Photo: IanC83 @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/behind-the-lens/4513953440/sizes/l/in/photostream/
The 2009 edition of the Tour of the Battenkill was marred by flats for both myself and Candace Ellicott, Tall Tree's lone riders testing the New York waters. As soon as I flatted I knew I'd return in 2010 to try again, to see what I could do in America's Queen of the Classics, my favourite road genre. That race was 82 miles, a distance that suited me more than the 62 mile route every category but Cat1 and 2 race. But the allure of racing with my team-mates as a Master in this race and others through the year was far more enticing than the longer route. After Christmas it was time to work on the trainer to hold onto, then build on 2009's fitness. And so it went, ramping up through January, February and March, all with the Battenkill carrot dangling. How would it go? Could I win? What about Rob, he'd be strong for certain....
Friday, travel. Tanya, aka, the Vegan Vagabond, and Tall Tree's newest addition to the family, picked up myself and family to round out a vegan juggernaut (Mazda Protege) destined for Cambridge New York. Travelling through Ogdensburg, we had an interesting encounter with a US border officer (BO): Where you headed?
BO: What for?
Tanya: A bicycle race.
BO: Oh, I see. Well, it looks like someone's due for an upgrade.
Tanya: Huh? Which one?
BO: The brown one. I mean, the Ksyriums (pronounced Ka Syriums) are good and all, but I dunno about that frame.
Me: Laughing. Hey, that frame is brand new, its custom made for me, i.e., really cool.
BO: Hmm, well, I don't recognize the brand.
Us: Ok, bye.
I considered that encounter hilarious. Perhaps others might be offended, but I just love hearing that sort of stuff. Its just too funny. If its not carbon flash its obviously old and outdated, so it seems. Ah well, we'd put that perception to the test on Saturday.
Across the border my daughter spewed chunks (puked) due to the winding road. This was indeed a blessing, as searching the trunk for a rag revealed that I'd left my Rubbermaid of riding clothing at home. A few calls later and Todd and Jamie were picking it up from my house as they left town. Phewf, puke to the rescue. I made sure Ronan knew she'd saved the day with her vomit action. Life can be funny.
The route we took through the Adirondacks was beautiful This road is a typical example of the ample shoulder and great surface for riding. Top to bottom, the park spans around 200k. We hope to ride there soon.
A few missed turns, due to my distinct lack of navigation while enthralled in a conversation with Tanya about philosophy and communications studies (yep, I'm a nerd of many stripes), we arrived at our hotel, the Hyatt in Malta by around 4pm, about 7 hours after departing. Others took less than 5 hours. Others still also got lost.
After settling in and eventually rounding up the rest of the crew, Thom, Lily, Jamie, Todd, Neil, Rob, and Steve, we all headed to Saratoga Springs for dinner at a health food store/restaurant with buffet, where we all enjoyed excellent veg/vegan food at incredibly good prices. The exchange rate certainly didn't hurt. Then it was off to the bar to pound Bud for a few hours before riding back to the hotel and passing out. Kidding. We headed back to the hotel and turned in early, monk style.
Saturday morning. Windy as forecasted, Steve and Tanya headed out after breaking the fast with the team at the hotel. Free breakfast there is excellent, with all the stuff cyclists need before an event. Sure, they don't serve super granola like the stuff I make, but that's cool, I brought my own. The staff at the Hyatt are the most hospitable I've ever encountered, and genuinely so. This is the sort of hotel you return to every year, 'cause it just can't get any better. At $89 for two Queens and a pullout, this place is truly unbeatable. So Tanya and Steve headed off for Steve's 10:30 start, as the venue, Cambridge was up to an hour away, depending on how lost you got.
The rest of us pulled up a bit before 10:30, Steve about to go, Tanya preparing to. Steve was in for his first ever road race, in the Cat5 field...or one of them anyhow. Then it was Tanya off, also for her first race. That left us five Masters, Thom, Todd, Jamie, Rob and myself, to prepare for our start at 12:25. Pressure mounted as the start approached, pinning numbers, checking tires....I was last to the line after a nature break, and sensed an issue with my left pedal on the way over. This triggered a mild freak out, as I had no tools on me. Fortunately, Todd did, and I checked all my cleat bolts, reassured myself, and calmed down for the start.
Rob had wheels in the van, so he gave me his tube and CO2. Nothing like peace of mind. In 2009 I had neutral support in the Cat2 race. Didn't need it this time.
Ok, sorted. Ready to go. The dude in blue and white was a strong climber. I don't know whether he stuck around until the end, but I figured him a contender.
Rob and I knew we'd be able to stay together unless a problem arose, but the question was how the others would fare. Todd had been training as well as he could given his tight schedule with work and family, and Jamie and Thom had been preparing all winter, to varying degrees. Of the all of us, Todd has the most experience by far, with lots of road racing and track miles from 12 years back. Meanwhile, Rob had various road races under his belt, followed by myself with a smattering of races, then Jamie and Thom. Experience counts for a lot.
