Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Race Report: Tour of the Battenkill

Excellent race. Sub-excellent luck.

My wife, daughter and I headed South Friday morning. A pleasant drive through New York via Ogdensburg delivered us to our Hyatt in Malta, not far from Cambridge, where the race was to start begin and end on Saturday. After a sort drive over to Saratoga Springs, we were pleased o find a great health food store called the Four Corners that has a hot counter much like that of The Table and the Green Door here in Ottawa. We had an excellent dinner for a little more than $25 for two adults and child. It was nice to have complete that degree of control over what I was putting into my system on the eve before the race. To bed by about 10, I barely woke to hear Candace and Greg arrive some time around midnight.

A solid continental breakfast got us underway in the morning, and we were off to Cambridge to check in and get Candace ready to roll. The event was clearly as big as we had imagined; people were everywhere. The organizers had a very streamlines registration system going, and we were in and out. All we had to do was apply Candace’s cue sheet Greg has made up (mine is below), check her finicky rear derailleur, and get her bottles and food sorted. It was mild enough for a base layer under short sleeved jersey and shorts with knee warmers. Rain was a distinct possibility.

Candace left with her group at 10:55. They clumped the Cat 1s, 2s and 3s all together to fill out the field. After a few minutes, Greg was off with Candace’s and my bottles for the first of two feedzones. Before long, it was time to chamois up and spin around a bit.

My race was to begin at 12:05. The Cat 1s were to begin 20  minutes later. I wondered whether they’d catch our lead group.

Then it began. Rolling out of town, our field of Cat 2s headed for the addendum loop to the 100k route. Greg had marked the climb on the 32k addendum as fairly serious. It wasn’t. Its hard to really tell from the available information. The pace was steady on the flats, probably around 40 or 45k/hr, and the climb was not attacked. I was happy to see that I was having an easier time with it than some of the others. The rest of the addendum was pretty straighforward. Some fast downs, but fairly flat. I was a little perturbed about the way my legs felt – a little nervous, and barely warmed up. I was concerned I would not be ready for the real work to come.

After the initial 30k loop, we were onto the main route. The traffic was still very light, which was nice when we blazed downhills at speeds above 80k/hr on pavement and near that on dirt. I didn’t load up my legs anywhere, including a long dirt climb I though was Juniper Swamp, the steepest of all. I made the selection there, near the front, but the peleton regrouped anyway on the descent. Disaster struck soon after. Well, not disaster, more like misfortune. We turned onto a dirt sector, and I was positioned in the first third of the pack. I’d been making an effort to move up after repeatedly noticing I’d drifted to the back! Close to the wheel in front of me, I caught something dark in front of me just before I walloped whatever it was. The impact to my front wheel was so severe I knew I had to have flatted, even with my primo Challenge Paris Roubaix 28c open tubular! Hisssssssssssss. Of course. I made my way to the side and rolled over a ton of rough stuff before managing to stop. We were probably doing 45 at the time. I looked back and saw the wheel truck stopping for another rider. A moment of indecision. Fix it...don’t fix it...wait...fix it.... I pulled out my tube and C02, only to resolve to wait for a spare wheel. It took a couple minutes, but I knew I was out of contention anyway regardless. I wound up with a Taiwanese bladed spoked wheel of some description, with what seemed to be a 25c clincher on it. “Better not flat this sucker,” I thought.  No computer now with the magnet gone. Chase.

Why chase? I was following my plan. I’d intended on staying with the lead group until the top of Juniper Swamp, then doing whatever I could. At the time I though that was what I had done. I suspect Juniper Swamp was actually a little further on now. I climbed it alone. It was fine. I don’t think it would have posed a problem. I knew in advance that a flat would mean I was going to be alone. If that happened, I’d try to finish strong and use the day as preparation for the Almonte Roubaix the next Sunday. So that is what I did. No negative thoughts, just: “This is how it is, so make the  most of it.” I hammered as hard as I could sustain. I tucked all the downhills as tightly as I could manage; tight enough to bruise my chest. I caught riders – from my category, from others. One le Yeti rider from Montreal hung on until he could duck off to take a shortcut back. Why? I guess some prefer not to be seen off the back, for whatever the reason. I knew it might look like I got dropped because I couldn’t hack the pace. But looking like you are on it or off it is irrelevant to your capacity to ride hard. People likely saw me roll by and thought I was dropped. But I was getting incredible training in – certainly better than if I’d stuck with the pack – on my own.

After a long while the leader of the Cat 1 race passed me in a solo break. He was motoring, a BMC rider who had raced Roubaix  and the other classics in Europe in the weeks prior. I resolved to keep him in my sights until I couldn’t. I kept that up for about 15-20 minutes. That was a small victory. Shortly after he was gone from sight the chase group of about 8 passed. I didn’t bother chasing them; that would not have been a good idea. Soon I was joined by a Cat 3 I had ridden and chatted with about an hour prior – he’d flatted too.  He had dropped off my pace, but got back on with the help of a 53 year old racer I recognized from my field (I’m not an expert age-guesser, he told me his age later). As the rain came down we rode together, pulling equally for a while. Then the Cat 3 dropped off and it was just the two of us. We kept on the pace, but we had plenty of time to get to know each other a bit. We probably rode about 60k together, probably more. He had ridden the route the previous day and knew it well. He coached me on the upcoming sections, advising on pace. We reeled in many riders, and none got on.

