It was chilly out. I still took a third water bottle in jersey pocket since I didn't line up feed support. I struggled between wearing long jersey and knee warmers or just arm warmers. I figured the three times I've done this race now, I'll be warm in no time. I erred on the light side. Dave Penney (Penney Cycles) rode up with me. Kitting up, he lost one of his gloves. He hunted around a few minutes before asking if I saw it. The velcro part was stuck to his ass!
I made many last minute changes to my rig the day before the race. First, I like to spin, so I modified the gearing. I put a 27t cassette on back. Up front, I pulled the 39t 10spd Dura-Ace ring off, put a 38t 9spd ring on. Teeth are slightly thicker on 9spd, but my gut said I should be ok. One tooth in 39 is only about 2.5%, but if you are on hairy edge of blowing legs up, this can make a difference. For tires, I put on brand new 23mm Michelin Pro2 Race lined with Michelin latex tubes. This was huge risk, and it nearly cost me a whole lot more than just the race, as I'll explain shortly. Finally, I did not want to use my carbon wheels on such a pocked up course with good chance for rain, so I used my slightly heavier and slightly less aero Rolf Prima Vigor's. This meant I had to swap out the cork pads too. When I changed the rings, I noticed the crank was wicked tight in bottom bracket. It wouldn't even spin half a turn when flinging it. It was clinched in way too tight. I raced all last season with it this way. Could this be why I had a mediocre road season yet crushed several hillclimb PRs on a different bike? Probably not. I made sure I delicately torqued the retaining cap during re-assembly.
I did minimal warmup, which turned out to be wise decision. I'd guess over 100 guys in the 40+ lined up. First 10 miles of race was recreational pace. Everybody was talking. I stayed mid pack. My strategy was to do no work, ignore attacks and break aways, yet try to stay with a core group. A top 20 finish would have pleased me going into this race.
Then we hit the first tests of the course. These would be the double humps on Perry Hill and Juniper Swamp roads. Dirt of course. Juniper Swap made me wonder if I should just ride off course and do a solo training ride instead. Numerous riders came around me. The gravel was loose. Despite my modified gearing, I was mashing. Standing up only accelerated rocks into the guy behind me. Fortunately no splits formed over this mini-beast. We all got back together.
Life was good for a while again. There were no more discriminating climbs for the next 13-15 miles. But the next one was a nasty one, one we used to finish the race bombing down in years past. This was Joe Bean Hill, all paved on the climb. It gains over 400ft in just over a mile. Amazingly, I stayed in contact with the lead guys over this one. Our field became quite fragmented, maybe 20 guys in front with another similarly sized group not far back. During the ensuing descent over a few miles, much of the field was back together again.
Somewhere along here, a couple guys got away. I think Tom Butler (CCC/Keltic) was one of them. I wasn't sure how many there were, as I was riding very defensively away from the front during this race. CCC/Keltic, Corner Cycle and Westwood Velo were well represented and all were positioning riders for a win. The pace became very subdued between the climbs. Ridiculously easy, in fact. I'll take it, but we sure still had a big pack together. The race just wasn't busting up like it did in years past. The new course layout and direction had a lot to do with this I thought.
After Joe Bean and some sketchy dirt descent, it was many miles of slightly downhill pavement into Greenwich. It was trying to sprinkle now, so the complicated set of turns had me nervous. Jonny Bold (Corner Cycle) turned up conspicuously missing. Reports were he flatted. I thought for sure his team would bring him back into play, being a top contender.
We get into bunches of more dirt. Some of this stuff was just plain mean. Pre-ride reports from last weekend possibly underpredicted the looseness with more than a week of no rain. A rider from my field had just rag-dolled into the corn field. I didn't see it, but others said it was horrific. I was going well over 40mph on that section littered with giant craters and nasty looseness if you got off the main track. I jettisoned a full, large water bottle on one hole. I didn't freak, as it was so cool out. My bike made a horific cracking sound when I hit that monster. A little later, I'm not sure if it was Mountain Rd or Becker Rd, I nearly had an incident. I was hauling about 40mph and got a little too far right when the road was sweeping left. It was loose as marbles and cambered away from the turn. My front tire started skidding and plowing. This went on for the longest time, and I dared not touch the brakes. I was quite certain I was going into the woods and began looking for an opening in the trees for a "controlled" crash. Somebody must have been watching out for me, as I saved it. I soiled my chamois just a little though. New Michelin Pro2 Race tires are very steeply crowned. I think this made them particularly vulnerable to knifing behavior. I just may go with slightly used 25mm tires next year. That was way too close of a call.
