jeudi 3 juin 2010

Gordon and Paul’s Excellent Adventure

The Tour of Battenkill is a race held annually on the weekend of Paris-Roubaix and is America’s version of the Queen of Classics. Taking place around Salem, NY in early April, it combines some great climbs, dirt roads and very beautiful country side to create a great racing experience. It has become so popular, that the numerous categories fill up within hours of the registration opening in December, the year before.
I went to the race with a fair amount of trepidation. I have not done a great deal of riding, have never been a climber, and have only returned to cycling a few years ago after a very long sabbatical. I was encouraged to take part by Gordon Stovel; teammate, brother-in-law, and long time riding companion. Gordon and I have a long history of racing together going back to being cadets together on West Island Cycling club, riding the Tour of Abitibi together, racing the World Junior Championships and living and racing in France. However, our most recent events are far more modest, but we both still enjoy riding and racing, even with very modest results. As someone with a real passion for the sport, I recommend that everyone try the Tour of Battenkill at least once.
First, it’s a superbly organized event. They have a great website; they offer sleeping accommodations in the school along with a race day breakfast. The starts were bang on time, and with the transponders, the results were fast and accurate. The course security is very good, with lots of fans cheering, and feed zones that included neutral feed with volunteers handing up bottles. They also have a location where they broadcast the real Queen of Classics the next day for all to watch.
Second, the course is fantastic! Covered bridges, lovely roads, hard packed dirt sections and climbs, lots of climbs. The climbs start early, after about 18k, and continue right to the end. The course winds through very pretty small towns and some of the views are marvellous. I was able to enjoy those a bit more than those in the peloton, but I am sure that all the participants were able to understand what a great course this is.
The quality of the riders is very high, and they come from all areas in the USA. In the Masters B category, two riders got away on the first main climb, and despite the wind and hills, put 6 minutes into a very strong bunch. The course has around 1500 feet of vertical, some of it on dirt roads. The dirt roads are in sections, and make up around 30k of the 100k. They were hard packed and in good shape, so the race was safe. For the riders off the back it was a chance to create those friendships that occur when you ride for 80k off the back up tough hills and into some strong head winds.
Gordon rode his usual strong race, and was in the main group until around 20k to go, when his front derailleur cable went, and his legs did not long after. He still put in a great performance. For myself, it was a humbling experience, but a good one. The drive down to the area is around 4 hours, but one could make a lovely weekend with a spouse or kids as there are some nice bed and breakfasts. Gordon and I did it in a day, leaving around 6AM and getting back in around 9PM. It was a great road trip and a memorable event.

Paul Ribitaille