Posted by Editor on 04/21/15
Gaelen Merritt from the Wheels of Bloor team wrote the following report for last weekend's Tour of the Battenkill:
With warm temps, sunshine, and a moderate breeze, the weather could hardly have been better for the 2015 edition of the Tour of the Battenkill. But even in the absence of adverse weather, this race is no walk in the park, with rough pavement, rough gravel, crosswinds, and of course a healthy dose of nasty steep climbs that come relentlessly right till the finish.
This year's edition had been moved to start and finish at the Washington County Fairgrounds - a nice, spacious, utilitarian venue for a bike race with 2000+ participants, but unfortunately lacking the bucolic small town vibe of Cambridge NY (the previous venue). The course was run largely on the same roads as before, however the pivotal sections now occurred at different points in the race. This led to new fresh race dynamics while still maintaining the same (fast becoming traditional) difficult sections of the course. Course length remained similar to last year, at around 168 km.
Ready to start...
We lined up 5 WOB teammates at the start line: Bruce [Bird], Anthony [Sreblowski], Osmond [Bakker], Andrew [House] and myself. Bruce and Osmond had raced the 40+ category the day before (finishing 1st and 4th respectively), and Anthony had raced the Cat 2 race on the Saturday as well (finishing 11th).
The first 80 km of the race consisted of 3 circuits of the infamous Meeting House Road, a wide open stretch of gravel rollers known to break what remained of the peloton into pieces leading to the finale of previous editions of Battenkill. This time, instead of coming with 25 km to go, it came three times in the early part of the race.
Brendan Housler (Nalgene-Mt Borah) was active right off the bat, attacking relentlessly until him and a handful of other riders made an early break. Osmond, Anthony and I covered chase group attempts, with Curtis White (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit) and Tim Mitchell (CCB Racing) being particularly paid attention to.
The descent off Meeting House Rd was really white knuckle each lap, with Curtis White putting his considerable cyclocross talent to good use, drilling it on the gravelly switchbacks and causing gaps to form in the already strung out peloton. On the second circuit this caused a split in the peloton. Andrew flatted just as the split was forming, while Osmond and I found ourselves on the wrong side of the split, with Bruce and Anthony nowhere to be found (turned out they were off the back of the SECOND peloton). Up to a 30 second gap formed between the two pelotons - myself and maybe 5-8 other riders including Osmond chased relentlessly to get back on.
For a few minutes the thought of having lost the race not even halfway in began playing in my head - we weren't making great progress chasing, the guys working in our group were tiring, and with the third repeat of Meeting House Rd coming up I was legitimately worried. Fortunately for us this split did not stick, we reformed and slowed considerably, and Bruce, Anthony and Andrew (having got a new front wheel) were able to chase back on. At this point a powerful group containing Tim Mitchell (CCB Racing) and Eneas Freyre (TTEndurance) got up the road, chasing after the original Brendan Housler break. They would eventually link up and start working as a group of ~12.
After the third circuit of Meeting House we descended down towards Stage Rd, which was previously the final climb of the race. Bruce shot off the front leading into the climb with his characteristic self-described "Diesel-Style" tactic of starting the climb at or slightly off the front, climbing at his own rhythm and slowly fading back into the group, thereby conserving precious energy he would need later on.
I put in the effort required to stay at the front on the climb and came over the top around 4th wheel next to Jack Burke (NCCH). After a fast descent we hit the main highway heading towards the covered bridge. Bruce lumbered to the front here with the intention of pulling the peloton closer to the lead group which had a (~2 minute gap at this point), so myself and hopefully a few others could form a working chase group to catch the leaders (just as Tim Mitchell and Eneas had done earlier). Bruce gave everything he had for me and must have taken 30 seconds out of the gap here, drilling it at 47-48 km/h into a slight headwind for 4-5 kilometres with the peloton strung out behind him and me sitting happily (and slightly in awe) about 5 wheels back.
We descended down to the covered bridge and shortly after it a chase group of 4-5 formed off the front including Jack. I jumped with the next move with two others and no one chased. The three of us worked well together, riding up Perry Hill and the terribly steep and soft Juniper Swamp Rd as hard as possible while taking turns at the front amicably in between.
The three of us caught two riders (likely dropped from Jack's chase group), and about 2 kilometres later we were joined by three more riders who had broken free of the peloton and bridged up to us. We consolidated into a chase group of 8 and got to work chasing down the leaders. This was by far the "easiest" part of the race as it was quite literally the only part of the race where there was ANY cooperation - the rest of the race was attack, cover, recover, rinse, repeat.
