Monday, April 11, 2011

Race Report, plus some other stuff: 2011 Tour of the Battenkill

The summary (my brain is working in recovery mode right now):

64 mile bicycle race in upstate NY.
Roughly 14 miles of the course are dirt / packed gravel roads.
Countless rollers and some gnarly steep dirt climbs (18% max).
123 riders in our field (Cat 4 Grey).
89 finishers (me included, 44th place).
I got a sunburn.

The details are too many to recount.  How does one go about recapping 3.5 months of training, a mammoth road trip, great friendship and a race that asks everything?  I'll start with THE TRIP and then go to THE RACE. 


Coach, Barry, Fausto and I set out for NY on Friday morning.  Who is Fausto?  Our friend Kristin offered this guy up as we started our winter training, so we had to bring him along:

We probably said "I can't believe it's actually here" 200 times between Winston-Salem and the NC/VA line.   We dropped Coach off at Union Station in D.C., as she was to catch a train to NYC and visit her sis before coming up to Cambridge.  Navigation was a problem for me (for the entire trip, actually) and we ended up way too close to Philly and finally on a secondary road through Princeton, NJ.  Lovely town, but by this time we'd been on the road for 8 hours and the fatigue was setting in.  Add the rain, stoplights every 30 yards on the very bumpy Hwy 206, plus Friday afternoon traffic, and you get two previously giddy cyclists sitting in silence for the better part of an hour.

Fortunately, we broke free of the gloom as we entered the Empire State.  The skies cleared, and with Interstate 87 as our new best friend, we had the pedal down and our eyes focused.  We arrived in the Battenkill Valley around sundown, and thanks to far too many hours on the road, more than a healthy amount of Coca-Cola, and DJ Eric D on 95.1FM, we rolled down the windows and blasted some cow-frightening techno 'till our ears bled.  The beats were really so fresh that when we finally lost 95.1 in the hills around Cambridge, a momentary sadness again loomed over us.

We were revived upon finding our accommodations:  Gallery 668 is located right on the race course, roughly 6 miles out of Cambridge.  Our place was literally a remodeled 18th century barn.  Susan B. Anthony lived in the house next door.  Yep, that's right. 

We also met up with some cool folks from PA and Connecticut...and maybe Delaware?  These guys drank beer all day before the race and still laid down some good results.  If we all end up staying here again next year, I think we'll book an extra night and enjoy a few frosty beverages. 

We rolled to Saratoga Springs to pick up the girls, who were arriving via rail from NYC.  We took in a quick lunch then set out on a recon mission.  The goals:  check the new section of dirt (Carney-Cassidy) 'cuz word on the street (read:  we ran into our old buddy Andrew at a stoplight in Saratoga) hinted at a recent re-grading, then ride the first 12 or so miles to recall the opening sections.  After that, it really is less critical to 'know' the course in acute detail because these things become less a factor than the attrition the course dishes out.  More on that later...

Barry flatted while pre-riding Carney-Cassidy, so naturally we were relieved to get that out of our systems before race day (is that how that works?).  We rolled into Cambridge to check in and grab our race numbers, then hit the opening 12 miles.  The classic covered bridge, the rush onto Roberson Rd. and the anticipation of Juniper Swamp.  Those opening miles are perfect in pressurizing a twitchy peloton, where the meek dangle off the back, the wanna be racers make sketchy moves, and the hard men get to the front and stay there.  The mark that signals the real start of the race:

And the sections on Carney-Cassidy were fantastic.  Hard on the uphill and scary on the downhill.  The way it oughta be.

Pre-riding done, we met up with the girls and hit the Jonesville Store for dinner.  We discovered the little place last year and fell in love with the antique-general-store vibe mixed with a contemporary menu.   Even better, live music was in the house in the form of the Rebecca Angel Trio.  Good times.

Our friends Stephen and Frank arrived later, so naturally we sat around and talked bike racing for about 5 hours straight.  We all pretty much agreed to try and win our respective races, little did we know that one of us actually would...


We were set for a 10:20 am start.  Stephen had already taken off for his Cat 3 race start.  On the morning of a race, my mind feels very small (no jokes please).  I can't think big picture, I don't know where my keys are, and questions aimed at me may or may not take hold at all.  Frank was so worked up he drove to the race with his bike helmet on.

We were not too stressed about arriving very early, as none of us typically do a big warm-up.  I literally soft pedaled for about 5 minutes, dropping my chain 3 times (don't ask) before we lined up.  Due to some inconsistent info from the volunteers staging racers, we ended up pretty close to the back of our Cat 4 Grey group.  Frank noodled his way up effectively, but Barry and I stayed put. 

"Riders, 1 minute."

Off we go.  The 1K neutral start was uneventful, as riders stayed cool.  We had a tailwind and were cruising out 313 with legs getting warm.  At mile 2, a guy to my right flats.  Sheesh, that sucks.  Just before the turn at Eagleville, I happened to look back and realized we were literally at the back of the group.  Ok, perhaps I was a little too relaxed and needed to pay attention.  I decided to slide up the right side of the group as guys were braking for the left-hand turn to the covered bridge.  I think I made up about 30 spots there and a few more accelerating toward the bridge.  Through safely, it was now time to think about the first dirt section.  Let's revisit my comments about this section from last year's write-up...

