Monday, April 15, 2013

Battenkill 2013 - Report

Andy and me before the start of the race.

I was at least out of the wind, standing beside my bike in the staging corral, five minutes before start time. But it was colder than I'd like. Still, it had stopped raining at least. When they called our heat to the start line, Men 4-D, Andy was still not back from the car where he dashed off to retrieve his Gatorade bottle. I managed to snag a spot reasonably close to the front of the 68 rider pack. Andy arrived a few minutes later and "excused" his way towards the front, sneaking in just behind me.

We had re-conned the course, in the dark, the evening before taking 2 hours to drive over the hilly terrain. It was pretty flat and friendly for the first 8 km so we'd figured to use this stretch as our warm up. But the pace was so casual, it wasn't really much of a warm up. The pace picked up on making the left turn onto Eagleville Road. A quick left, then a right through the covered bridge and then a hard right exiting the bridge. "YIKES!!!" The guy to my right went down hard on the damp pavement. I heard the familiar crunch of carbon hitting pavement as I went wide to avoid the carnage. Sprinting hard to catch back on, I glanced behind me. There was already a sizeable gap. Most of the pack managed to get back on but I'm fairly certain there were at least a few riders had their race end right there behind the crash barely 9 km into the race.

The hard right-hander exiting the covered bridge caused at least one crash in the Mens 4-D field.
The next few kilometers felt a lot more like a race until the road began to rise about 12 km in. Then the pace slowed down in anticipation of the climb to come. The climb was gentle at first becoming gradually steeper until after about 4 km the road kicked up. We rode hard up this steep section. But it wasn't a long stretch and I was soon speeding down the other side chasing riders ahead of me. Towards the end of the 1 km descent, I was confronted with flashing lights and other riders yelling "hold up, hold up!" I squeezed the brakes and managed to stop in time. Just! Ten or so riders straddled their bikes ahead of me. Still staddling my own bike, I sidestepped my way to the side of the road just in case anyone's brakes needed a tune up. Peeking ahead through the forest of bikes, I could see a body lying prone in the middle of the road.

It wasn't long before volunteers were waving us through. With one ambulance on the side of the road, lights flashing, and another screaming towards us from the road ahead, we gingerly navigated our bikes single file past the guy lying in the middle of the road on his side and were soon back up to speed. After a sharp left onto Juniper Swamp Road, we approached the first serious climb of the day.

With gradients above 12.5 %, the Juniper Swamp climb was hard. Having lost 10 pounds since the start of the year, I've been extremely happy with my power-to-weight improvement this year but I was getting dropped by the guys at the front and had to dig way deeper than I wanted to just to stay with the pack. Thankfully, the climb wasn't overly long and it all came back together on the following descent. Then we were onto a gravel section over some tough rollers leading up to the second major climb of the day.

The second climb of the day was hard because a) it was on gravel and b) it was on longer than the first. Being on gravel meant there wasn't as much room to maneuver and much of the climb had to be done while seated, for the traction. Being longer meant more burning in the legs before the top of the climb. As we started the climb, I noticed Andy to my left, standing already. After a 6 month layoff last year for personal reasons, Andy returned to racing in the Fall and promptly broke one of his ribs in the last race of the season. He worked hard on the trainer through the Winter to try and regain some of his cycling fitness but was concerned coming into this race. "You'll be fine! I told him confidently, "this race is meant for you." Andy is normally a stronger rider than I and being 15 pounds lighter I was sure he'd have no trouble staying with the pack. As it turned out, I was wrong. This climb popped him from the front pack. I, on the other hand, was still in touch with the front pack as we crested the top... or so I thought!

The descent down the other side was long and fast. It too was on gravel. I could see a group of 4 or 5 riders working together 200 meters ahead and tucked in to give chase. Feeling someone on my wheel, I flicked my elbow for them to pull through. Nothing! Glancing back, I saw a train of wheels behind me. "No way!" I thought. I stopped pedaling and took a drink of my water bottle before riders began to pull through.

With more guys working, the gap to the 4 or 5 guys ahead closed pretty quickly. Once together, the pack we formed an echelon but without the urgency of a break-away or chase group. The road was gravel for awhile which meant eyes ahead but once we turned onto pavement, I looked around for Andy. I drifted back through 5, 10, 15, 20 riders, looking, looking... No Andy. Bummer! It looked like I'd be without a team mate for the rest of the race.

