by Jack Gregory
I headed up to Cambridge NY for Battenkill 2013 on April 13th. Battenkill is a tough race, not only because it is 65 miles, and very hilly, and 25% of it is on dirt roads. It is tough because it is the first big race of the year, and after a winter like we had in 2012-2013, it was particularly hard to prepare for it in Eastern Mass, where there aren’t really any hills. Or, there aren’t any real hills. I had done it twice before, both on fairly good days with dry roads. This year, the winter had been long. Snow fell the week before the race, and rain came in buckets. Even the morning of the event was damp and raw, in the 30’s.
Given the fact that I hadn’t put my good bike back together, and the fact that my good bike couldn’t take tires over 25mm, I opted for the CX winter bike, which is comfortable enough, has 32mm tires, and very low gearing. This is the same bike and setup I rode in the 2012 D2R2, and I felt the wide tires would be great on the likely-to-be-muddy dirt sections of Battenkill. I wondered if I was going to suffer too much with the weight penalty, but not having another choice meant I was going to ride the winter bike anyway.
The iconic image of the Battenkill event(s) is a covered bridge that all events ride through about 5 miles from the start. Until then, the route is wide-open smooth asphalt, and at least for us old men in the Masters 55+ section (new in 2013), there are no silly attacks. This race is not about attacks at mile 1. It is a longish hard day of attrition. The covered bridge marks the point at which the race really starts; it is narrow and has often been the location of crashes, as big fields squeeze onto the narrow one-lane bridge and squirt out the other side. Immediately afterwards, the first little rise of the day starts, and a quick right-hand turn after that puts the race on the first dirt section. Accordingly, I moved up to about 15th before the bridge.
On exiting the bridge, the guy immediately ahead of me inexplicably goes down. I didn’t think I had room for evasive action without taking a bunch of guys out, so I aimed for where I hoped he would slide away from. Instead, he slid toward where I was going, and I tried to ride over it. Because the bridge is so iconic, the photographers stake it out, and a friend sent me two images he found of the crash. This first shows the instant of failure of my plan, where I may look like I am bunny-hopping, but really I am starting to go down, as my front wheel has already been directed away from my direction of travel.
The photo also shows that I had enough room to get around to my left. But it doesn’t show that he was also moving to my left at the time, and I think I would have had to make a pretty large evasive sweep to avoid his bike entirely. I would have been much better off to have tried, I think. There is plenty of road there and everyone had room to get around. We were the only two to go down.
The second image shows the aftermath, as I try to keep my legs out of harms way and roll out. I immediately knew I was not hurt badly, which was a big achievement, since this crash was very similar to a finish sprint crash I had in 2011 (Topsfield, MA) which separated my left shoulder. I was instantly on my feet and planning to get back on immediately. Except the rear wheel wasn’t turning, with the brake jammed hard against the rim and tire. As the riders passed, I tried to figure out what was wrong, but I wasn’t thinking well. Eventually, the guy that crashed me said he was sorry and left, and the wheel-car guy asked if I needed a wheel, and I had to answer no, as it appeared to be a brake problem. So now I am alone with photographers and finally figure out that the only thing wrong was that the wheel had gotten off-center by being moved in the dropouts. Once I release the lever, and re-clamp, I am good to go. I briefly considered just riding back to the start and going home. After all, my race was over. But it is a long way to go and do nothing. I needed the tough miles, and I am sure I would always regret just turning around. So I steeled myself for the 60-mile time trial that lie ahead, and pushed off.
My primary goal was to catch the guy who crashed me, #937. At the very least, since we were dead last, I could say I beat someone. He had a minute or two head start, but I didn’t think he was an ace rider; after all, he crashed for no apparent reason, and “good guys” don’t do that. I won’t mention that good guys don’t land on top of these guys, either.
I caught the first guy about 4 miles later, just after the first real hill (Perry). I had to let him go on the next one, Juniper Swamp, because he clearly wasn’t going to be a fast riding partner — he had lost about a minute mile so far. And he wasn’t the guy that took me out. I continued catching and dropping people for the next 30 or so miles. We would be able to form little groups on flat sections, but these guys were not climbers, and I wasn’t waiting. About halfway into the race, the race that started after my group caught me. These guys were the Category 4A group, and I was able to sit on their tail for awhile. I didn’t want to interfere, though, so I couldn’t in good conscience pass the stragglers on the hills, so I was eventually off the back of this group as well. The good news was that I was now with stragglers who were far faster than the M55 guys, and my average speed went up.
And I caught #937. He and I and a few Cat4 guys did a good chunk of the back half of the course together. I was able to out climb most of them, but not by a lot, and I could not stay ahead of the group of them when it flattened out, so it was fairly stable. I did get dropped on Meetinghouse Hill Rd, the dirt roller-coaster road so favored by photographers, but other fast stragglers from the later Cat4 fields allowed me to sit on some trains and catch back up. On the last climb, Stagecoach Rd, I burned all my matches and was able to pass a lot of riders, many who showed signs of cramps, bonk, or dispirit. I caught one more guy in my group on the final 3 miles or so, but he sprinted past me in the finish, and I didn’t care.
The results show I was 60th out of 71 starters, more than 31 minutes down on the winner of my race. My biggest frustration on the day is that I still had no idea of my relative fitness to compare against past years. I don’t know how long I would have lasted in the front group, what hill I would lose it on, etc.