"Now, things got interesting for me. Within seconds of hanging a right onto the first dirt section (Roberson Rd.), I hit 3 or 4 potholes and lost BOTH of my nearly full bottles. Crap. I feared the sweet, lightweight carbon cages would not stand up to the bumps, but that was just insane. I was now without liquid and no way to get it until the 2nd feed zone at mile 41. By the way, did I mention this happened in the 7th mile? I'm not to too good with fancy math, but that seemed like a long time to go without fluid in a race. Egads. "

I planned to avoid this by grabbing some super cheap aluminum cages and cranking them down.  The dark side?  Too much cranking and you can't get your bottle out without crashing!  No sweat, the dirt was silky smooth and the group was tame this year. 

At Perry Hill the group started to stretch out, and I was deep into the dreaded Zone 5 by the top.  Coming over, I had a feeling that the legs were not 100%.  However, I disregarded that feeling and kept working to stay close to the front without doing too much work. 

Arriving at the base of Juniper Swamp, I was probably in about 40th position and comfortable.  I saw Barry on the run-up to the hill, off to my right.  Frank was sitting in the top 10.  This year felt a bit faster, and I crested the hill to the sounds of other riders exhaling deeply under hunched shoulders.  Gotta go straight to the big ring though, because the group can stretch out on the descent.  Coach caught a shot of us descending on 64...

The real action was coming up on Joe Bean and Carney-Cassidy Rds.  Over Joe Bean, I briefly lost contact but easily got back on with a few other riders.  Looking back and in talking to Barry later, it sounds like less than half of the field was still together at this point.  On Carney-Cassidy, the boys up front really hammered it.  Inexplicably, I ran into a wall of cramps in my quads.  Not just a twinge, but a full on pedaling-squares moment.  What the heck?  I haven't had cramping problems in quite a while, but there you go.  Once the gap opened up on the first section of Carney-Cassidy, it was over.  I chased hard on the downhill sections but even as the cramps faded, it was too little too late. 

Those moments give pause in the mind of the racer.  I scrutinized my nutrition over the past 5 days.  I considered the recon ride the day before.  I wondered about those little digs getting back on after Juniper Swamp and Joe Bean...

Now in the hinterlands, it was time to focus on getting to the feedzone to grab a new bottle of Gatorade.  Unfortunately, the girls were snarled by traffic and just missed me riding up the hill.  I actually doubled-back briefly to see if I'd missed them, but seeing no friendly faces I started batting my eyelashes and asking for a bottle from ANYONE as mine were completely empty.  I scored a bottle of water and started chomping shot blocks.

Miles 42-56 are a bit of a blur.  I was alone 90% of the time, passing lots of guys blown off the back of the Cat 4 Pink field.  I picked off a few Greys and generally had trouble finding anyone to work with me as we were all going different paces.  It was carnage out there:  guys on the side of the road changing tires, broken men stretching or hunched over their bikes.  At this point, every mile revealed a guy off his bike or someone nearly going backwards, mumbling "my legs...Joe Bean...that new section...I got nothing."

On Stage Rd, I could taste the finish.  Even better, I was caught by a small pack of Cat 4 Greys who'd latched on to some chasing Pinks.  All Cat 4's, we considered this a good opportunity to work together.  Rolling inside the last 10K, a Grey made a move and tried to roll off the front of our little grupetto.  No dice.  He dangled for a minute and then latched back on to our wheels.  I tried to organize some rotation, but guys were skipping pulls left and right.  With 2k to go, I got on the front and put some work into it, hoping to break loose some of the guys hanging on.  I looked back to see my friend, the previously escaping Grey, on my wheel and unwilling to come around and help.  The other guys were temporarily displaced, but were now closing in...

By the way:
1.  Barry and I had scouted the finish and knew two things:  It was two 90 degree right turns in close succession, and the pavement was crap.
2.  I also knew I was setting up a sprint for somewhere around 50th place, but hey, it seemed like fun.

Even though I could only stand for a moment due to cramps, I was able to hold of the hombre to my right and win our little bunch sprint. 

Barry came in shortly after, unscathed.  Afterwards, we caught up with Frank, who finished 8th after working hard with the group that broke away on Carney-Cassidy.  We also learned that Stephen won his Cat 3 race after breaking away solo at mile 7.  He won by 4 minutes.  Studly.

I was happy to simply sit and hold my legs still...

Barry was one salty dog.

In reflection, I can say a few things about this year's event, my placing notwithstanding (I was 44th out of 89 finishers in my field):  I didn't quit, I didn't crash or crash anyone else and I won a sprint out of pack for the first time in my life.  Does it matter that half of the dude in my grupetto were dropped from a race that started 10 minutes before mine?  Nah.

Big thanks to Dieter and the TOB folks for putting on a crazy, spectacular and super hard race. Barry deserves a huge thanks, too, for training with me and coming along for the adventure.  Unmeasureable gratitude is owed to my wife (Coach) and her sis for coming along, being supportive and taking most of the cool pics I posted here.   Oh, we also have to give a massive shout to Kristin and Fausto, our adoring fans.

Will we do this in 2012?  Could I finally overcome the cramps of this year and the mechanicals of last year in a perfect storm 12 months from now? 

Stay tuned.