Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Tour of The Battenkill race report
April 10, 2011

Battenkill has become North America’s premier spring race and attracts top Pro-Continental teams. It is a 102 km road race and includes ~20km of dirt roads and 1,400 meters of gross elevation. 

Our race (Cat-5) began with a 1km neutral rolling start. I quickly settled into 16th wheel as the group formed two parallel pacelines. Knowing (from our reconnaissance ride 10 days earlier) that Battenkill’s course starts with 15km of mostly flat sections, I decided to stay protected from the wind before we reached the climbs. The pace was comfortable, which suited me just fine; today would be a long day.

As we began the first two-step climb on Perry Hill Rd, I moved forward through the pack and took 4th wheel quite easily. We then continued over the second-step and a small break opened behind the 4 of us. Although 15-20 riders caught us on the descent, it was encouraging to see the field reduced by the challenging sections. 

With 20km to go, the four of us temporarily splintered on Meeting House Rd. I am 10 meters behind the two leaders (I have my head down in a red helmet).

Three kilometers later, we ascended Juniper Swamp Rd. The climb is only 300-400 meters in length, but the gradient tops out at 18%, and, its all gravel. The road was in great condition today; during out recon ride, we couldn't stand on the loose gravel without the back wheel spinning out. Again, 6 of us opened a 10-second gap fairly quickly.  

We crested as two groups of three split by just a few seconds, but regrouped after a fast and bumpy descent. One rider barked orders, directing us to maintain our lead over the chasing group of 15-20. However, knowing that we were now on 15km of flat/undulating sections, and that we could drop the weaker cyclists on the climbs, I didn’t think it was worth working too hard.

As we cycled through the rolling hills, I tucked in towards the back of the group and rested. We had some extremely fast descents: at one point I hit 80kph (50mph). The adrenalin during a race quickly destroys any rational pre-race notions of riding cautiously. 

At km 45, we began the 3km climb up Joe Bean Rd. I knew this steep climb would determine the final selection. Immediately, the field blew apart. My heart rate thumped at 180 beats per minute for the next 5-6 minutes as I tried to hang on to the leading wheels. I didn’t need to look back to see the carnage behind me. We would never see those cyclists again.

Three guys opened a small gap of 10 seconds over myself and one other cyclist. We had to bridge. If we caught them, the 5 of us would carry it all the way to the finish. If we couldn’t catch them, and with 55km remaining, the two of us would be forced to wait for 4-5 guys behind us and then organize a chase. I didn’t like the chances of a chasing group, so the two of us pushed ahead as hard as we could. The three in front were smart too; they slowed and let us catch up. Once the 5 of us regrouped, we all knew what to do: we fell into a paceline, hammered, and increased the gap. 

At this point, I realized my pre-race strategy was playing out: get into a breakaway by staying at the front over the first 2-3 climbs, and then conserve as much energy as possible before the attacks on the final climb up Stage Rd. 

So now we were 5. This would be the final selection. The rest of the field no longer mattered. We were the race. I looked around to take stock of my competitors: one from Team Signature Cycles of Connecticut, a South African from Team NYVelocity, a guy from Idaho (unaffiliated with a team, like me), and finally, a cyclist from Team Bulldog.

Of the five of us, I was guessing Connecticut had the best chance of winning with Idaho placing second. That would leave three of us to fight for third place. So, I had a solid chance at the podium (mathematically the probability was 60%), and, I noticed the South African was laboring up the hills and looking close to blowing up. Cool, my first sanctioned race since I was 17-18 years old, and I might just do really well!

"South Africa"
Connecticut began an interesting strategy. He went 20-30 meters off the front, hoping one or two would follow thereby splitting the group and increasing his chances. Perhaps I should’ve taken the bait, but I was starting to cramp and we still had a long way to go. 

After losing the Team Bulldog cyclist to a puncture, Idaho and South Africa seemed content doing most of the pacemaking. I was happy with that too; more rest for me. (After the race, the Team Bulldog cyclist told me Mavic wheel support switched out his wheel in less than 30 seconds, but he was unable to catch us).

