Sunday, April 19, 2009

Race Report: 2009 Tour of the Battenkill --Cat 3 Green

This is a hardman event. 63 miles of rolling hills punctuated with dirt roads, loose gravel, climbs and climbs on dirt roads and loose gravel. As a sprinter, my goal for the event was to hold on to the lead group for as long as possible. If I was still in the front group after the final climb at 57 miles in, I planned on cleaning up the sprint.

Last year in the cat 4 race, I was shelled out of the front group on the descent after the first climb; I lacked the resolved to rail into gravelly corners. Furthermore, I cramped up on the final dirt climb and was forced into the humiliation of walking during a bicycle race. I was determined to have a better race this year, even though I am racing a category up.

Our field was strong, local luminaries such as PVB and Jeremy Dunn were on the starting line. CB had some fire power too, Matt Spaits and Cary Fridrich both excel at climbing, and Cary is a smooth off road rider. Interestingly, Cary chose to race on a set of borrowed carbon clinchers with 23 x 700 tires (suprisingly, the wheels are intact).

They have changed the course for this year. More climbing, more dirt. James Morrison prerode the course a few weeks ago and told us all that it was more difficult than previous years. Considering that he placed 4th in the 3's last year, we all listened, making sure to bring extra food and drink and packing an extra sausage into the suitcase of courage.

For preparations, I put 25 x 700 Michelin Lithions onto my Easton EA90 SL front/Powertap rear. I swapped my cassette out for a 12-27. I tuned and cleaned my bike on Thursday afternoon. I packed 3 waterbottles and gave a bottle to Dot to give me at the 42 mile feed. I packed 3 Clif Bars and 4 Gu's. I also took the precaution of packing a CO2 inflator, 2 CO2 cartridges and a spare tube, since flatting is highly likely and wheel support is overtaxed and often slow to get to you, if it even does.

But my most important preparation was a small crib sheet that Josh Rosenberg sent around that showed where all of the dirt sections were as well as the major climbs. I hadn't printed one, but Jesse had an extra copy along with packing tape to secure it to my stem. This was invaluable, as it allowed me to gauge where in the field I should be at any time, when to eat and when to flex.

Overcast skies, temps in the high 40's low 50's and the high probability of rain made clothing selection both difficult and crucial. I opted for a Craft sleeveless baselayer, Pearl Izumi Pittards full finger, non-insulated gloves, Sock Guy high wool socks, low-quality/high-bling Rapha arm warmers, new team bibs, new team jersey, no shoe covers, a Pace cotton cycling cap and plenty of Mad Alchemy Embrocation (medium).
We drove out to the race on the morning of, which was taxing, but doable. We had
planned on arriving very early so that we could have a decent warmup to shake the cobwebs out of our legs after 4 hours of driving. We arrived a comfortable 2 hours before start and got dressed and prepared without incident.

I got a front row spot on the starting grid and had an easy clip in and fell in at about 5th wheel, shletered, but close enough to react to any moves. The first 10 miles is slightly downhill. Not a descent, but a false flat. Fools attacked and were effortlessly brought back. The first dirt section came at mile 10, shortly after we took a 30 degree sandy corner into a covered bridge.

I was 3rd wheel going through the bridge and when we hit the gravel. I figured that the first gravel section would take some casualties. I am not sure if it did, as I fought to stay in front and never looked back. Most of the dirt roads had a smooth, raised center and gravel on the sides. If you stayed in the middle, it was rough but consistent. When you strayed into the gravel, it became unpredictable. Sometimes you'd be OK, other times you'd hit unexpected loose sand and find your bike drifting wildly. This made passing on the dirt roads difficult. Generally, you either kept the position that you started the dirt section in, or you lost ground.

The climbs were not as long as I expected. They were certainly steep. For the first climb at 10 miles in, I was at the front of the field. I sagged back to about 30th over the course of it. I had gas in the tank, but saw no point in spending it unless people were really riding away from me. On the descent and subsequent flat I was able to regain the front of the field easily, by finding holes and staying on the leeward side of the crosswind.

On this climb a three man break had shaken free. We could see them up the road. I recognized an Alder kit and there were two Alder riders actively controlling the peloton. They weren't hindering chases too aggressively, but they were doing a great job of making it easy for the rest of us to sit in, which we mostly did. A few times, a paceline would start, and a few times I even took a pull. But mostly, I acted like the weakling that I am and tried to stay sheltered.

There were a number of climbs. Most of them steep and punchy. One of them was on a dirt road with lots of loose gravel and sand. It was rather steep. Normally, I like to handle steep stuff out of the saddle, but this proved disadvantageous, if not impossible. When you stood up, you lost traction. Half of the effort that you put into turning the rear wheel was translated into spitting sand and gravel at the riders behind you. While I was in a considerable amount of pain, I was able to stay with the hardmen. Dunn and the naturals were up the road, but I was in the back of the same pack and surprised to be there. I expected to be spit out on the first climb.

It started raining lightly. Not enough to drench us, but enough to make the pavement slick and keep the dust down on the dirt roads.

