Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tour of the Battenkill Roubaix - A Retrospective

First, I realize this is late - incredibly late. Sometimes riding gets in the way of blogging about riding - that or modeling world oil demand for the government of Abu Dhabi. Needless to say, last weekend marked my first experience with New England's own hell of the north - Battenkill Roubaix.

I opted to sleep at home and drive up with Nick the morning off. Even at 7:00 am as we rolled out of Cambridge the temperature was noticeably mild. It made for an enjoyable drive, but would turn out to be a key factor in the days race.

By the time we were kitted up and warmed up the temperature was well above 75. With no leaves on the northern New York trees, there was little shade to be found. RMM, Savona, Nick, and I gathered for a warm up ride to discuss the day's strategy. I was feeling strong and cocky, so it was decided I was going to be the early man; any break that went off the front I would cover.

The race got off and tension was high. From the start my mouth was dry and I was incredibly parched. There's so much hype surrounding Battenkill - for months stories of 18% dirt hills were abound. When we hit the first hill, I have to say, I was disappointed. Already I was getting boxed out by guys moving backwards in the pack. We got past the first hill with the pack together, and looped back through Salem. Very quickly I realized that we had yet to tackle the first real hill. When we hit it, all hell broke lose.

First off, these dirt roads had been recently graded leaving behind an inch or two of loose dirt combined with golf ball sized rocks. The first hill kicked up above 15%. For the first time I was riding 39x27 and I was struggling. Staying in the saddle meant a trip down lactic acid lane, standing meant a total loss of traction as your back wheel slid washed out. The pack was reeling, weaving back and forth, searching for a clean line. I was making progress, walking that thin line of sustainable power and death march, when the guy in front of me went down. I pulled hard to the right, throwing my back wheel around in a skid that would've made my 7 year old self incredibly proud. I thought I was done. I scrambled through the sand the best I could, my head pounding, the dust suffocating me, but somehow I made it over. The pack had splintered, and left a breakaway of about 8 guys up ahead. I quickly fell into a chase group and repelled into the pain cave. The leaders had about 10 seconds on us and were working together realy well. That was where I needed to be. On a short 150 foot rise I put it in the big ring and made my move, peeling away from the chase. My solo break took me into the covered bridge, leaving me blind for 2 seconds. As I came out the pack was there, and I was on, and I was bloody tired.

For the next hour or so I worked in the most incredible cat 4 breakaway ever. Perfect pulls, incredible cooperation, holding a pace of about 24 mph. A few stragglers joined on and the pack grew to about 15 guys. The only trouble now was the heat. I had started with three water bottles, and I was quickly draining them. Luckily in the first feed zone there was a neutral that was I was able to grab. As I sat up to take a swig and pass it on to another guy a rider in the front of the pack dropped a water bottle, which of course I hit, with one hand on the bar, spilling water all over myself and the guy next to me, but luckily staying upright.

We cruised on. Hitting hills, nailing descents. About 1:55 into the race something went wrong. Even now, a week later, I couldn't tell you, but suddenly I was off the back. And that was it. I was in no man's land. The breakaway ahead, and some semblance of the peloton behind me. This climbing road race had become a time trial. It had officially become epic. I settled into the drops, and found a gear I could stay on top of, and I went. The sun beat down, the pavement flew by, and I ground it out. Everytime I felt good with a gear I'd tell myself, "this is easy, you can move down" So I'd shift down. "Ok, this is too much, 10 strokes and go back down." This continued, through the false dirt flat, through the final climbs, for 55 minutes of solo hell I worked to hold off anyone who was behind me. It was incredible. I came across stragglers from the masters race, and picked them off one at a time. In the end I came through the line about 4 minutes behind the lead group to secure a 15th place finish, well inside my goal of a top 20.

1 comment:

zencycle said...

the battenkill roubaix isn't in new england. Almost, but not quite.