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Tour of the Battenkill 2010

The 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.

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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, 2010.

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 point 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 a 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 behaved itself pretty well after that. The dirt was in great shape but that 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 he hit a hole, causing his hand came off the 'bars, and he took out Leo from 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 first 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 goes up must go down and the first dirt descent of the day was next on the menu. While I love descending, I had been a little apprehensive before the race about the joys of descending dirt roads in close proximity to 100 of my best friends. Thankfully, everyone appeared to know what they were about, the bunch stretched out a little and it was a blast.

I seem to remember a nice swoopy paved descent to the hamlet of Shushan, followed by some rolling rolls into a headwind, leading through Salem. The pace at this point was lackadaisical, with two guys dangling off the front. Even so, we seemed to be picking up a constant 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 Road, with an accent on the "Hill"." While paved, by my estimation, this is the longest and toughest climb on the course. The group really began to stretch out here and I slowly made my way towards the front. A split of 15-20 riders seemed to form as we passed the Greenwich town 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 of the course into a headwind, and the pack came together again. At this point, I think everyone was prepared to wait for the decisive last third of the course and enjoy the glorious scenery while they could. The enthusiastic crowds in Greenwich touched the hearts of some though, and we lined out in single file through the town to the feed zone.

Then the fun began. A tiny, sharp, uphill turn to the right led us 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, the rider to "have at me!" The attacks came thick and fast and one, from a suitably slender Squadra Coppi rider seemed particularly dangerous. I was in the thick of it, loving every moment and achieved one of my goals, being the third or fourth rider on the Becker Road descent, with its infamous off-camber left hand bend. This year, however, the dirt road was in pristine condition and the bend was effortless.

More roller coasters followed on the Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic (*) Meeting House Road before we sadly came back to normality on the prosaic Route 74. The strength of the field showed too, as a sizeable bunch came back together while we cruised to the foot of the final challenge, Stage Road. Sadly for me, this last reprieve was anything but, as my legs started to cramp. Trying to stretch one leg just made the other cramp worse, so I could only try to pedal through it and hope that they would magically come around.

All too soon though, the Buskirk "Red" Covered Bridge appeared on the right, while we exited stage left onto Stage Road and dirt sector #8. It rose sharply and the pace and group exploded. I gave it everything but a group of around a dozen pulled irresistibly away. False summit followed false summit as we stair-stepped our way towards the true top, when we turned back onto a paved road and the descent to the finish.

I found myself riding with two others as we sped through a worm hole and into the Racing Twilight Zone, where every last atom of your being is solely focused on getting down the road as fast as possible. This 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 me go the front again. We've almost got those three guys. Please legs, don't 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 the sharp turn onto Main Street and the finishing straight. We got him back but then one of the William Cycling guys went, followed by one of the Squadra Coppi guys. I might have done better in the finish, but I surprised myself by producing something that vaguely resembled a sprint, coming in third in our "elite chase group" of six, for 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.

John raced in Cat 3 (green). A group of 11 got away on the final climb.

John's elite chase group came in about a minute later.

John has joined a racing team this year (Stage 5 Cycling), but the jerseys have not yet arrived, so he raced in Irish colors.

Check out the timing chip brazeon!

The brazeons original intent was for attach light wiring, but it was perfect for the timing chip!

 

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