Men’s Cat5 Battenkill Reports and Observations

Doug Aker
Men’s Cat5 55+ (White)

To calm my nerves in the week leading up to the race, I kept reminding myself that;

1) My training was better this year (a complete base-build-peak-race mesocycle, including three structured 91-milers)
2) I’m in an older age group this year (the pace might suit me better)
3) The weather looks good (much, much better than the muddy, discouraging preview ride)

Finding some unpaved roads north and west of Boston, and riding them in the weeks leading up to the race also helped settle me. And, I was able to get to Cambridge, NY late Friday morning, and pre-ride the first three dirt sections, and first two hills (Perry Hill and Juniper Swamp Rd). I practiced the dirt descent on Juniper Swamp Rd twice.  Road conditions were good. Unpaved roads were dry and hard, if anything, a little dusty.

I took Tom Doucette advice, and ran with Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 25 tires. They seemed to grip well, and I had no flats or other tire damage, so no complaints. 90 psi front, 105 rear.  As advised by several NEBC’ers, I also ran with old wheels, to save my newest most expensive from Battenkill’s ravages.

Following John Laupheimer’s advice, I wrote on strips of white electrical tape on my handlebar tops, the mile marks of the hills, dirt sections and feed zones. Helps to know when the feed zones are coming, and to know that the tough sections on the course aren’t infinite in number (and tactically, when to move, had I been involved in something tactical).

On Saturday, my group, Men’s Cat 5 55+ White, was scheduled for a 1:50 start.  The temperature was about 60 at the start.  Sunny, some wind from the southwest, but mostly calm.  Kit selection involved nothing more than the bare essentials.  I packed three Clif bars: one consumed during the warm-up.  Three water bottles filled with straight Gatorade.  The third bottle in the center jersey pocket.  Make room for the third bottle by throwing out one empty at the second feed zone.  Taking Brooke’s Wednesday night clinic advice, I chose to warm-up on Rt 22 (south), instead of on a trainer.  I’d be soaked in sweat warming up on a trainer today.  And I wanted to start feeling the road again (super nervous).

With the group assembled, and with a couple minutes to go before the race, the starter emphasized the importance of spacing on the course’s descents.  Sounded good to me.  There was a big crash on one of the descents last year in one of the less-experienced groups.

Pat, Barry and I were in this group.  Like Pat, I stayed close to the sharp end on the way to the covered bridge on Eagleville Rd.  On this stretch, I tried to stay close enough to the front to see what was going on, but far enough back to stay out of the wind.

Last year, I was in a Men’s Cat 5 45+ group.  In that race, there was a big, early break on the very first dirt section (Roberson Rd).  This year however, this group was mellower.  Pat and I were both able to stay with the lead group until Perry Hill.  Not great I know, but better than last year.  Due to Fridays’ pre-ride, I knew I’d have no problem with Juniper Swamp Rd, its descent, and the Rich Rd dirt section.  IT WAS TIME TO START NEGOTIATING!

Two April’s ago, at my introduction to bike racing at NEBC’s Deven’s clinic, among the many useful tips and tricks given by my instructor Scott Brooks, one stuck with me: “You can talk to your fellow racers, and negotiate for yourself a better finish.”  Saturday, negotiating promised both a better finish for me, AND an end to that 45-miles-still-to-go-and-I’ve-got-no-one-to-ride-with feeling, which many Battenkill mid-packers report.  So, who was around me?  First, Bruce.  “Hey, given the time of the race, and our position, it’s very likely that you and I have similar fitness.  Let’s work together.  I won’t slow you down, you won’t slow me down.  And together we’ll be faster than either of us individually.  We’ll probably pick up other riders in front of us.  30-second pulls, OK?  And don’t redline on the hills, that will just break up our partnership.  What’s your name?”  Bruce.  “Hi Bruce.”

Then soon after, “Hey Bruce, joining us is Pat.”  Then another rider.  “What’s your name?”  Erick.  “Hi Erick, looks like we’ve got a foursome now Erick.”  Another.  “Hi Jeff.”  Later: “Looks like we lost Bruce.”  Of the four of us now, Erick seemed the strongest.  And Erick tries to gap Pat, Jeff and me.  A few miles later, Pat and I drop Jeff.  A few miles later.  “Hi again Erick!  So Erick… are you glad or sad to see Pat and me again?” (as Pat and I approached Erick, I was composing this smart aleck remark in my head).  Erick gets it, he’s stronger than Pat and me individually, but not collectively.  He apparently decides at this point he won’t try to breakaway again, at least not until much later in the race.  Now Pat, Erick, and I start picking up flagging riders left and right, too many to introduce ourselves to, too many to learn new names.  Pat is doing strong pulls, so much so I yell, “Hey Pat, take it easy!”  (I wonder if it ever registered with Bruce, Jeff and Erick that Pat and I were wearing the same club jersey?)

