Tour of the Battenkill by John Bayley
The following race report is based loosely on actual
events. In reality, the pace was slower, the hills lower and your
hero less dashing. The names of some antagonists have been changed
to protect the insolent.
I've been intrigued by descriptions of the Tour of the Battenkill
race since I first heard about it. The dirt roads, hills and beautiful
countryside called my name, and thus it was that I ended up on
the start line of the Cat. 3 Green field on Saturday, April 10th,
This was my first time in a racing bunch in over six years, so
I wasn't sure what to expect. Hearing mention of 30+ hour training
weeks from some unemployed guys chatting before the flag dropped
didn't bolster my hopes any. I could only hope they were tired!
Off we went, 96-strong, with a strong tailwind on Rte. 313. I
had heard about the desirability of being near the front before
the turn off to the narrow Eagleville covered bridge, which in
turn leads to the first dirt section. However, a combination of
my feeling a little ring-rusty in a big pack and a lack of pace
on this section found me further back than called for in The Idiot's
Guide to Bike Racing.
Thankfully, no race-winning breaks went off the front at this
and there was only minor mayhem on the aforementioned first dirt
section, as everyone got their tyres dusty and water bottles went
flying. There was some flagrant flouting (try saying that with
mouthful of Gu!) of the (virtual) yellow-line rule but the wheel-van
came up alongside on a straight section of road and the group
itself pretty well after that. The dirt was in great shape but
didn't stop a guy just ahead of, and to one side of me, from suddenly
wobbling and coming to a halt on the side of the road. I think
a hole, causing his hand came off the 'bars, and he took out Leo
Threshold Sports. Happily, Leo made it back to the group not too
much the worse for wear, albeit a little disgruntled and with
a banged up left shifter.
The road soon became paved before turning to dirt again for the
big test of the race, the climb up Juniper Swamp Road, at 20km/12
miles. The pace increased notably and, while I wasn't breathing
terribly hard, my legs were not so subtly telling me that I wouldn't
be imitating Fabian Cancellara dropping Tom Boonen today. What
must go down and the first dirt descent of the day was next on
menu. While I love descending, I had been a little apprehensive
the race about the joys of descending dirt roads in close proximity
100 of my best friends. Thankfully, everyone appeared to know
they were about, the bunch stretched out a little and it was a
I seem to remember a nice swoopy paved descent to the hamlet
Shushan, followed by some rolling rolls into a headwind, leading
through Salem. The pace at this point was lackadaisical, with
dangling off the front. Even so, we seemed to be picking up a
stream of people dropped by earlier groups.
The easy going lasted until the turn onto Joe Bean Road at 42km/26
miles, when the pace shot up again. This turns into Bunker Hill
with an accent on the "Hill"." While paved, by
my estimation, this is
the longest and toughest climb on the course. The group really
to stretch out here and I slowly made my way towards the front.
split of 15-20 riders seemed to form as we passed the Greenwich
line, before we hit the descent which turns to dirt part way down.
However, the pace fell again as we cruised around the back side
course into a headwind, and the pack came together again. At this
point, I think everyone was prepared to wait for the decisive
third of the course and enjoy the glorious scenery while they
The enthusiastic crowds in Greenwich touched the hearts of some
though, and we lined out in single file through the town to the
Then the fun began. A tiny, sharp, uphill turn to the right led
onto a dirt road and the pièce de résistance of
the course; the
delectable combination of Mountain, Vly Summit, Becker and Meeting
House Roads. They rise and fall, twist and turn and tempt you,
rider to "have at me!" The attacks came thick and fast
and one, from a
suitably slender Squadra Coppi rider seemed particularly dangerous.
was in the thick of it, loving every moment and achieved one of
goals, being the third or fourth rider on the Becker Road descent,
with its infamous off-camber left hand bend. This year, however,
dirt road was in pristine condition and the bend was effortless.
More roller coasters followed on the
Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic (*) Meeting House Road before
sadly came back to normality on the prosaic Route 74. The strength
the field showed too, as a sizeable bunch came back together while
cruised to the foot of the final challenge, Stage Road. Sadly
this last reprieve was anything but, as my legs started to cramp.
Trying to stretch one leg just made the other cramp worse, so
only try to pedal through it and hope that they would magically
All too soon though, the Buskirk "Red" Covered Bridge
appeared on the
right, while we exited stage left onto Stage Road and dirt sector
It rose sharply and the pace and group exploded. I gave it everything
but a group of around a dozen pulled irresistibly away. False
followed false summit as we stair-stepped our way towards the
top, when we turned back onto a paved road and the descent to
I found myself riding with two others as we sped through a worm
and into the Racing Twilight Zone, where every last atom of your
is solely focused on getting down the road as fast as possible.
was true eyeballs-out, hell-for-leather, balls-to-the-wall,
on-the-rivet, no-holds-barred racing.
The 5km to go sign flies by. I'm going to die. Please don't make
the front again. We've almost got those three guys. Please legs,
cramp! Don't slow down! My lungs are going to explode.
"This is heaven, this is hell.
Who cares? Who can tell?" (**)
One monster pull from yours truly and we caught up to a group
of three, containing two William Cycling guys. They thought
we were on the verge of catching the leading bunch, but
it turned out to be stragglers from another field.
Still we persisted and, all of a sudden, 5km became 500m to the
finish. A Kissena guy launched himself off the front just before
sharp turn onto Main Street and the finishing straight. We got
back but then one of the William Cycling guys went, followed by
the Squadra Coppi guys. I might have done better in the finish,
surprised myself by producing something that vaguely resembled
sprint, coming in third in our "elite chase group" of
fourteenth on the day.
What a race! I'm already talking about going back next year.
(*) A suitably psychedelic song from Isaac Hayes.
(**) Lyrics courtesy of Irish folk singer, Christy Moore.