Monday, April 11, 2011

Tour of the Battenkill

I`m not sure where to begin.  The tour of the Battenkill is America`s Queen of the classics.  Held in Cambridge NY.  The race tours around the back roads of upstate new york including over 50km of gravel farm roads and some explitf steep climbs.  It is a hard-man race where the terrain and the prestige refuse to let anyone hide.  This race is truly something special in North America.

When I looked over my racing calender this winter The Battenkill jumped off the page.  This was a race that excited me and stole my focus.  I wanted to come to this race.  To be strong.  To be aggressive and to ride for the W.  I did all that, all that I could. 

The race began slow out of town and wound up as we approached the first of many gravel sections.  With a peloton of 150 racers your position in the group is critical.  Each time we hit the gravel the road becomes narrower.  The terrain is dusty and rough.  There are many riders who crash or fall in the ditch or puncture their tires.  Every gravel section results in disaster for someone.  You must keep yourself safe near the front, with fewer people to have disasters nearby.  You must trust those around you, trust your team mates to stay safe and to keep you safe.

In the first 50km there where many crashes.  Too many to count.  Many riders do not feel comfortable on the gravel.  It is very rough, the dust clouds your vision, there is less draft and it is harder to pedal.  I fell very comfortable in the gravel.  In Saskatchewan we ride gravel every couple of weeks just to mix it up or take a short cut.  I must be rough rider at heart.

The team stays vigilant.  We are looking for a good attacks and waiting for the race to come undone.  We are riding aggressively and it starts to take its toll.  With 50km remaining the race remains wide open.  With short lived attacks and groups off the front constantly re-shuffling.  Fatigue is setting in.  The pace has slowed but the aggression is increasing.  The peloton has lost nearly two thirds of its volume.  What remains are once civilized cyclists, coated in dust and gnashing at the pedals like animals. 

The riskiest thing I can do is wait for the finale.  I need to make my race and with 30km and 3 gravel sections remaining I start on the offensive.  I am not the only one of this mind.  There are fluries of attacks before during and after gravel section 3.  The group remains intact albeit now less than 50.  Attacks continue and in Gravel section 2 there is a hesitation and I go for it.  I bridge hard to a single rider out in front we are then joined by a third and fourth from the rear.  There is just over 20km remaining, and we ride.

As they say in poker, I am all in.  For nearly 15km we nurse a gap of barely a minute.  Then before gravel section 1 two of the breakaway riders stop pulling through.  They seem to think this is futile.  We exchange some "words" and they are riding some more.  Gravel section 1 is entirely up hill for over 1km.  I punch out from the breakaway but the peloton is surging hard.  I am overwhelmed on the lower slopes.  Already cross eyed I force myself blue in the face to cling to this group.  Over the climb I survive 5km more to finish in the lead group of thirty.  I cross the line 23rd.

I was strong.  I was Aggressive.  And I tried to win the bike race, but I want more.

Much More.

Cuylar Conly

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