The start was smooth and easy as we enjoyed a tailwind of about 30kph. Rob and I were about 12 rows back and taking it easy for a while, just getting the feel for the group, when Jamie pulled up. Excellent. From that point, I never saw Thom or Todd. The pace was steady and easy for a good while, then the rollers began. Rob, Jamie and I progressed to the front of the pack in preparation for the route's first significant climb, Juniper Swamp. I'd flatted before this climb in 2009, so I didn't know what to expect from the group. As it turned out, Rob and I climbed at the front of the group, and crested at the front. Ok, good, feeling ok, checking out the other climbers to see who looked like they had legs.
Each dirt section was buff, utterly buff, as the roads were almost free of gravel, and packed smooth from rain. Dirt does not get better. Flats would not be common. After Juniper, the group reformed with who knows how many shelled. As it turned out, Thom and Jamie we dropped. Bummer. Todd was hanging on; what a champ!
Jamie on the move.
Due to high winds, the flats and rollers were not hammered. Nobody had any real desire to pull, so we rode mellow until about the 50k point, when attacks began. Rob and I were careful to stay at the front, well positioned to get onto the front side of any splits, allowing others to take up the chases. Before long, attacks subsided for the most part, with just one or two riders dangling off the front for a while. There was no chance they'd stay away. 70k marked our most formidable series of climbs, both paved and dirt for almost 10k from start to finish. We knew this could be decisive; it would at least be a selection. I worked hard to stay on the front over the climbs, cresting the final one in second position, while Rob was back a bit. With one rider ahead, three behind, then a gap of about 20 meters, it seemed like it was go time. The others were of the same mind, and we went for it, digging in on the downhill and working together. Unfortunately, I was already at my limit at the top of the climb and I NEEDED to recover. I wasn't recovering at all, nope, not at all. After a few futile kilometers I looked back, say the chase group of 20 or so closing, and sat up. Try to get on, these guys can't last, I though. Rob passed about 6th wheel and I managed to get onto the back. A descent soon followed and I moved up to slot in behind Rob. Recovering now, we were ready to try to make something happen. "Are there any more major climbs?" Rob asked with about 15k to go. "No." Oops, I was wrong, there was one final climb at 90k that was brutal. Rob and I struggled to hang with the group, having absorbed the other guys from the break, as we climbed the dirt for about 2k. This was where I had thoughts of letting them go, I was suffering in the true sense. My quads wanted to seize near my knees, a sensation I've only once experienced, at last year's other first race, the Hell of the North. Nevertheless, Rob and I attacked on the descent, trying to bridge to the 4 guys up ahead who had escaped the group at the top. We simply couldn't do it in our weakened state, and the others were soon on us. Backing off to get out of the wind, I couldn't do much better than take second wheel approaching the last kilometer. Turning the final corner into town we spotted the 300m to go sign, and the guys behind me opened it up on both sides. The sprint was on. I tried to respond, but with my quads seizing I had to stay in the saddle and sprint there. I had no clue where the finish line was as riders steamed by, including Rob, who got right in in front of me so I could take his wheel. All but one passed me; I was helpless.
This is 100% effort here. Jan Heine would be proud of my in the saddle sprint.
Nevertheless, Rob pulled 18th, myself 19th, and the next rider rounded out the top 20, with the next closest rider another minute or so behind. We were at the front of the race, and we certainly left it all on the road. Todd pulled 11 minutes later for 55th place, an incredible ride for the amount of on-bike time he has this year, followed by Jamie and Thom, both having spent tonnes of time in the wind. The winner, Ed Ceccolini, repeated his victory form 2009, an outstanding feat. I think we'll need to identify him next year and follow him. Its hard to race people you don't know from Adam.
It was awesome riding with Rob. Even more awesome though, was my daughter's excitement, enthusiasm, and support for me and the team. No matter where I finish, she's always there with a hug and a kiss.
All smiles at this point. Lets party!
Todd's yellow helmet is easy to spot. I like that. His first race in 12 years was a smashing success! Way to go Todd, you are a champ!
Tanya rode a smart race, battling the whole time. Check out her lowdown here. Image borrowed from SmugMug
Looking pretty fresh eh! Tanya had fun in the Womens Cat3 field and secured 27th place!!! She was definitely in the right category, way to drop the wooden hammer! PS, Tanya is vegan.
Mmmm, fooood. Steve worked hard in the Cat 5 under 35 Black field and finished in....18th place!!!! PS, Steve is vegetarian.
I didn't get to talk to Neil much, but he was pretty happy with 48th in the Pro field. And he should be, its hard to race without any team-mates. One day we'll all race Masters, then things will get really interesting! Image borrowed from SmugMug.
This post is becoming epic, so I'll wrap up. The Tall Tree/Steelwool Bicycles team made a great showing at Battenkill. Of our 8 riders, five were on steel bikes, and of those five, three finished in the top 20. Of those, only one eats animals (hehehe). No meat was consumed by any team member the night before or morning of the race. If nothing else, we proved that steel is still a viable material for road racing, even on hilly terrain, and vegetarian food is awesome.
Sure, I'd like to shed a few pounds off the bike, and I likely will next time, but there is no question that the bikes held their own. I don't think 'upgrade' is the right word. If we'd not been so flustered, we'd have taken hsots of the race bikes and a team photo. We'll try again at the Roubaix next week.