A Cat 4 field passed us somewhere along the back side of the course. This was the most bizarre thing, as I'm riding next to Roger Aspholm (Westwood Velo, National CX Champ). How can this be? It was a surreal situation. Little did I know at the time that he had a teammate up the road. We picked up Tom Butler and whoever he was away with somewhere along here too. Maybe it was Meetinghouse Road. Anyway, the race controlled by these two strong teams with their guys up the road basically meant we weren't really racing by being good little boys in the pack. I was surprised that more tactics did not go on until this point. The race was 80% over, yet I felt I hadn't really started racing yet. I didn't know who all was up the road at the time, so I chalked it up to the new course layout being the culprit, not team strategies.
After Meetinghouse Road, which was in decent shape and much easier ridden in the new direction, there was a gradual paved climb. At this point we had a pace car in front of us and I assumed we were all back together now. Unbelievable. We must have had 25-30 guys. I've never been in a lead bunch this big at the end of a Battenkill race, and we had some real fire power in the field.
We finally get to Stage Road, the final exam of the race. I presumed, incorrectly, we were all together. I couldn't believe I was still in the lead group with only 5-6 miles to go, albeit a very large lead group. I hate sprints. I suck at them. I prefer to just get out of the way when it gets messy. I had hoped Stage Road would whittle our pack down some.
As expected, Roger bolted as soon as his tires tasted dirt. We were overtaking riders from a couple different fields now. Roger's move was decisive and impressive. I overheard riders from another field comment something like "what the f-, who was that!" I too gave the hill a good shot. The gravel was in fair shape here. Amazingly, I drew a gap on the rest of the field. Nothing like Roger, but seconds none the less. I then wondered if I should drill it and solo the rest of the way to the finish or save something to see who comes over with me. If I drilled it and failed, I would finish near the back of the pack. If I saved something and only 5 or 6 riders come over first, we could work together the last four miles, netting me a top-10. My legs felt amazingly fresh for the end of Battenkill. I attributed it to sitting in the whole race, few hijinks going on throughout race with conversation pace between climbs, and not stressing over who's doing what. Or maybe there's magical power in all that lava dust I inhaled in Hawaii for the last two weeks. Anyway, I was somewhat dismayed when about 10 guys overtook me, both by the number of guys and with how much force they overtook me. I guess I didn't really let them catch up after all.
So now there's a mile-plus of downhill and three miles of very fast flat to the finish. We had 10 or so guys plus Roger a minute or so up by now (not knowing he had a teammate ahead of him). I thought we were sprinting for 2nd. Now we were racing, boys and girls. Attack, counter-attack. A lot was at stake. The group had several CCC/Keltic guys in it, including Andy Ruiz. With about 2km to go, one of the CCC/Keltic guys bolted but then faltered just ahead of us. I bridged up, nobody followed. I then put the hammer down, chin to the bar, eyes straight down my fork. The gap grew, but I had a tag along. I hit deflection, motion for the CCC guy to pull through, he does, and promptly slows down. Is he blocking for somebody I don't know about? It was quite a cluster on Stage Road with riders from at least three fields intermingling. I think he was just cooked. I then took another monster pull at speeds near 30mph. The gap grew a little bit. I motioned CCC guy to pull again. I got about 5 seconds of rest behind him then decided to go for it. We still had well over 1km to go with at least 8 guys just 5-6 seconds back. This was shear lunacy, I thought. Gotta try though, right? Most of my wins happened in moves like this. I managed to put a very small gap on CCC guy. Finally that cord snapped and he was gone. I pass the 1km to go banner. But now the pace is furious behind me. Guys are leap-frogging each other. I'll never make it. I'm three stages beyond redlined as I make the final turn to the finish. I see it now, but the gap behind me is closing rapidly. No more looking back. It will be what it will be. As I crossed the line, a pack of guys was no more than 1-2 seconds behind me. I did it. Finally another podium finish at Battenkill. And I wrote this one off! There's a lesson in there somewhere that's probably material for another post.
As I wound down, I saw Roger with teammate Todd Cassan. That's odd, how did Todd get up there. I stopped to congratulate Roger. Turns out Todd won. Silly me. Suddenly the whole race started to make more sense. I'm sure Roger and mates regulated our race to assure Todd's win. No wonder the Cat 4's passed us. Then when the time was right, Roger took number two spot. Nice 1-2 sweep guys.
We avoided heavy rain but it sprinkled just enough to make the bike despicable. Dave, who started half an hour behind me, got caught some downpour action. He appeared to finish quite well in his Cat 4 field (hopefully not the one that passed us). I believe there were three Cat 4 fields on the course.
Apparently there were issues with results. After waiting an hour, we had verbal agreement for first three finishers and we did the podium thing. Podium finishers were given a fine quart of