Written by Dennis Morgan Wednesday, 28 August 2019 00:00
The Tour of the Battenkill bills itself as the largest pro-amateur bicycle road race in North America, held in the Battenkill valley, in Washington County, New York. It is 76 miles long, including lots of hills, dirt and gravel road sections. It sounded like a challenge. After doing a bunch of solo 24 hr races, the Wilderness 101, Jay Challenge MTB, Carrabassett 100, and the like, I decided to try something different this season; a sort of road/gravel type race. They call it the Queen of the Classics and is modeled after one of those grueling one-day spring classics in France or Belgium that the racers end up all grimy. We started training early, riding all of the gravel in our area, sometimes finding snow, ice and sloppy mud covered roads. With the race having upwards of 20 miles of dirt/gravel, the weather was a serious wildcard when it came to planning. What sort of tires, bike, clothing, food, etc to plan on. Fortunately we ended up with a cool day in the 50’s at the start with a high in the mid 60’s, best of all it was dry. Those 20 miles of dirt would have been a lot less fun or even passable if they were wet and sloppy.
We knew the race was a big one but were amazed at the numbers. The Tour had over 1,100 racers in all with almost 700 in the gran fondo category alone. As we got to the starting corral it was impressive looking around at the sheer number of racers. The first five miles or so are a neutral controlled roll out with a police escort. It was pretty nice having the entire road to ourselves without needing to be concerned with traffic. The pace was very high and shortly, the lead group had established the pace pushing the police car along until it pulled off and the race was on. The lead group was soon long gone and us mortals had the rest of the day to survive the course. The course itself was super well marked with most of the race on back roads which limited any cars. Any crossing of any significant roads had course marshals or a police officer. There were a few feed stations so you really only needed to bring you water bottles along with you as each station had water and a sports drink of some sort and some food to refuel with. I tried to do the race without the need of the feed zones other than one stop to top off water bottles.
Besides that, I carried my Hammer Waffles, Cliff Blox, and Huma gels so I didn’t need to spend any unnecessary time eating off the bike. I rode with a friend I had trained with and we were together for the first 20 miles or so and then when we hit a long climb I noticed after cresting the top that my friend was no longer with me. I continued on and at about the mid-point of the race we had a long stretch on an open road with a serious headwind. I was able to catch onto a group of about 10 riders and work together for a while until I realized I was working harder than I was comfortable with considering I still had over 30 miles of unknown ahead of me. Once we got back onto some backcountry roads my friend rode up alongside of me asking me how I was doing. I said I was feeling pretty cooked at the moment and we rode on together for a while. Then at about the 55 mile mark, we hit another hill, I was starting to feel better and again at the top of the climb I was alone again so I decided it was likely that we would meet up again at the finish.
The last bunch of miles continues to alternate between pavement and dirt with lots of punchy climbs. Most of the course is pretty much the same from year to year but they do change it up. I was expecting about 4,000 feet of climbing per the race info but ended up with 5,200 feet of ups. Needless to say the last bunch of miles was spent with some suffering but at least I was inside of 10 miles to the line at this point. The last couple of miles are pretty flat and you can give what you have left to try to get across the line at this point. As you roll into the finishing corral its pretty cool with all of the banners lining the road and then the finish line with tons of people
Would definitely do the Tour of Battenkill again. They put on a top notch event with a pretty good swag bag, great course, tons of support, and free parking, only downside was when we finished and went to get our complementary food and beer unfortunately the veggie burgers were gone and the decent beer was also history.