My biggest Battenkill weakness is descents, *especially* dirt descents. Ex-NEBC’ers Kelly and Ed Mendoza are mountain bikers. Their advice to me about the dirt descents has always been: just let go… JUUUST LEHHHT GOOOOO. I don’t remember exactly which stony hilltop it was on Saturday, but at the precipice of one especially dark, twisting, dusty plunge, I thought to myself, “OK Kelly, you BETTER be right, I’m going to let go of the brakes now…, I’m either going to get to that distant, sunny path in record time, or be MED-flighted outta here!” I was thrilled at both my speed and survival.

Thanks to Tom Evers, I rode Meetinghouse Rd fairly well. Meetinghouse Rd is home to the course’s deepest sand traps. Tom’s advice on these is, “Weight on the back of the bike, and keeeeeeeeep peddling.” On Friday, Mike Rowell also reminding me, “Light hands on the handlebars through the sand.” The worst of the worst sand trap on Meetinghouse Rd is just before feed zone #2. Employing Tom’s technique, I was the last of a wide group of five riders to enter this nasty trap, but the first to exit. Feeling *extremely* happy about this, I rode to the feed zone just 100 meters down the road, and who was there, handing out water and cheering on the team, but TOM EVERS!  Now that was pretty, darn cosmic!

At the very end of Meetinghouse Rd, the inside of my right quad (adductors?), began cramping. I drank more Gatorade (no point in finishing with Gatorade still in the bottle), ate the last part of my 2nd Clif Bar, rode out of the saddle more, and tried to find seated positions and gears that minimized the involvement of the cramping muscles. After ten minutes, the cramps subsided.  Frustrating though to feel energetic, with good cardio, and be limited by dead, crampy legs.  Got to find a training answer to that one.

Somewhere towards the end of Meeting House Rd, the grand agreement fell apart.  My feelings at the time were that I was super glad to have ridden with the group, but now, I was ready to strike out on my own, with 25K of 100K left.  My 91-milers were starting to kick in. My cardio and energy levels were good.  Erick was ready too.  Somewhere here, he broke away, and this time, stayed away.  I guess Meetinghouse Rd with its stony dirt, sand traps and nasty hills (and this year, windless conditions and oppressive sun), has a natural tendency to break groups up.   During the last 25K or so, most of the riders I saw were singles.  Erick finished about a minute in front of me.  Pat, about a minute in back of me.  Wonder if I had not broken from Pat, whether Pat and I could have chased down Erick, say, with Pat and me trying to close a 2-minute gap from the top of Stage Rd to the finish (4 miles).  That would have been cool!  It would have marked a second time that Erick, riding individually, couldn’t breakaway from those two NEBC guys!

Faster time for me this year.  No flats, no crashes.  Lessened my fear of dirt descents.  Worked together for most of the race with Pat, and negotiated a more fun experience.  I’m developing a liking for the fragrant smell of cow manure on the vernal fields of the Battenkill.


P.S. Looking at the results, Chris Cugini had a great race!  8th place in Men’s Cat 5 45+ White!  And a great time!  Chris: you gotta do more Saturday morning Bedford Library team rides, so we all can try hanging onto your wheel!


Kyle Welch
Men’s Cat5 35+ (White)

I was not able to fit the official clinic into my schedule, but in the 3 years I’ve been a member of NEBC I’ve definitely learned a whole bunch from many of the members.  I’d like to send a huge “Thanks” out to all who have helped me get to the starting line last weekend for my first road race@Battenkill.

I’ve been fortunate that some of the speedier NEBC’ers have let me tag along on some of their group rides and given me some solid advice, and getting beat up by these guys it turns out is pretty good practice for race day.  Here’s my report:

Summary: Cat 5, 35+, White, 1st place

Unfortunately, when I signed up, I put down the team name of a couple of buddies from NY (Catskill Mtn Multisports) so I could be in their wave.  When I received my license I tried to change it to NEBC but I was told it was too late to make changes.  Bummer….

Anyways, I arrived at the race site, registered, etc.  Went and got a couple of bacon egg and cheese sandwiches at the Subway, the lady at the counter said:

Her: “Do you want regular eggs?”
me: “As opposed to what?”
Her: “Just the whites.”

Must be a bike race in town…she seemed relieved when I told her definitely regular eggs and throw some extra bacon on there, too.

Then began the hardest part of the day…putting the race numbers on my jersey.  If there was a way to botch this, I did it.  Upside down numbers, pinning the pockets shut, stabbing myself, arm through the neck hole trying not to rip the numbers putting on the shirt, check on all of that.  Looking around, you could tell who was going to be fast because their race #’s were perfectly affixed, uncrumpled, and flush…I looked pretty slow for sure.