I got was feeling tired at about 40 miles. I knew that there were some big dirt climbs coming up soon. I forced a Clif bar down while panting for air. The break had been brought back and people at the front were jockeying for position before a hairy dirt descent. When we approached the feedzone, I didn't immediately see Dot, which caused me to start soft pedaling to gain time. I tossed my empties and kept scanning. She was there and wearing a CB jersey, holding out one of Seth's bottles that had only water. I took it and thanked her and hammered through the chaos back o to the front.

After the feed there was short climb, then a pavement descent that feeds onto a long curvy dirt road. I ended up letting a gap open on the climb. Suprisingly, I still was able to put out power after cresting the hill. I fell in with a couple of strong flat landers. We were gasping and blowing snot bubbles while in the speed hooks and gaining on the field, when an explosion of bikes and riders spilled and tumbled across the whole road about 100 meters in front of us. Some one in my little groupetto was yelling, "Don't Get Up!! Don't Move!!" There was a hole about 2 riders wide and we shot at at 40 miles per hour without ever hitting the brakes.

Unfortunately, Spaits was amongst the downed riders. Glancing at him hammering at 40mph, he looked alright. Others were writhing, one guy was not moving despite his unnatural position on the ground.

The crash occurs about 3 minutes into this video (also note how good those Cambridge guys look in their new kits:

Hardman that he is, Spaits rode the rest of the race!

When we hit the gravel, I took the lead and stayed in the drops. The guys who were with me fell off. I rode them off my wheel on the twisty gravel road. I was taking huge risks, skidding every where, really leaning into corners. I knew that I had to regain the front group on this section if I was to remain in the race. At this point, even though I was blown, I thought that I had a chance. I knew that I would catch back on. Since I had been yo yo ing all day and catching back on with ease, I figured that maybe I would be able to catch back on after the final climb and sprint for a good result.

On a fast gravel descending section there was a sweeping left hand turn. The right side of the road was very loose and off camber. I found myself drifting first into the off camber and then off of the road. Hard braking wasn't an option. I slowed considerably while my wheels washed out. I am not sure how I kept the bike upright. As I regained momentum, I heard cursing and then a yardsale. Apparently, this corner took out riders all day.

I made contact near the end of the end of the gravel. I deviated from the raise center of the road and braved the gravel so that I could weave back up to the front, knowing that I climb was coming.

I got to about the middle of the field when we took a 90 degree left onto a moderate grade, pavement climb. I hadn't recovered. The leaders and probably the eventual winner really turned the screws and I was handily dropped. I was putting out plenty of power, but it just wasn't enough. I dialed the effort back and climbed it at a sustainable pace.

I didn't count, but it looked like about 30 guys riding away. If past experience holds, I knew that I would be able to pass some of those riders later after they got dropped or mechanicalled out. In my mind, any result is respectable in a shit show like Battenkill. Instead of sitting up, I kept the hammer down to the best of my ability. Sure enough, I steadily reeled guys in over the next 15 miles.

I caught my friend PVB on the notorious Meetinghouse Hill dirt climb. PVB's friend and teammate Jeremy had punctured while in the main group and there was no support car. PVB gave JD his wheel and waited for the car. PVB and I climbed at a tempo pace. Normally, he would have shelled me on this long stair step climb, but he was done racing for the day.

With 5 miles to go, I got in the drops and took a pull, thinking that we would paceline in, holding off people behind us and maybe reeling in a few guys. But after poring out what I had and pulling off, PVB made like he was going to pull through but instead pulled up next to me and continued chit chatting. After a rest, I hammered again, same result. A Christian Cycling rider worked with us for a bit and then attacked. Blown, we watched him ride away, but reeled him in a mile later when he popped.

As we chatted, a group came up behind us, all sprinters. All of the sudden it was a race again. Between 6 and 8 of us started taking pulls and rotating.

With one kilometer to go, I was on the front. I kept looking over my shoulder for signs of someone setting up to come around me. Slowly, I ramped up the pace. At a half a kilometer to go, my face was on the stem and I felt like I was leading out the sprint for a crit. I was praying for someone to attack so that I could get on their wheel for shelter from the wind. At 300 meters, Christian Cycling jumped hard and there was nothing that I could do. I held the rest of the group off for 32nd place.

As always, this is the hardest single day race on the local calendar. I was so spent and sore at the end, that I could hardly ride my bicycle for my warmdown. I haven't seen the results yet (not posted), but no matter what they say, I am happy with my performance. I felt much better than I did last year and I was able to hold on to the front group for 2/3's of the race.

Strangely, I woke up feeling great the next day. I went to Wells and took a couple of primes, coming around C. Holmes Murphy for one, and then got second in the field sprint behind my teammate Kyle Smith.


Billy said...

I had a great time, even with horrible luck. I had my wheel clipped on the first dirt climb, which brought me from maybe 5th wheel back to 60th. Chased with Craig for 30 miles, and caught like 20 people, some of them worked hard to chase. Then I crashed on the same section that almost got you. Lost maybe 2 minutes checking my bike and body. Chased back to the group I'd been with, hit the last climb, rode away from the group and pounded solo til the finish hoping I wasn't killing myself for 100th.


Lynchy said...

nice vid of spaits hitting the deck 3 mins in.

RMM said...


Thanks for the heads up. I embedded the video in the post.

Billy: This race is always filled with drama. Even if you killed it for 100th, that is better than 101th.

Robert said...

Jesus, cat 3s are amusing.

RMM said...


We do it all for your enjoyment.

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