In my last 18 months of cycling, I have never cramped. Despite diligently sucking down GU energy gels every 45 minutes, drinking Gatorade anytime I could get my heart rate down (which was rare - I averaged 171 beats per minute for this 3+ hour race), and popping Hammer Endurolyte capsules, I was starting to worry. My hamstrings tightened up each time we began a climb. Once the cramps begin, there isn’t much you can do except suck up the pain and ride through it. Ouch!

The four of us hit Battenkill’s second to last climb on Meeting House Rd. Actually, Meeting House Rd is a series of three short, but steep, climbs on a long, straight dirt road. As we started the first climb, I could feel a sharp pain in my hamstring and it was getting worse. I was not ready to give up. The pain subsided ~30 seconds later but not before I began to hear a car just off my left shoulder. It was the race referee’s car and he was preparing to pass me! The referee’s car always trails the leader(s) and only passes once a sustainable gap opens.

Cresting the first climb, I maintained as much power as I could, quickly shifted through my gears, and accelerated down the descent. I could see that I was gradually bridging the first 3. The referee’s car backed off. 

I caught Connecticut, Idaho, and South Africa. However, the cracks were starting to appear and the group splintered as we dug deep on the second hill. We bombed down the descent but again, a small gap appeared on the third, and final, Meeting House climb. Idaho, who looked strong until this point, was on my wheel while Connecticut and South Africa were 10 meters ahead. I tried to drop Idaho by accelerating mid-way through the climb. That tactic succeeded, but I still had to catch the two just ahead. 

The steep downhill was fast and narrow with a couple of sharp turns. I regrouped with the two in front, but unfortunately, so did Idaho. We were still a group of 4.

The next 10km were flat with one fast descent. We shared the load, but we were all thinking about the pain that would soon be inflicted on the 10-15% gradients on the 4 km climb up Stage Rd. This was the last climb of the race - after Stage Rd its a flat 7km all-out hammer to the finish. 

Coasting down to Stage Rd, I took some time to stretch out my legs. But as soon as the gradient turned, my hamstrings immediately locked up. I let out a noise that probably sounded like a small dog yelping.  This really hurt! In the meantime, Connecticut chose his moment and attacked. As I guessed, he was definitely the strongest. Connecticut was gone, and now it was just three of us. 

Somehow I managed to ride through the cramp, and 30-45 seconds later I was feeling ok. My quads were maxed-out but at least I wasn’t cramping. I pinned my sights on Idaho just 10 meters ahead of me. I caught him over the next 200-300 meters and then, put on a heavy burst to pass him, and hopefully, to leave him behind forever.

Next was South Africa. He was another ~50 meters ahead at this point. I remembered watching him struggle over the previous climbs, so surely I could catch him too.  I was really wasted - 3hrs of racing had taken its toll - but it was just another 10-12 minutes until the finish. C’mon Duncan! You can catch him!

But no, South Africa continued to pull away. Fifty meters became 75, and then 100. Still, I was in third place at the top of Stage Rd and I badly wanted to hold it to the finish.

Coming down Stage Rd, I carried all the speed I could get onto the flat section. I hit the flat at 70kph and quickly got into a time trial position for the last surge to the finish line. My legs were blown, but with the help of a tailwind I managed to maintain 38-40kph (24-25mph) for the last 7 kilometers. 

Worried that Idaho would recover and then catch me, I looked back several times. Luckily, I couldn’t see him. 

With 1 kilometer to go, I realized I had 3rd place. I was really excited! This was my first official race since my old triathlon days. The course was challenging, my race strategy had worked, and I had pushed myself about as hard as I could.

In the final kilometer I slowed a little. Crossing the finish line was a great feeling, except that I could barely lift my head to enjoy it. I met up with Connecticut (1st), South Africa (2nd), and Idaho (4th) in the staging area and we all congratulated one another. 

The following link details my Garmin race data (speed, elevation, heart rate, calories, etc.): http://connect.garmin.com/activity/78496181

1 comment:

  1. Awesome Duncan! Be great to read about your other races & your European touring!!!