The most difficult sections of the course were the stair step climbs. There were two sections, both near the end. One was dirt. I had switched to a new compact double 10sp SRAM drivetrain on Thursday; I was happy to have the 36x28 climbing gear. With that option I never loaded my legs up during the whole race. I’m not sure whether that’s good, but it was certainly odd. Rather than endure lactic acid pain, I just put steady hurt on my legs, and had to slug down lots of gel and shot blox to stave away cramping. And fluid. It worked. We crested the last dirt step and descended into the flats. My partner had prepped me: “Lets keep it under control up the last climbing section, then light it up with short pulls to the finish. I’ll lead you out so you can finish strong.” He was training for the Masters Nationals, which he plans on winning; I listened to him. 

On the flat 5k or so into town I put it all into the pedals. He was driving hard and I was grimacing like a maniac to stay on his wheel. Falling off was not an option. I pulled as hard as I could, then dropped back, and on and on. He signaled the finish in the distance and I took the last pull. Within the last 100 meters I sprinted with everything I had, wobbling all over the place as my body struggled to control gross motor coordination. At the line my wind buddy took it with a wheel length. Awesome. I thanked him for being such a gracious wind buddy, and wished him luck with his season. 61st place for me. 68 finished. 101 were confirmed at the start.

I have my tongue out here. I didn't know it. Just like the pros!

15-20 minutes behind the leaders. About 33k/hr average speed including the stop.

Upon finishing I was eager to hear Candace's story. Turns out she rode well with the pack, and found herself in a chase group after a breakaway materialized. She endured some rather coarse coaching from one of the pro ladies, but learned from it. She was working hard with the group when she flatted. She fixed it, chased, and flatted again. She only had 2 miles to go, but no additional tube or support vehicle. I suspect she would have finished in the top 3 of the Cat 2s has she not flatted. She was happy with her effort and the overall experience, and I think she will be keen to take another crack next year.

I'll do everything I can to return to the race next year and try my luck again. Maybe I'll get to find out how it goes without a flat. 

I'd characterize the event in the following way: rolling hills, nice dirt roads with no difficult turns, buff dirt, blazing downhills, scenic, well organized. I would use 28s again; it'd be nice if everyone did, as the smaller tires made riders respond to cracks and other roughness erratically. That's dangerous. The 36x28 climbing gear was nice, but a strong rider can get away with a taller gear if desired. I'd run a 37x27 if I had the choice.

Interesting sights seen: 1) On the way we spotted one serious rider, on a TT bike wearing a baggy wind breaker, tights, and an aero helmet over a baseball cap. 2) Amish horse and carriages. 3) A bat hunting mid-day over a pond. 4) Numerous laughable store names: Wise-Buys, Family Dollar, Save-a-Lot, Price Choppers.

After leaving Malta, my fam and I headed for the Lake Placid area to spend the afternoon and night. We found a great hostel in Keene Valley for $25 per adult per night. Laundry, showers, kitchen, great family running the place. Lake Placid was not interesting for us. Many say its great, but we were not impressed. No cool cafes or food spots. WIthout that we are not interested. 'Rustic' shopping and the Gap can be found there though, if that's your thing.

I took an early morning ride on Monday from Keene Valley to explore a bit. I found many private dirt roads lined with expensive cottages. One took my up for a while. Nice descent. Later I found a paved road that took my to Keene, the next town. It was winding and rolling - very scenic and fun. I took some pictures, below. This area might be a good place to stay and launch rides from. The Hostel is perfect. The question is whether there are enough backroads to get away from the traffic. We have far more dirt backroads around here, since it is less mountainous. Down there, any road that goes anywhere is paved. 


Long dirt climb

Hills Falls


Anonymous said...

I see the IF guys at the front of the pack.

Know if Harlan Price was racing?

(he beat Floyd at a couple of hundred milers... just kicks ass on the race course)

looks like a very cool race.

Anonymous said...

Amish horse and carriages

-- lots of those in the states.


mindya, they took off with some of the course markings on one race I was at...


do a hundie!

nice write up! Loved the read.

the original big ring said...

Wow! Great write up Matt. Shame about the flat. Takes a big man to keep going, and going hard, when you got no hope at contending. Very cool to work so well together with that other ride - I think that would have made the race for me.

See you at Roubaix.

Matt Surch said...

Don't know about Harlan Price Anon.

Off topic link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdlpJqHxLxk

This is an incredible compilation of early 20th century cycling oddities I picked up from Bicycle Quarterly. Note the Ultimate Wheel, a unicycle without seat. These are coming into 'popularity' on the margins of cycling culture now. I've tried one, and it was extremely difficult to balance on. The tandem taxi races is incredible; the runners are so quick!