I have never been so anxious for a bicycle race as I was last week. It made for a few sleepless nights, intestinal distress, and an inability to focus on anything important. The Tour of the Battenkill will do that to you. I consider this race to be one of the hardest, if not THE hardest, one day races in New England. It is 62 miles long with 25% dirt roads, steep punchy climbs, and gigantic fields of 150 riders each. It is as much mentally taxing as it is physically (See the course profile here: http://app.strava.com/
Four members of the Burris Logistics-Fit Werx squad attended the 1012 edition of The Tour of the Battenkill: Tim Noel, John Painter, Christian Verry, and myself. John and Christian raced in the 30+ field, while Tim and I raced in the 40+ field.
The characteristics of the TOB make it very unpredictable. The chances of flatting or crashing are quite high. It is best to stay at or near the front as much as you can. In a field of 150 guys, this can be quite difficult. I managed to do this for the first part of the race, but I had difficulty holding my position as the race progressed. I ended it up mid-pack for most of the race.
The first major punch in the face came when we hit Juniper Swamp Road. It is a short climb, but it is steep. I felt pretty good on it and managed to regain my position at the front as we crested the hill. I was hoping the pace would stay high to thin out the field, but instead we slowed way down. All that work was for nothing as those that were dropped were able to catch back on with no problem. This would be the routine until Meeting House Road: hit it hard on the steeps and dirt, then slow down.
I was a bundle of nerves for the first half of the race. I just could not relax. The dirt sections on this year's race were brutal. The first couple were nice and packed down, but most of them were full of very lose gravel. It was scary to say the least. I had a momentary lapse were I thought I was going down, but I managed to save it. Interestingly, it snapped me out of my nervousness and I actually began to enjoy the dirt sections.
As we came through the second feed zone, I was tired, but I still was in contact with the lead group. I looked for Tina Noel, who was waiting to resupply us with bottles for the last ten miles of the race. I took my bottle and as I looked up, I saw a pack of about 20 guys start to roll away very quickly. The feedzone was on a bit of a hill so as to slow the pack down. However, it made it very difficult to chase and close an ever-widening gap.
Fellow Shelburne resident and 1K2Go Sports coach, David Connery, pulled up along side of me and gave me the "let's go." We chased hard catching riders and building what would become the first chase group. Our chase group was somewhat organized and we were able to keep the main group in our sights until the last 3-4 K of the race. In the end, I led Dave out for the sprint for 35th place (that's a joke – nobody sprint's for 35th). I finished in 37th, 2 minutes and 50 seconds behind the winner for a total time of 2:49:00. I was fine with this result considering 150 guys were in our field. I could not have ridden any harder. My normalized power for the entire race was 288 watts which is just about 12 watts below threshold.
I believe I had the form to stay with the lead group had I not been gapped at the feedzone. I'm a little bummed about this because it is the same thing that happened to me in 2010. I was well prepared physically, but I did not know the course as well as I should have and I was not paying attention at the crucial moment when the selection was made.
The guys in the 30+ field waged a good battle as well. As I said, it is very satisfying just to finish this race in one piece. The men in blue fought hard and represented well.