
The Battenkill course is basically a series of rolling hills. For the majority of the race, you’re either going up or you’re going down. The few flat sections at the beginning of the race normally see copious attacking and despite the long and technical course, it’s best to contain the attacks lest an early and strong breakaway gets down the road and is able to maintain a lead that turns into a true threat. Not one for the hills, Kyle kept control of the front end of the race on the early flat sections, reeling in attack after attack.
By the second time over Juniper Swamp Road (basically a dirt wall that we climb a couple times) the group had thinned out considerably. By this time it was just a matter of attrition. The goal was to stay on the front end of the group and stay in contact with the leaders; keep the pace high enough to discourage attacks and breakaways. Despite this, the occasional group did manage to get down the road – usually individual riders trying to make a go at it. Jackson did a tremendous amount of work at the front of the race during the last half to reel back in these potentially dangerous attacks, repeatedly turning himself inside out to control the pace and neutralize threats. It became funny, actually. Several times I thought Jackson was done, cracked and off the back. Then, out of nowhere he’d appear, riding up past me to chase something down, saying “I got this one, Boss,” as he sped past. It was an impressive display of teamwork and assured that I could stay protected and not waste energy prior to the final 20 miles.
Just after the second feedzone, and with about 20k to go is where things usually get real; attacks start and the pace stays about as high as possible for the remainder of the race. Meetinghouse Road is a sinister dirt section that’s a series of steep hills, one after the other. It’s a place where the group thins out greatly and the right move can get away and stay away. Sure enough, the pace quickened, and with each successive hill, the group gradually diminished. My plan at this point was survival – just stay toward the front of the group over Meetinghouse and then the final climb of the day up Stage Road.
The final climb itself isn’t that hard. It’s a stair-step climb on dirt, without any particularly steep sections. What makes it truly difficult is that it comes at the end of 80 miles of viscious hills, so the legs are a bit worn out by the time this final section begins. We came up over the top of this final climb with a group numbering around 25 out of the original 150 starters. Jackson had done his part to contain the race and fell off the group at the bottom of the climb. As such, I went into the finale without teammates.
From the top of the final climb, it’s a fast descent down to the final kilometers – a long, flat drag into the town of Cambridge. Containing a group here is hard. Everyone wants the win and attacks begin to come immediately and without pause. I knew that if I stayed toward the front, I would have a good chance in the finish. This year’s Battenkill finish was different than the previous years where we finished on the long, flat main street in Cambridge. This year, we crossed over main street and then quickly executed two sharp right hand turns just prior to the finish line on a side street in front of the Cambridge Hotel. The finish is nearly identical to the now-defunct Balloon Fest race that used to be held in Cambridge in June. I’d done well at that race many times before and knew the finish tactics well.
Coming into the final mile, a small group of 3 had attained a gap of about 5 seconds over the rest of the field. I was tucked into third wheel coming across main street and into the final turns. After the penultimate turn, I attacked as hard as I could. I caught the 3-man group just prior the final turn onto the finish straight and went around them, holding as much speed as I could through the turn, narrowly avoiding the barrier on the left side of the road. From that point, it was about 100 meters to the line, so it was an all-out sprint. I was able to hold off a charging field to cross the line with a good gap built up behind me.
I knew I had won the field sprint, but it was unclear to me at that point how I had done in the overall. Battenkill is one of those races where individual riders get off the front of the main group and then get brought back, one after the other, mile after mile. I knew we caught the majority of them during the final climb and subsequent run into town, but I wasn’t sure. It turns out that one rider had impressively managed to hold a few precious seconds gap over the field to take the win. I’d have to content myself with second place on the day, and I was pleased with that.
As I sat there, collecting myself, other team riders began to trickle in. Jackson and Kyle were especially jubilant – my podium position having justified their sacrifice early on. Time for podium and celebratory consumption of Battenkill Valley Chocolate Milk.
All in all, a success for the team and a good race. Thanks to Sarah and Gretchen for the feeds, Marty for allowing a gaggle of bike racers access to his house, and Dieter Drake for hosting another great Battenkill.