We lined up and were off.  As expected, it was pretty peaceful until we got to the covered bridge, at which point I expected it to start getting exciting.  It didn’t.  Nobody wanted to be on the front, so we just sort of noodled along to the base of Juniper Swamp, everyone seemed pretty happy to take it easy and most of the group went over together.  I was 2nd over the top.  The 1 guy in front didn’t seem overly enthusiastic about pushing the descent on the dirt, so we all stayed together.  I’d spoken to Mike Rowell and Keith Reynolds the week before the race about what I ought to be looking for, and their major advice was “Don’t go to the front or do anything stupid unless you have a reason.”  Everyone else seemed to have the same plan, so for the next 2 hours we meandered along and enjoyed the stunning scenery at a “slower than commute” pace.  I kept waiting for 2 or 3 of the stronger riders to try and make a break but it never happened.

At about mile 40, you turn onto Wright’s road.  This is a long straight dirt stretch leading up to Meetinghouse Road, which is the first of 2 big climbs before the 5 mile runout to the finish.  I had thought the climbing began at Meetinghouse, but it turns out Wright’s is a pretty good climb as well, and the surface was very loose.  About .5 mile before the turn onto Wrights, I was on the front and figured I’d give it some gas just to freak everyone out a little.  I pedaled medium hard for ~20 seconds and then sat up.  Much to my disappointment, nobody freaked out at all and I’d gotten about 30 yds ahead of the pack, so I sat up to wait.  At that point, 2 guys bridged across and one of them was super fired up.  “This is IT!  This is the BREAK!  This is the race RIGHT HERE!  Let’s GO!”  He got me pretty fired up as well.  In retrospect, through pure dumb luck we’d timed our move perfectly.  I guess technically they were the ones who’d actually made the move, I was just the catalyst.  I looked back as we turned onto the dirt of Wright’s to see if my friend Mike was anywhere to be seen and he was nowhere in sight so I figured he must have flatted or else he would have come across with the other 2 guys.  Turns out he had been napping.

The three of us took some hard pulls for the next 5 minutes.  There were some sketchy descents where I must have looked very brave given the speeds we hit but in reality the only thing I was more afraid of than going faster was hitting the brakes.  We finally got to a point where the pace slowed a bit and I was able to look back and see that Mike had managed to bridge most of the way across and brought another guy with him.  We sat up, and just as they caught on, the guy he’d brought along flatted and taught us some new and creative was to verbally express displeasure.  Bummer to have that happen just after you kill yourself making it to the break.  I was pretty psyched I’d chosen to go with Michelin Krylions for my tires.  Those things are bomber.

At this point, the peloton was at least a minute back as they were out of sight…earlier in the race I’d noticed some guys who weren’t afraid of braking on the gravely downhills, and I think they might have plugged up the 1 or 2 strips of packed dirt.  We started up Meetinghouse and the 4 of us stayed together up to a flat section.  Mike and I each took pulls, but the other guys wouldn’t pull through.  I suggested in so many words that this was not exactly sporting of them if we were all going to be friends and they both indicated apologetically that they would if they could but were already flat out, so I felt a little bad for yelling at them but glad that they were close to cracking.  We pushed up the final stretch and Mike and I went over the top together.  We did a two-man TT for the next 4 miles and extended on the guys behind us so they were out of sight by the base of Stage Rd.

I don’t think my powertap has a thousands digit on it, at least, I’ve never seen it, so I figured my best bet was to ditch Mike on the final climb.  I put my head down and got to work and started to build a little gap.  He didn’t do the polite thing and throw up the white flag (damn him), so I had to keep the “heartbeat in my teeth” pace until we got to the top and back on the hardtop.  5 miles to go, and I had a ~:20 second gap.  If ever there is a situation where you are going to empty the tank, it should have these traits:

1) 5 miles mostly downhill
2) Tailwind
3) Buddy in 2nd you just dropped right behind you
4) Pace car up ahead

I figured not letting him gain on me in the first couple of miles was key, so I tried not to think about how long 5 miles is and kept the pace high.  Finally, I started to see the kilometers to go signs go by…5 km…(10 minutes later) 4 km (20 minutes later)…3 km…(the next day) 2 km…I was desperately trying to balance A) My desire to see if the imaginary Mike in my head who was barrelling down on me with the intent of pipping me at the line was in fact reality, and B) The desire to not ride off the road into a ditch while looking back.  With 2 km to go, and nobody within 100 yds behind me, I started doing some math.  Let’s see, to make up 100 yds in 2 km, if I’m going 25 mph he’d have to be…ok screw it, pedaling harder trumps math at that point…

Made the final turn to the finish and under the banner ftw, woot!   Ended up with a 44 second gap on Mike and 2:27 on 3rd and 4th.

Now I can retire undefeated!

This race rocks (I have nothing to compare it to, but it was super-fun)…already looking forward to next year when it will no doubt be snowing.

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