After about twenty kilometres of solid smooth rotating our group of 8 made the catch, which swelled the group to about 20-25 guys. In this selection was Jack, two or three CCB racing guys (including Tim Mitchell and Adam Carr), two or three Ride with Rendall and ~3 Kelly Benefit guys (including Ben Frederick and Bryan Lewis).
A moto-official rode up beside our group and informed us there was a solo leader 2 minutes ahead. It turned out to be Brendan Housler, who had attacked the break while my group of 8 was chasing them. I made the easy decision to sit in here and conserve energy until the Joe Bean Road climb, which was coming up fast, and with the biggest numbers/strength in the group the onus was on Kelly Benefit and CCB to work to reel in Housler.
After 140 km of racing the Joe Bean Road climb loomed, and the inevitable pruning of our front group began in earnest. I suffered but made it up the climb with them - I was still going pretty good at this point but it was certainly hurting. Our group of 25 was reduced to less than 15 coming over the top. Jack was still here, as was a few Kelly Benefit guys and Tim Mitchell. The gap to Housler was plummeting.
Following the descent off Joe Bean Road, we turned left onto Riddle Road, a new dirt section on the 2015 course. The first 1.2 km of this road averages 7%, on soft dirt, with energy-sapping sandy spots along the way. It was here that the rapidly forming cracks in my armour completely opened - an acceleration happened on one of the steeper ramps that I just couldn't follow. I was dropped, but didn't give up and stuck to the rhythm I could maintain, kept pressure on the pedals when the road leveled out, and got off the dirt section about 25 seconds behind a group of 10 guys, with about 22 km left to race.
The wheel support vehicle passed me and I glanced back and saw no one else, of those dropped I was certainly the "least dropped" - the others were long gone off the back. So there was zero point in sitting up with no one behind to help chase so I just kept the pressure on trying to keep the leaders in sight.
After about 3 kilometres of chasing solo I realized they were playing games and attacking each other, so I was actually gaining on them... and after 5 kilometres I had caught back on! When I got back on I could see Housler only 10-15 seconds ahead of our group. Bryan Lewis (Kelly Benefit) made the TSN turning point attack here and jumped across to Housler in an immensely impressive late race effort. Housler and Lewis started working together, as our now group of 9 toyed around attacking each other - Ben Frederick of Kelly Benefit did an amazing job here of covering moves, refusing to work and interrupting any attempt to get a paceline going. This really helped his teammate get and stay away. Textbook teamwork.
Jack Burke, Tim Mitchell and Alexis Cartier (Transport Lacombe Devinci) made valiant efforts to break free but were chased down. I was a complete wreck by this point - my ability had been reduced down to "just one speed left" - so when attacks went I would grit my teeth and bear with it, and when the group slowed I'd play the only card I had left -lightly rolling off the front and continuing along at my "one speed." Then the group would chase me down easily with the next counterattack and the process would repeat itself. It was agony - it was like the final 20 km were being ridden like the first 20 km of a bike race, except we were a field of 9 guys so you had to cover EVERY move or you'd be left in the dust. And all the while Housler and Lewis extended their gap.
Finally with 2 km left we hit the final climb of the race, a 60 vertical meter, 800 meter long switchbacking gravel climb. I mustered every ounce of strength and courage out of my body but was gapped about 1/3 of the way up the climb, I came over the top about 15 seconds behind and rode hard the remaining 1.2 km to the line, coming in 10th place, about 55 seconds behind the winner Bryan Lewis, and 10 seconds behind 3rd-9th.
Andrew was the next best finisher from our squad, finishing 25th, about 9 minutes back. Anthony and Osmond came in about 11 minutes back, in 35th and 37th respectively. Having won the 40+ race the day before, and having given everything for me at the halfway point in the race leading up to the covered bridge/Perry Hill section, Bruce limped home in 47th, about 18 minutes back.
A short summary of my feelings surrounding my result:
GOOD - For the first time at Battenkill, I was "in" the final. I was in the mix for the podium and even the win from 25 k to go until 1.5 k to go. I saw how the finale played out. I was there, and I was a part of it (albeit a small part). In previous years I couldn't even commentate on how the race (or even the podium) was won. This year I could. That's WAY more progress than any tenth place result would indicate.
BAD - I was in the mix for the podium and even the win AT BATTENKILL and I only got tenth?! Because I got dropped on two climbs?! ARGH!!!
Report courtesy Wheels of Bloor
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