At 42 km, we turned onto Joe Bean Road for what was, technically, the hardest climb of the day. Thankfully, that climb was on pavement. There were some steep sections on the climb where the gradient climbed above 10%, but with the climb over 2 km long the pack didn't so much attack the climb as grind it out. The steady effort was much more to my liking. At 57 years old, I can still do the shorter, anaerobic efforts. But my anaerobic efforts aren't as effective as those of a younger man. This type of climbing was right in my wheelhouse. I crested the top close to the front of the pack.

We had another long descent following the Joe Bean climb followed by a fairly lengthy net downhill stretch where I had time to take stock of how much effort I had put into the race so far. I was tired, I realized. I wasn't completely spent, I still had a lot left to give, but there were still two major climbs in the last part of the race, and I was hoping to have conserved more by this point in the race. To further dampen my spirits, I discovered that I wasn't even in the front pack. A break of 6 riders had established a gap of at least a couple of minutes and our pack seemed completely unconcerned about chasing. "When did that happen?" I thought. I resolved to be smarter about sitting in the draft at least until the 80 km mark for the start of the penultimate climb. "Think like Stan!" I told myself. That strategy worked. By the time we turned onto Meeting House Road, I was less fatigued and ready to tackle the final two climbs of the day. I even had time to take in and appreciate the beautiful scenery along this section of countryside.

Meeting House Road wasn't so much a climb as a series of steps. For me, the "climb" was quite manageable. I didn't have to turn myself inside out to stay with the pack as I did the first two climbs. We passed the "20 km to go" sign somewhere along here and I began to feel energized in anticipation of the race to the finish. The race was taking its toll on my body but the adrenalin was flowing the race was becoming more fun and less work.

Turning onto Stage Road for the final climb, one of the 'Through It All Body Shop' guys attacked the group. I recognized the plan and stood on the pedals to follow. "Woah there, big guy!" my legs told me, "where do you think you're going?" Cramps activated my right thigh in a way that wasn't helpful. I sat, downshifted and watched the 'Through It All Body Shop' guy ride away.

Spinning an easier gear worked for me. I was able to control the cramping and make it to the top of Stage Road third from the front. A second guy from our pack, attacked near the top, establishing a bit of a gap on the descent and I was able to close that gap on the downhill without cramping. Excited now, I passed the break-away rider to let him know I was with him and glanced back to see how much of a gap we had. At least 10 guys were stuck to my wheel. My heart sank! So much for that break-away!

They say it helps to visualize the things you want out of life, especially in sports. Visualize yourself sinking that basket, scoring that goal, doing that solo break-away for the win. In the weeks and days leading up to the Battenkill race, I had done a lot of visualizing. It seemed reasonable on paper: attack on the last climb using my superior power-to-weight advantage, extend the gap on the descent using my superior descending skills honed from past motorcycling days, then use my superior time trialing ability to stay away from the chasing pack over the final 4 km to the finish. These visualizations returned to mock me as I led the pack of 15 riders over the final flat 4 km to the finish. Being at the front now wasn't a concern. We were going slow enough that there really was no effort involved at all. Anyone could come around me if they wanted to and a few did. We turned onto Main Street, 400 meters to go, and again I was at the front. It didn't matter. For one thing, we'd be sprinting for 8th place. For another, I don't have good sprint legs. And this early in the season, with no sprint training at all... forget about it! So when the first rider attacked with less than 300 meters to go, I just gave it everything I had crossing the finish line, 8th in the pack and 15th overall, happy just to be finished.

My race over, I found my daughter, Alysha, by the finish line and we waited together for Andy to come in. Andy came in alone 34th overall, finishing between the stragglers of my group and the stragglers of his group he had left behind on the Joe Bean climb. Andy also was happy to be finished but, understandably, not as happy with his race. "Too bad you don't drink, Andy", I thought as I led the way to the Brown's Brewery tent for some much deserved Oatmeal Stout. Well... Alysha and I had the stout. After the stout, I filled up with some Brown's Best Bitter. Man, that was good beer. So good, in fact, that I made Andy take a detour to Browns Brewery on the way home, where I picked up some "supplies" to bring back. In the end it turned out I did win after all :)

This Whiskey Barrel Aged Porter is the best beer I've ever tasted.

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