Friday, April 20, 2012

2012 Tour of the Battenkill

This past weekend was the annual Tour of the Battenkill road race. I was a late comer to this race, swearing it off for years because it was too early in the season or too far away or because it was partially on dirt roads. It took me years to realize that road bikes and even standard road tires can survive just swell on dirt roads, something that  I blame on coming from the mountain bike side of cycling and having the misconception that road bikes were weak and feeble.

This year was the third time in as many years that I'd competed in the tour, each time ending up in the master's 30+ field. That has been due primarily to the fact that the 40+ field has been sold by the time I went to register for the race in the past couple of years. This year the field sold out in 15 minutes in fact. I guess we know where the highest concentration of racers is. I actually like the 30+ field just fine anyhow. It tends to have some ever so slightly faster guys in it and I get a built in excuse by racing with mostly younger guys. Feeble, I know.

I've been plagued to a degree, with issues in past races. Last year after making the separation and being in the front group of about 25 racers, I flatted. Then shortly thereafter, I flatted again. Unprepared for the 2nd flat, thus began a long stretch of walking and riding on the flat. In my first outing I felt great and actually finished OK but struggled with a maladjusted high limit on the rear derailleur that kept me from the smallest cog (high gear) and a Mavic Ksyrium rear wheel that refused to freewheel. It had a bad case of the death squeal, which results in the chain wrapping and causes no end of woes. The fix is to keep pedaling all the time, which did not always scale well. Nobody to blame but myself though.

My fitness this year has been pretty good, possibly on par with the best I've had ever but certainly better than the past couple of years. I also had a team-mate this year, Ben, who is also a normal ride partner as well. That in and of itself really went a long way. I had no misconceptions of grandeur but I was hopeful that I'd be able to finish well. The early part of the race saw personal struggles with nervousness riding in the pack an ineffectiveness in being able to gain positioning. As a result of this I was probably on of the last dozen through the covered bridge early in the race. From there it was flat out to get to the initial dirt section and start the climbing prelude to Juniper Swamp hill. I continued to struggle with position but eventually started making headway and moving forward. Cathy and I scoped the first part of the course the day before and knew that the dirt was firm all the way to the edge of the road. I made use of that whenever possible. By the time we hit Juniper Swamp I sat mid pack. Having been dropped from the front group on the climb last year and ten having to chase like mad the next few miles, I planned this year to kill myself to get over with the leaders. It's a good climb for me anyhow as it is short and steep. I got over the top with the first ten or so and stayed on the gas to retain.
Ben and I at the start, ready to go, with a plan; simply to survive.

The pace was high and when we finally hit some wider paved road after yet another fast dirt section a few miles later, I was amazed to see how big the group was. It literally felt like everything had come back together and everyone was there. The truth is, in almost any race you are constantly losing people off the back, whittling the group down in size. When int he group it is often hard to distinguish between 50 racers and 100 racers; it just factors out to be "lots of racers". We still were a group of lots of racers. And so we  were for some time in fact.

This year there were two new stretches of loose gravel added, just about at the 40 mile point in the race, Cheese Factory Rd. and Wright's Rd. Each was a few miles long, was bone dry, had lots of small crushed stone and had been graded not too long before. The type of roads that result in many, many chipped windshields. These stretches ended up playing a big part in shaping the race. We hit the first section hard but the pace quickly slowed as those on the front struggled with the surface and fatigue. I was riding up the left side comfortably with Sammy Morse and a few others. With no extra effort I found myself at the front and decided to have some fun, so hit the gas. A check of the speedo showed showed I'd soiled myself earlier, no wait, not that kind of Speedo, the speedometer/bike computer/GPS thingy. Anyhow it was saying 26.5mph and HUGE WATTS for which you will probably pay dearly later. Regardless of the consequences to come, it was fun and resulted in us catching the 3 man break that had been up the road for some time.

Once we hit the pavement again I was still near the front when a small break attempt was made. Without thinking I sprinter to join, caught and quickly realized it was a bad idea, so sat up and waited for the rest of the group. I hadn't ridden this part of the course and wasn't sure what lay ahead so tried to retain some caution. Solid plan as we shortly turned up Wright's Rd., a dirt climb leading into Meeting House Rd., the point where it all fell apart. Two years back that was where the group shattered and I splintered. This year was the same. Immediately we had a dozen guys gap up. I was struggling to stay with a dozen guys chasing them. We finally crested the last hill on Meeting House Rd. and I my group had again fractured, me being in the final wave. On the paved rolling section we fought hard and got into a good rotation to chase back up but didn't fully regroup the initial chase group until after Stage Rd..

On the run in to town there were some hesitations but a number of us kept a good hard rotation going. The kilometers to go markers started and by 2 to go, the games started. At 1 to go a guy took off. I chased, caught and went through him. Coming into town I hadn't ridding the finish so was unclear how we finished up. A guy opened a sprint and passed me just before we hit Main St.. He kept moving straight across Main St. so I assumed we were looping around and finishing like last year. Bad assumption. He braked, cursed and turned at the last minute which meant I turned at the last minute plus, making the turn and missing the curb narrowly. Unfortunately everyone in the group got by me on the inside. That's racing when you are not fully prepared or racing heads down. There were signs pointing the way after all.

Cathy raced later in the day so Ben and I did an easy spin which did nothing to unload the tired legs. I helped Cathy get ready for her race and tried to keep her calm, which I don't think worked very well. She had a solid race and finished strongly, but can tell that story. I spoke with most of our junior racers there and got their results and take on the day. Hard race for kids that have never done such a long tough race. Good for them and for everyone for taking up the challenge and competing and for finishing. It takes courage and strength to suffer that much and builds character. We even had the chance to see one of our ride group, Kyle, who is new to road racing solo in for a win in his field. Looking for an upgrade from him shortly so he can race with us in the masters events.

All in all I'm satisfied with the performance and am happy with the fact that my equipment all held together. I like the fact that this a hard race, one where you can't hide all day and then just sprint past at the finish. I really liked the new dirt sections as well. Fun stuff and I look forward to more in the future.

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