After not partaking in any "away" races last season, I decided (almost on a whim) that I would try racing the Tour of the Battenkill this year. I don't do well with structured training plans, planned taper periods or weekly workouts emailed from skinny guys sitting in their apartments. This is not because I dislike detail or preparation, it's actually the converse of that—I am susceptible to compulsion and if I were to fall down the rabbit hole of athletic self-obsession, I would become such an insufferable turd that everyone in the my life would line up to buy tickets to back over me with a pick-up.
Consequently, I take an opposite strategy to training for a big event—I try mostly to ignore its approach. But since Battenkill is a long race, I did make a few concessions to proper training by doing two consecutive weeks worth of Battenkill-length rides—I also eschewed wearing any loose-fitting clothing—but that was more for religious reasons. My commitment to my laissez-faire training program even extended to the evening before the race, which saw me dispatching a lion's pride-sized plate of Brazilian meat stuffs at a local churrascaria restaurant.
My athletic and gastrointestinal preparations completed, it was time to complete the pilgrimage north to meet my destiny on the dirty roads of the foothill of the Adirondack Mountains. I used my gnomely wiles to acquire a seat in the Gatens family people-mover, along with his fellow Kingpinners Doug and Jim. The conversation on the ride up was affable, smart and lively, and it wasn't until we hit the Interstate that I realized that I was the dumbest guy in the car—and the gassiest.
Despite my attempts at intestinal asphyxiation, we arrived safely and with plenty of time to spare before our races began. On long trips to races, I usually just pack every piece of cycling clothing I own, to ensure I have as many sartorial options as possible; but I always seem to forget something. Some items, like shoes or helmets can't be left at home, as it's very hard to borrow these items; other pieces of equipment, like gloves or shorts (some races are clothing-optional) aren't as essential, and can be borrowed. I forgot to pack any socks, but thankfully Jim had an extra pair, and was willing to loan them to me.
I dressed in my borrowed socks, bade farewell to my Kingpin traveling companions and set to finding my teammates for the race. My meat-loading program from the night before was working its magic, and I made four separate visits to port-o-johns around the staging area to "de-meat" my system. We had a strong team for the cat 3 Black race, which included teammates James, Kevin, Matt, Rob, Stoffel, Ben, Alvin and myself. Our plans for the race were pretty basic, stay near the front, push the pace when possible (this applied mostly to Mr. Prinsloo) and avoid getting dropped.
Eventually we amassed and lined up for our race. I found out at the line that I had an exploded gel packet in my back pocket (that's mishap number two for those of you that are counting—foreshadowing), which made my back pocket stickier than a bee's behind, and also glued all of my remaining gels together. I began complaining (as that's that I excel at) to teammate Matt, prompting him to remind me that the race hadn't even started and I was complaining already, setting a new schmalz kvetching record.
My pre-race grumbling completed, we set off to the day's task—surviving 62 miles of partially paved pandemonium. We had a kilometer's neutral start before the race began, but I really couldn't figure out when the race actually began, and I didn't see any signal of any sort, so I just assumed that the race began immediately after we rolled off; and I started throwing elbows from the onset.
In the days leading up to the race, I realized that I had no concept of what the course was like. I knew that there were sections that were both uphill and made of gravel, but I didn't know when they happened or how many of these rocky bumps were scattered throughout the race. I decided to rely upon my more knowledgeable teammates to let me know when bad things were about to happen during the race. I also decided to make things easier on myself by just staying near the front of the race in order to get a clear view of any impending painful sections.
This plan served me pretty well. On the dirt section up Juniper Hill, I was able to grovel through the gravel and stay in the front group. My teammate Kevin's luck was not so great, as his rear wheel came out on the hill, forcing him to curse passionately, dismount, pop his wheel back in and subsequently spend the rest of the day chasing the pack.
We wound our way through many other sections of dirt, inclines and rural splendor, and I managed to still be in the much-decimated front group as we hit the superfluous (for the 62 mile racers) feed zone at the 17 mile mark. After ignoring the roadside refreshments, our group eased slightly and began the long spiral downhill towards the junction of Route 22. This is where my doddering rear derailleur cable finally succumbed to my relentless shifting. I put my hand up, rolled to the side of the road and ended my race with a quiet curse. I am convinced, in a bit of Scooby Doo villain logic, that had my cable not broken, I would have surely had my plans come to fruition and won the race. As it turned out, my teammate James held on to the end of the race, sprinting it out for the win and finishing fourth—a great result. I made my way back to Cambridge using my two gears, and I tried getting myself a result by skipping my transponder across the finish line when no one was looking, but to no avail, I was a DNF. I did enjoy the race immensely, and I look forward to coming back next year and seeing what the entire course looks like.
The ballad of team BH-Garnueau
Every team that goes to Battenkill has stories to tell after the race's completion, our team had a typically eventful day. Kevin was the first to have bad luck when his wheel evacuated its mounts. My bad luck happened shortly after when my elderly cable lost its long battle with connectivity. Rob had his rear derailleur attempt suicide by leaping from its mount and flinging itself through his seat stay. Matt crashed after a fellow rudely crashed and shoved his arm into the spokes on his front wheel. Alvin was knocked over by Matt, dislocating his shoulder, but Alvin was able to pop his shoulder back into its socket, and briefly got back on his bike; he wasn't able to continue racing, but he was able to a new BH-Garneau team record for manliness in the process. The previous record was held by Kevin's beard.
Teammate Chris had a great day in the cat 4 Black race, escaping at around mile 27 then dropping his breakaway partner and winning solo.
Teammate Pavel had the big result of the day, winning the cat 2 race. Afterwards he said that he was afraid that the race was going to be hard, so he wanted to get away early. Which sounds insane, but makes more sense when you hear it said in his Czech accent. He attacked somewhere in the first third of the race, and stayed away with a companion until the end of the race, before dropping his break mate and winning solo.
Schmalz Race Report
I would like to say that I am mad or disappointed by my mechanical mishap, but I am, of course thrilled to have such a wonderful excuse for dropping out of a race. And the team successes on the day mean that I can bask in the reflected glory of my compatriots. Let's call this a 2.
The had song of the day was "is She Really Going out with HIm?" by Joe Jackson. "There's something going on around here."