Race Report: 2009 Tour of The Battenkill Road Race by Joe Azze

As we approached the 1st climb of the day, I would learn just what kind of day I was in for. Unsure of how I was going to physically be feeling since coming off of a big training block with minimal recovery before the race, I was still amped and ready. Sure enough the legs felt a bit heavy getting to the top of the 1st climb but mentally I was prepared for this and now knew that it was going to be my mind set that was going to determine whether I had a successful race or not.

The Tour of the Battenkill takes place in Cambridge, New York and is an exciting race to be a part of. This is a much different road race than the traditional races that you will find in the States. Within a 100K course we travel roughly have that on dirt roads that range from okay to dangerous. The danger comes in when you are approaching 45 MPH on a sweeping downhill dirt road that has loose rocks and out of control riders; some unfortunately being casualties and scattered along the sides of road.

It's a success just to finish this race unscathed, whether in front or back of the pack. Along with the challenging course we were also greeted with cooler temperatures and rain in the second half of the race. These are conditions I welcomed for a race like this because it gives you some comfort of the knowing since its been the weather of the common lately.

We arrived about an hour and half before the race start and began or race preparations. One of the main priorities for a race that travels on dirt roads with loose rocks and many bumps that can jar a rider from his saddle, is to ensure your water bottles are secured. Sturdy bottle cages are what’s needed and I am glad to say I used $3 Blackburn cages with out a hitch. With a feed station at the end of a sweeping turn that had riders going through at 30 mph, you could not depend on replenishing there nor would you want to have someone standing there hoping for the best... so along with two bottles in my cages, I also threw one in my jersey pocket.

It was nice to finally line up for the start and just like that the race was on. The battle in the beginning is to stay up front within the first 20 riders and it's a fight to do so because every rider wants this. The reason being is when you have a steep dirt road climb coming up within the first 20k, you know that its going to be impossible for 100 riders to make it over together. The dirt roads are only so wide and the outside edges are made up of loose rock and dirt, it's the middle areas that have the tight packed sections offering the best lines. Many riders get bottled up here and are forced from their bikes and left running up the climb. With many climbs ahead just like this, each one would separate more riders from the lead group, narrowing down the pack to include the most resilient riders to press on.

As the race went on my legs started to feel stronger and mentally I knew that if I stayed with the lead 10 riders I had a chance. The climbs were steep but not terribly long so it wasn’t to much of a problem to accomplish this, I just had too keep myself hydrated, fueled and confident.

The second half of the race had some harrowing moments. After most of the steep climbs, they were followed with a bombing decent on dirt roads at 40+ mph with long stretches before any safe terrain was felt beneath. These sections had many casualties and some worse than others. I enjoy a good race, with challenging terrain, especially since I am a mountain biker.

In order to avoid any mishaps, I would take my comfort of the loose terrain and move to the front of the field on each downhill section, reaching speeds that normally raise caution on smooth asphalt. However, going into one of the last long stretches with about 15K to go, I was about 10 riders back in a 20 man break and we were reaching impressive speeds because each rider knew from here on this is where the race was going to be won.

I was tucked in tight until a rider in front started to lose control and was being forced out to the side of the road on a sweeping turn. I was just behind him and as I saw him remove a foot from his pedal, I knew I had only two options. Try to slow down and cut inside of him but my speed would not allow for this without my bike sliding out from under me. The other being to head to the outside and hope for the best. As I did, I kept sliding out further to the outside of the road and eventually ended up in a gully. I stayed up right and road over branches, significant sized rocks and then with a bunny hop up over a ledge, I was back on the road. The bike stayed together, no flats and I continued on.

From 45 mph to 10 mph, I knew I had some ground to make up so with still a big stretch to go on the long descent, I went for it. The front 10 riders opened up about around a 30 second gap. I was closing in on them but a little too fast and barely making it through some of the turns so I decided to back off a bit and wait for some safer roads ahead. I kept a good pace and had a few riders join me in the chase. We were working pretty good together and were flying by many riders from other fields that started earlier in the day; some were walking their bikes while others were holding wheels in their hands but many were still pressing on.

We could see the group ahead but they were working strong together as well, keeping us from reeling them in. We were approaching the final long climb and I tried to give it a go in bridging the gap but as I got to the top, they were still a good distance away. I waited for a few other riders to bridge up to me, knowing that working together was our best shot. We started to become unsure of just where our position lied overall, thinking that there could be as many as 15 riders up front so with just a little to go in the race, I just kept up a strong pace and brought us to the finish line.

A few rides sprinted by me but I had no interest in sprinting for a top 20 placing, knowing that I should have been with the lead group. As it turns out, when I got home, I found out that I actually rolled across the line in 8th place. I should of been more heads up here and still gave a sprint in the end because sometimes you just don’t know… It was a great day, with big efforts and a little chaos along the way but all is well and the 2009 race season is now set up to be one hell of a ride!

Joe