Falling off the trainer and flatting - nice start to the season!
Battenkill is a river; 'Batten' was some sort of name from the past. 'Kill' is what the race did to me! Actually, 'Kill' means a river or stream, among other things. Inane name trivia aside, the race tours through absolutely incredible countryside making one big 62 mile loop that criss-crosses the Battenkill a number of times.
Launching out of Cambridge, NY with 95 of my closest CAT3 road racing buddies - the sound of tires on pavement, the buzz of 8 dozen freewheels, and the bright sun were all welcome sounds and sights. This race is nuts as it covers a lot of ground on dirt roads - making it very similar to traditional European "Spring Classics". Thank god it was not cold or rainy - but cool and sunny. The first 10 miles were typically twitchy - but not too demanding. When we veered off the safety of the first big smooth highway stretch down a narrow country road to dive bomb an even narrower covered bridge - all hell broke loose.
As we funneled through the dark bumpy bridge, it was like a rifle shot coming out the other side - except we had to make a hard right turn. Accelerations abounded - but still no definitive attacks. We were on dirt soon, and it got a little more wily at that point. The challenge was always in the transitions; turns, dirt-to-pavement, pavement-to-dirt, pavement-to-dirt-on-screaming-descent-to-hard-left, and so on. After 45-50 minutes of twitchy mid-pack braking, stuttering, accelerating, braking - I got tired of it and wove my way over to the right side of the road - aka "the gutter" - along a mild dirt road climb, and started accelerating towards the front. As we took a sharp right turn down this same dirt road, I was in good position as a powerful surge started building at the front. Good timing for me!
Hit one of the thousands of dirt road potholes that are part of the race, but hit it really hard. Everything seemed fine - water bottles in place, helmet still on, stem not snapped off... so I started pushing the pace. Being near the front (top 10-15 racers) of such a huge field is intimidating on the one hand, but thrilling and energizing on the other. As we hit the next stretch of stair stepping paved hills - I settled into a good groove and felt strong. The main peloton started re-forming but was now much less twitchy.
Shortly thereafter, I felt like I was slowing down... and sure enough my rear tire was slowly deflating. Ugh. Gently weaving my way to the right shoulder and back, ALL the way to the back, I waited for the wheel car to roll up. After an agonizing minute or two - I was back on the road but could not even see the back of our field! Not panicking - and realizing I may be doing a 2 hour time trial - I started riding as hard as I could without totally blowing up. Digging, digging, digging - hoping to see SOMEONE to work with, I realized I was burning through all my matches awfully quick. I eased up a bit - but then caught a glimpse of a guy in orange with the same bib number series I had - so he was also a CAT3 chump off the back and out in no mans land. I turned up the gas a bit - but every time the road went up, I ceased closing the gap and was over-revving.
This went on until I caught him - but was now cooked. Fried. Well-done. Tenderized. Oh! Just in time for the 40+ Masters Peloton to start creeping up on us... their lead car came up and said they were on our tails - and I noted I'd be sure to let them pass cleanly and not interfere (hoping to tag onto the back of THEIR group!) with them.
And so it went - riding at the back of this group - then losing contact, then picking up the odd assortment of blown racers like myself; the co-flatters and otherwise despondent and thrashed peers. Eventually I found 2-3 guys on the Colavita Team to rejoin, and we rode together for a while... Laurent had serious calf cramping issues, Todd was hanging tough - and I helped his skinny ass out in the long rolling open highway sections that had a relentless cross/head wind. When the hills kicked up again, Todd pedaled away and Laurent seemed to have disappeared.
After some screaming descents and more climbs - the mother of all ass-kicker climbs was upon me. Stage Hill Road is a mean old gal - but was at least smooth. A few weeks ago they had just re-graded it and there was loose gravel everywhere. Now it was just long and steep and cruel - but not so hard to not fall over.
Made it up to the top with just enough gas in the tank to pedal the last 6-7 km to the finish. As I was spinning these last km's - the CAT4 lead group of 10 guys or so went by and made me feel like I was going backwards. By the time I finished the race I had the full on cold clammy shakes and my stomach was queasy. Found my team mates and heard one fellow had clinched a top-ten finish, another stayed strong in the peloton, and the rest of us suffered our own personal hells.
It took longer to "race" the course this past weekend than it did to "ride" the course a few weeks ago... which means there is only one way to go - to the bar!