Events: The 2015 Tour of the Battenkill and a Maple Syrup Milkshake
(2015) I could hardly contain my excitement last fall when Anthem Sports posted the route profile for the 2015 Tour of the Battenkill. Contrasting the 2014 climb-fest, 2015 was supposed to have a scant 1,500 feet of climbing (Paris-Roubaix is about 1,750 feet!). Immediately hopping on the email to copy and paste the profile, I got favorable responses from those who had sworn off the race for good.
Then came Battenfall, the fall preview ride. The profile seemed to contradict what was posted months before. I thought there was some mistake when the profile suddenly jacked up to over 4,000 feet of climbing. So long dreams of being there at the finish. So long hopes of Cheese Factory Road and its dusty long grind around Washington County, NY. The other slippery secret was the reallocating of Meetinghouse Road. No longer the next-to-last climb, it was now first in line. The final kick to the pants was the implementation of Joe Bean Hill Road (I’m not a climber).
Preparation in Pennsylvania certainly has numerous advantages. It’s entirely possible to get in four (perhaps five if the Battenkill spring preview ride falls on its own weekend) prep events prior to the race. While weather took its toll on the Bucks County ride, the Fool’s Classic, three other unsealed road events were toured to lay the foundation for the race: The Sourland Semi-Classic (Hopewell, NJ) by Kermesse Sports, Monkey Knife Fight (Emmaus, PA) by South Mountain Cycles, and arguably the flagship prep ride, the Hell of Hunterdon (Blawenburg, NJ), also by Kermesse Sports. If all four events (conveniently scheduled on their own weekends) distances were totaled, I could have completed nearly 300 miles of Battenkill-focused riding.
Preparation in equipment led to a recommendation by Mike at Wheelfine Imports. I snatched up his last remaining Vittoria Open Corsa CX gumwalls. I ran this tire on the back for its pave heritage as well as its grip on the pavement. The gumwall feel on dirt sections was confidence-boosting. Usually running a width of 25, it was relayed that getting away with 23mm was an option. Plus it looked great on the HED Belgium wheels.
It was the weekend before that did me in though. Having a strong final distance ride through Bucks and Hunterdon counties, I dumped it squarely in a rain gutter on Old Carversville Road. Hobbling around did not alleviate any knee discomfort. The swelling hung around for a few days, as did the pain. Driving a stick shift was uncomfortable. A couple easier rides through the week revealed climbing to be the most painful aspect. “It’s ok,” I thought. “Battenkill doesn’t have many hills.” The other thought hurt worse, that this was my first race under the new team of Sunnybrook Trek/ Limerick Chiropractic, and I was going in lame.
The later date for the 2015 Battenkill led to warmer temperatures. This was the first year I started without any warmers, arm warmers specifically were not even considered. It was also extremely windy and extremely dusty. (I could finally get the dusty shoulder caps just like the Roubaix guys!) The grass crunched under my feet on the way to registration. I cruised to the sign-in desk only to lean into the wind on the way back to the car.
I was excited for the upgrades this year. Anthem Sports moved to fabric numbers in 2014 and continued them for 2015. The bike numbers also continued this year. The start/ finish line was now at the Washington County Fairgrounds. This meant conveniences in parking, accessibility, and expo room. It would be the setting of one of the greatest milkshake encounters ever. More on that concoction later. One of the other perks was the fact that I got a pint glass for being one of the first thousand registrants. This was news to me. I was happy nonetheless.
This ride of spring that began in winter was moments away. Prior to staging, I pinned my number on a nearby propane tank (images of a mile-high explosion went through my head if I dropped a pin) with Jim from CB Velo. He and I were in the same race, so we registered as well as rolled to the starting line together.
It felt like a long time in the staging area. I questioned my abilities based on my injured knee. I questioned the amount of miles to prep for this race. I had concerns, legitimate concerns. This race was my priority though, so I shut out any further negative thoughts. The countdown began and we rolled away from the starting line.
