Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tour of the Battenkill (aka Battenkill-Roubaix)

It could have been a perfect summer day at the beach with sand, the smell of sunscreen, and near record high temperatures, except that we weren’t lazily basking in the sun…

We were tearing up the quaint backcountry roads in Salem, NY, riding through plumes of dust and listening to the sound of stones getting shot out from underneath our tires.

Brenda Bahnson, Zoe Owers and Silke Wunderwald made the trek to participate in what has become a true cycling classic in just over four years: the Tour of the Battenkill Valley (formerly known as Battenkill-Roubaix). Most fields, including the Cat. 4 Women, were sold out well in advance, yet there were only 29 starters in the Women’s P123 field. However, some of New England’s strongest riders stood on the line and what the field lacked in quantity it clearly made up in quality. Also of superior quality was the splendid weather. Temperatures in the 80s under blue skies made for perfect racing conditions and had everyone searching for sunscreen instead of armwarmers and booties. The 55-mile course loops through a quiet corner of the state, includes some 4400 feet of climbing, and, best of all, features five prolonged sections of dirt roads that make up some 25% of the course and which this year were characterized by lots of loose sand and rocks compared to the craterlike potholes from last year.

The women’s field stayed together until the gravelly climbs of Meetinghouse Road roughly halfway through the race where Anna Milkowski of Team Advil-ChapStick forced a selection that included Anna McLoon (Harvard U) and Kathleen Billington (Conn Coast). The attack not only launched this breakaway group of three, but fragmented the entire field behind. The first chase group of five riders contained Silke, but due to race strategies that weren’t readily apparent the group failed to work together effectively and never caught any of the three lead riders in spite of McLoon flatting and Billington being unable to match the pace set by Milkowski. The group did manage to stay ahead of any other chasing riders though and in the end Silke claimed sixth place overall. Zoe found herself in a group of four that would eventually finish just a few minutes behind the race leaders in 15th place and was quite content with a successful hard day of training. Brenda, in her first race of the season, was psyched to make the selection and stay with the front group for the first 30 miles of the race. A small mechanical hiccup - via a front derailleur cable misfire, however, caused her to lose contact and momentum along a particularly windy stretch of road when the peloton was strung out single-file and at full gas. As is her forte, however, she rode the rest of the race as a solo TT, caught and passed a few stragglers and out sprinted her last catch of the day for 20th.

The one word that best describes this event: epic!!! If you missed it, do the 5th anniversary edition in 2009, but keep in mind that this is April in New England and you might find yourself slipping and sliding on ice instead of sand next year! The team would like to thank Farm Team Cycling, race director Dieter Drake, the volunteers and everyone else involved in making this a truly memorable event!

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