Saturday, April 18, 2009

Battenkill 2009

This year's Tour of the Battenkill was a low key event for me, yet I was pleasantly surprised with the result. My fitness isn't quite where it normally is at this time in the season. Thus I was not going to stress over Battenkill, just treat it as a training race. I have an inverse relationship between how well I sleep the night before a race and the importance I attach to the race. "A" race, sleep poorly. I slept like a rock Friday night.

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 Vermont upstate New York chocolate milk in a custom edition glass bottle. Very nice touch and great race recovery drink.


And We Liked It said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil said...

good riding,

I was in that cat 4 field that passed you and yes it was very surreal , was a little annoying as we were held behind your field for a while and it allowed guys to get back onto are field. I sensed some pissed off masters so when you caught us on the dirt in caused a right mess as nobody knew who was in what field and neither did the cars, the last 15 miles were just two groups riding.

Was a great race and all went very smooth with few crashes,

congrats on a good result.

solobreak said...

The climb on Juniper Swamp was much softer than on my pre-ride, but everywhere else the conditions actually got better. It seemed that most of the marbles had been swept away by the preceding fields, especially on Stage Road. The soft spots on Mountain Road were easier to identify too. And I thought I made it clear that Becker was just plain nasty. And it was better than last week, again, the gravel not as deep. Meetinghouse was still excellent.

I saw a full water bottle with green fluid in it and I thought hey, that looks like the bottle Doug had on his bike...

Good job for you though. Did you determine your actual finish time after download?

Mookie said...

Nice work, Doug. Here's my Garmin data:

The pace seemed quite a bit higher than last year (based on times) on what's been billed as a tougher course. What do you think?

Hill Junkie said...

Phil - I'd like to see the official results before speculating much further. But I will say I don't think any of us masters were "pissed off." It was more frustration with a couple strong teams shutting our race down while their guys rolled up the road. I can only speculate that even our pace cars got mixed up in the end, and that might have something to do why Cat 4 and Masters results are still missing. There were at least three field inter-mingled. From what I saw, your and my groups were pretty good about not latching on to each other. Not sure if our lead group re-passed all the 4's before the finish or not. We traded place only 5 or 6 times I think.

Solo - I don't get distracted with down-loadable gadgets during races these days. Still really don't know. Best guess was low 2:50's. Roger and mate couldn't have been more than a minute up.

You get green mix when wife buys small jar of blue Gatorade mix in Hawaii and I add what she didn't use to my lemmon/lime mix.

Mookie - I thought course was more conducive to sitting in. Many of the climbs were not as steep. Drafting matters more then. I agree that there's way more vertical there than official number on TotB website. Topo gives over 5000ft. Our pace was easier than last year. But it was a funky race. Some of the fastest Master's 40+ riders in the country were in our field, but team tactics can make things play out in a funny way. My average speed was higher last year with Funk and Bold mixing it up. I'll say more about it after I have chance to see results.

James said...

Nice job! I rode with Mookie at BK. Being my first road race I learned a lot. I bonked out at mile 47 from not eating enought the day before but also from going with every attack and killing myself with every hill. I rode some Lithion 25's and the dirt sections seemed really smooth to me. The added traction on some of the loose climbs helped too.

plum said...

Kickass! Way to go.

Christine said...

Hey Hill Junkie,
Thanks for writing about the Tour of the Battenkill. It is great fun to hear what it is like to be a racer - not being one myself - and livign the race through your comments.

I have to correct the location of the milk given out as awards. The special bottles with choclate milk are from the Battenkill Valley Creamery in Salem NY. You can find them off Rt 30 in Salem or at a local store

Thanks much for coming to race.

Hill Junkie said...

Oops! For some reason or another I was thinking Vermont pure maple syrup when I was writing report. Thanks for the catch.

rick is! said...

good job man.