It felt great to ride in a group again. Wilbur Road, the first miles, was a nice way to melt into the race. Having done the Battenfall ride, I knew it was only a short matter of time before making the turn toward Meetinghouse. For now, though, it was nice to consider myself a serious contender. Right about when the race should have been let loose, the referee announced a crash in the previous race after the turn on Route 40. We would stay neutral until beyond it. Without lamenting, it was a big crash with a lot of riders.
Naturally the pace picked up and the Seabiscuit in me decided now would be a wonderful time to burn some matches. Perhaps I thought I had a couple matchbooks in reserve because I was riding like I had endless power. For some reason my memory conveniently forgot we were on Meetinghouse and once the first ramp hit (not even the dirt section) I found myself being swarmed by the group. Don’t think I was off the front or anything. I was in the middle and the group blew by. My matches must’ve been wet. All of them.
Great. This was exactly where I did not want to be. I was slated to do a 58-mile individual time trial. This frustrated me. I worked with a few guys in my race from Stage Road (a dirt road and railroad crossing situation – never saw that before), down 313 and the old starting line, toward the covered bridge. This is where the Cat5 race leader singlehandedly brought our pace line down.
Once I turned and clanked over the bridgeboards, I got excited for one of my favorite dirt sections in any event. I love the beauty of Roberson Road. I love that the dirt road is slightly downhill and I can haul over it pretending like I’m in the Arenberg Forest. Thinking my matches had dried out, I hit the dirt with gusto only to plunge into Perry Hill Road a bit winded. Off the riders went without me as I got passed by the peloton of the Cat5 race.
I’ll digress for a moment here. Passing through this area of Camden Valley Road gave me time to appreciate the maple syrup process. It’s observable from the road. Long plastic lines connect trees to collect the clear liquid, which winds up in a giant vat at the bottom of the hill. One of the purchases I intended to make involved Cambridge maple syrup. If I wasn't going to contend for anything further in the race, I may as well begin considering post-race purchases. It'll give me something to do.
Before I end my Battenkill race experience, I feel it is necessary to highlight the last rider in my race to pass me. He was a Canadian. He stated this was his first outdoor ride of the year. Not only was this his first outdoor ride of the year, but also, according to him, he came to the realization in the staging area that his drivetrain did not match up. He had ridden nearly the entire 68-mile course stuck in his big ring. He stated he only walked a small portion of one hill. He then rode away from me. He was very nice.
As if out of nowhere, the wind’s intensity picked up dramatically. Dust got everywhere. It got behind my sunglasses. It coated my tongue. And it fought me as I cried for mercy crossing the finish line with roughly one person clapping. That one person may have been clapping to get their dog’s attention. I don’t know. I had survived the Battenkill for the fourth- but far and away my worst- showing.
With the bike stowed, we made our way back over to the expo. I got the traditional Battenkill Creamery chocolate milk. Jim recommended the aforementioned maple syrup concoction after purchasing one. Whoever came up with a maple syrup milk shake should receive Nobel Peace Prize. Some maple syrup with whole milk followed by a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream caused me to hallucinate when it touched my tongue. I loved it. I love remembering it. This helped soften the blow when I saw that I had finished 80th place or something. This race result also led to my retail therapy. I bought the Missus a shirt and purchased a lovely bottle of Tour of the Battenkill maple syrup. It would be reserved for special occasions.
Frustratingly, I climbed into Jim’s car and we pointed it south to head home. This was not how I wanted to feel after Battenkill: not tired, just hurting. Not being tired was the hardest part to deal with. My crash from the weekend before had been a major factor.
I did get a chance to reflect on all the changes for this year’s Battenkill. The camping option would certainly be explored for next year. Further, the parking was much easier. The start/ finish area was roomy, too. And if it did rain by chance, the expo area is covered and a good vantage point to see the finish line. Having Brown’s Brewing Company slinging beers at the finish is always a wonderful thought. Brown’s Brewing restaurant proper was our planned stop on the way home, so the post-ride sampling would wait.
I may not have done what I set out to do for this year’s Tour of the Battenkill, but one thing is for sure, Anthem Sports can put on a remarkable event. Cyclists of all abilities should try the Tour of the Battenkill at least once. Since the course purposely changes from year to year, I’ll keep an eye out to consider racing again because the race – and its process leading up to it – is just that much fun.