The Tour of the Battenkill is the biggest one day race in the Northeast. 3500 racers, 62.2 miles – 15 of which are ridden on dirt roads with lots of steep climbs and descents. The race is typically one of attrition where the pace is pushed every tough section sending guys off the back until all that’s left is a small group to compete for the finish. I was in Cat 4 Blue field with 125 starters. While this was my 3rd sanctioned bike race, my other races were all done in one hour or less on easy courses so this would be a new experience I was looking forward to.
The first 5 miles you couldn’t budge in the pack. 125 guys all trying to stay at the front until we passed under the covered bridge before the climbs started. Once through the bridge, I worked my way to the front and then surged a bit off the front when we hit the first real hill at mile 7. Seeing a gap quickly open, I went all out the next 15 minutes and got out of sight. Up and down the steep dirt hills of Perry Hill Rd and Juniper Swamp Rd. I could still see the pack when I looked back on the straightaways and later found out my lead got out to 50 seconds – not as much as I was hoping for given how hard I’d gone. I kept at it hoping the gap would grow or the pack would sit up and let me go, but when I turned southwest at the top of the course the headwind hit me like a wall. I did everything I could to fight the headwind, but it was useless. The gap was shrinking. Once the motorcycle said it was down to 20 seconds and I could see them organized and chasing I sat up. Fortunately when they swallowed me up only about 40 riders were left, so at least there was lots of carnage during the chase. Having just spent an hour near my threshold power in my futile breakaway attempt, my real battle was about to begin – there were still 35 miles of racing left and the toughest sections were yet to come…
The next hour I spent hanging on the back of the group trying to fight off muscle cramps in my quads, and get my heart rate and nutrition under control. It would have been easy to sit up and pack it in, but I told myself it was a new race and to make the most of the situation. Miles 30-44 were somewhat uneventful as we hit a few dirt sections but no real climbs. The turn east onto Wrights Rd is where the mayhem began. We hit 3 consecutive uphill dirt road sections that resembled rock cluttered sandboxes more than dirt roads. Lots of small sharp rocks and boulders were everywhere. Guys were flatting left and right, and plenty of guys all around me crashed as their wheels slipped out from under them. I had several near fall/crash instances when guys went down in front of me and my wheels simply slid out from underneath me in the soft sand. At one point guys fell on both sides of me at the same time. There was one decent line in the middle of the road, but when guys stopped, crashed, or flatted you had to swerve into the deep gravel to get around them. At least the fight to stay upright took my mind off my trashed legs for a moment. Of course the pace had picked up as well on these rolling dirt sections so I’m doing everything I can to hang onto the pack as the final selection formed. There were 9 of us left when we crested the final hill. A couple guys kept pushing the group to work together as some other broken packs were close and chasing to catch back on. I was more than happy to take a top 10 finish home given what I’d been through, so I took the front on the descent to a number of “yeah, the diesel’s back!” comments. I picked the speed up to 47 mph on the fast straight descent, and then pulled off at the bottom to let the other guys rotate through.
As we hit the last 4 mile flattish straightaway to the finish the group split apart and 4 guys were working together a few seconds off the front. Every time I tried to pick up the pace or stand my quads would cramp, so I waited a bit and forced the other guys to pull them back. A big guy came by me attempting to bridge up so I got on his wheel. He seemed to pop and slow down, and another guy went around us. Even the slightest acceleration to take his wheel caused cramping, but I made it and looked back and nobody was behind us – 6 left if we can make it to the leaders. I came around him to finish closing the gap to the leaders and when I looked back he was gone too. Apparently everybody was running on fumes and cramping, so it wasn’t just me. Oh, do I wish I didn’t spend that first hour in the red zone…
5 of us were left, and we rotated together until the 1k to go banner. There was a right hand turn about 300 meters before the finish. I knew I couldn’t sprint as standing up was out of the question at this point with the leg cramps. The cat and mouse games started with nobody wanting to take the front. I played the only card I had left – I took the front into the final corner keeping a decent amount of speed, then put my head down and pushed as hard as I could in the drops hoping a few of the other guys didn’t have the legs or time to go around me in such a short finishing straight. Jason Berry from Gripped Racing went by me first with a huge acceleration and took the win. Kevin Walker from Minerva Design came by next to take 2nd place, and I managed to hold the other guys off to round out the podium in 3rd!
Hindsight is always 20/20. I regret going off the front for an hour, but I still don’t doubt my intentions and confidence. I truly thought I had a good chance to stay away, and probably would never have a chance to try a boneheaded move like that as I move up to the faster fields. The thought of sitting in for the whole race didn’t appeal to me, but of course I later wished I had. As it played out, the field was too strong, the conditions and wind too difficult, and my form not good enough to stay away alone. The last 100 minutes of the race I struggled and continuously fought off muscle cramps to hold an average power about 100 watts less than what I held in my solo breakaway attempt. It sure would have been nice to have saved those legs for the final hour, but at least the guys up front gave me the verbal “Most Courageous Rider” award for the day.
The power file stats tell the tale of my 2 races.
Solo break attempt:
55 minutes total at 356 watts (386 norm watts)
15 minute initial attack 400 watts (432 norm watts – Ouch!)
After the breakaway:
100 final minutes at 257 watts (317 norm watts)
Total race power file:
285 watts, 340 normalized watts, 62.2 miles, 2:52:08 total time
Strava file shows all the power/speed/HR/elevation/distance data on the course map
Written By Dean Phillips