Posted by Editoress on 04/16/12
To understand what the Battenkill road race means to the cycling community, all you need to do is to wander through the thousands of vehicles parked in the fields and school parking lot in Cambridge, NY, and look at the license plates; Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont , DC and, naturally, NY. Other states were undoubtedly represented as well. We come from all over the greater North East to test ourselves against the best in the area, we try out our new equipment obtained in the long off-season, we sport our new team kits and see how successful our winter training regiments have been.
The Battenkill Road race is anything but typical. Registration opened on the first day of winter (December 21st) and within ten minutes 1000 of us registered. Many categories sold out within the hour, such as Men’s 40-49 and 50-59, with dozens of people putting their names on waiting lists. No other bike race in North America has been able to motivate cyclists to register early quite like the tour of the Battenkill.
In 2012 the event was granted a UCI status, which meant expanding back to two days of racing similar to 2010. The UCI event was held on April 15th featuring 29 invited teams of six riders for a total of 160 racers. All of the other categories raced on Saturday, April 14th. The Saturday event also included a Category 1 race which would be the first group of the day to make their way around the 100km course, including an extra smaller loop that brought the total to 130 kms. Given the rules in the US, I would be permitted to enter the Cat 1 race even though I hold a Masters 1 license.
I saw this as a perfect opportunity to make my first attempt at a Category 1 race after having some success in the age group category in my first attempt last year. I signed up within the first 10 minutes on Dec 21st. I was a little disappointed when I saw that only 20 riders were registered for the event despite the field limit set for 150 and the largest prize purse of the day. Fortunately, two weeks prior to the event the number of registrants grew to 60 with 51 showing up on race day. It is easy to understand that most Category 1 riders would prefer to compete in the invitational UCI event on the Sunday, resulting in less numbers for Saturday’s Cat 1 event.
It took three hours to pick up teammates Bobby Mrvelj and Ian Scott (who would compete in the 40-49 race) and break free of Toronto traffic on Friday evening on my way to the US border in Niagara and then another four to get to within an hour of Cambridge NY by midnight. I arrived at registration just before 8:00 am on Saturday morning and made it to the starting line with two minutes to spare. It was sunny with a mild wind and a chilly 3C, but it would warm to 20C by noon.
I spotted Brandon Spencer (Kallisto / Wheels of Bloor) at the start shivering as he dropped his coat to the side of the road for the start. Brandon told me that he had completed the event the prior two years and that the field pretty much stayed together during the first 30 km loop. The yellow line rule was in effect and on as many occasions cars came by in the opposite direction throughout the race. The roads throughout were plenty wide and in the paved sections there was often at least three feet of paved shoulder.
Despite starting out mid pack I quickly found myself at the back. Within the first few kilometers of the race the commissaire on a motorcycle rode up along the peloton and issued warnings about the crossing the yellow line. As soon as the official moved up ahead of the group, a rider or two would violate the yellow line rule and move up the left side. Apart from the obvious safety concern of the infractions the other riders did not complain, as we all knew that the course was too long and challenging for moving up the left side to offer any real competitive advantage.
I saw a rider shoot off the front by himself during the first 5 km with no reaction from the peloton. There are two steep climbs during the first loop; the first on paved roads and the second more difficult one on gravel. I moved up a bit on both climbs as the young studs at the front of the group applied the gas. I noticed that on the dirt road climb (Juniper Swap Road) the peloton split with 15 riders suffering about 50 metres behind the main group. The pace let up on the descent allowing the stragglers to rejoin the peloton. I made a mental note to be sure and move up close to the front the next time up the climb to be sure that I made the split again in case the pressure stayed on.
On our way up to the covered bridge for the second time I asked a fellow rider near the back if he knew the situation up front, he told me that Booby Lea was off the front and that he would probably take it home. I told him that I did not know who Booby Lea was or in fact who anyone was. He responded that it was better that way; he told me that Bobby had just come from the World Track championships. I could not believe that a rider could take off 5 km into a one day road race at the Cat 1 level and claim victory with no team support behind him, no matter who they were. There were plenty of 3-4 man teams (Garneau, Kelly Benefit, Aetna, and Champion Systems) who would not possibly allow a single rider to break them without putting in a concerted fight. From what I could see, the riders up front did not seem to be all that worried.
I did manage to get up to the front for the second time up Juniper Swap Road but this time the peloton stayed together. Last year after climbing Juniper Swap Road in the 40-49 year old category, 100 riders were split down to a select group of 40. At the Cat 1 level the pack did not lose a single rider after four steep climbs. The countryside around the Battenkill River is beautiful and I enjoyed the opportunity to take it in over the first half of the race.
After the road levelled out another solo rider went free as we all watched him move away. A short while later the commissaire announced that the leader was over 3-minutes ahead and the chaser was one minute and 30 seconds in front of us. I stayed up near front and watched two riders move off the front followed shortly thereafter by David Hoyle (Aetna) who was clearly one of the strongest riders in the field. Tactically I knew that this was not an ideal spot on the course to launch an attack as it was slightly downhill with long sight lines. I waited for about ten seconds before giving in to instinct and sprinting off after the 3-man chase while the rest of the peloton responded and broke into a single file line about 20 metres behind me. When I bridged up to the 3-man group I noticed that they were not dedicated to their move as their heads continually swiveled checking out what was happening in behind. The peloton quickly reformed and I cursed myself for having burned a match in a doomed move when I should have known better.
I kept waiting for a productive working formation to take the lead at the front driven by one of the stronger teams, but it never happened. At one point I was sitting forth wheel behind Brandon and suddenly the pace went from Tempo to Sprint and I just could not wind it up quickly enough and opened up a gap for Blair Berbert (Kelly Benefit) who groaned and closed down the gap as I slipped back ten riders apologizing as I went backwards.
On the next few climbs I remained near the front and pushed the pace on the second climb to see what effect it might have. Maurice Gamanho (Van Dessell) countered by move and gained 20 metres on the group, I upped my pace a bit and rode up to him. I turned back to see that I was given a free pace from the peloton. I could not believe it. It has been a long time since I was awarded a pass like that, and I was not going to waste it. I quickly joined Maurice and took the lead pushing the pace. I looked back a few times to see our lead grow and then spotted a solo rider working to bridge up to us. I decided not to wait for him at this point as there was no way of telling how far the peloton was behind him due to the short sight lines. After another five minutes the rider was still 100 metres behind us with no sign of the peloton so we shut it down to wait for him to join; the rider was David Hoyle.
The three of us worked together nicely for a while and we began to reel in the lead rider up ahead of us. The commissaire told that we had a 1-minute lead on the peloton which soon dropped to 55 seconds and then 50 seconds. I knew that if we did not up the pace the peloton would soon have us in sight and then work hard to shut us down. I upped the tempo and put in a few long pulls and was delighted to hear that the gap was up to 1:15.
Eventually we caught Bobby Lea and formed a group of four in the lead. Lea stayed in close behind us as the three of us from the chase continued taking turns in the front. After numerous rations I heard Hoyle ask Lea if he was going to help out and then the next time through Lea came to the front briefly, but it was clear that he was drained from his super solo effort. Lea went back to forth position for a while.
I enjoyed the loose gravel roads and took long turns at the front during these sections benefiting from being able to pick my route and not having to deal with as much dust from the road. After a few more turns I moved back and went for my water allowing Hoyle and Maurice to gap me a little while I called back to Lea to take a turn. Lea said he would try and then closed the gap while I move in behind him.
The next time I came to the front I stayed there for a while down the gravel section leading up to Meeting House road. I kept the pace constant as we started the long climb and looked back to see that Lea had dropped off. I kept the pace steady through the gravel and saw a gap in behind me. I looked at my clock and figured that there was about 45 minutes left to race. I then decided not to wait for my break-away partners choosing instead to push on alone. I relied on my power meter to judge my efforts and stayed within a range that I knew I could maintain saving enough energy for the final climb up Stage Road.
The lead car dropped back to tell me that I had a 30 second lead on a chaser and 45 seconds on another chaser while the pack 1:30 behind with 10 miles to go. I maintained a steady pace and was able to keep a constant power output all the way up Stage Road energized by the prospect of being able to pull out a solo win. I was happy to see a support car in behind me as it indicated to me that I must have built up a 1-minute lead.
I raced down the other side of the hill crouched in an aero position and then rode steady through the final 5 kilometers into town counting down each kilometer thanks to the welcome signage on the side of the road. The approach to the line was much more direct this year. I crossed the line with arms raised with a 1:12 lead ahead of Blair Berbert and Jacob Rytewski (Astellas Oncology). Riders came in at all different times with the largest group of 12 riders arriving at 4:50.
It was a thrill to meet Greg Lemond after the race and pose for a few pictures with him along with Blair and Jacob. The entire community really gets behind this event and I look forward to next year’s race.
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