What the-? Mid-April? Already? And only one race report? Yes, dear readers, I am sorry to have been so inactive this spring. But with all the chaos associated with getting a job, I haven’t been training as much as I like. And, of course, then upon landing a job, I trained so much that I gimped myself just a tad. But after a brief consultation with my physio, I got the green light to go full gas this weekend, and so signed up for Battenkill-Roubaix.
Now, I’ve got a pretty good record at races associated with Roubaix (6th in Boulder-Roubaix, 3rd in Emma-Roubaix, 10th at collegiate race called “L’Enfer du Nord” that bore no resemblence the great French event), but this one was, uh…well, this whole race was a bit – I’m striving to speak diplomatically, here – “different”. I guess I should have known things would be somewhat out of order when the BikeReg page for this event reminded more of Gene Ray‘s Time Cube website than a registration page.
Anyway, race morning I awake from my Duvel-induced stupor (following up on a tip from the world champ) and drove to scenic Salem, NY, almost being delayed three times by the same train in the process. I take a slight detour on the way up to preview the first climb of the course, and note two things: the dirt sections are pathetically smooth, and the paved hill leading up the dirt is surprisingly steep. But eh, it couldn’t be that steep if 39×23 (see race flyer) is all you need, right? I mean, they didn’t mention any steep hills, just rollers (see race flyer).
Arriving at the Salem School (which neither the flier, nor the map, nor the webpage offers clear directions to), I am shown where to park, and immediately hop out in search of the restroom facilities. No Porta-Johns are evident so I head to the school building. Just passing through the disorganized throng of humanity attempting to register itself takes nearly five minutes, and once through, everyone is at a seeming loss as to where to find a commode. I instinctively head for the gym lockers, where a single, no-door stall with no TP has a stacked-up line. I wait, but decide this cannot be worth it (who wants to ride a bike for 50 miles after wiping with discount grade paper towel?) and set off with a few other intrepid souls and lay claim to a lovely restroom buried deep inside the school building.
The most pressing business accomplished, I hurl myself into the registration mob, which, as the start time’s grown nearer, has doubled in size. Now, in 15 years of competitive swimming, skiing, running and bike racing, I’ve been through some bad registrations; this one wasn’t the worst, but the utter inefficiency, aggravated by the sheer numbers of participants, easily guarantees it a spot in the Hall of Shame. Signs were hung at roughly knee-height, so no one knew which line was which, volunteers were shouting out field names but giving no indication of where those fields should go, people were getting anxious and elbowy – in short, utter chaos. By the time I wormed my way to the desk, Alan Atwood had taken over, and was attempting (with limited success) to un-gum the works of this poorly-engineered machine.
Finally registered, I returned to he car, chamoised-up, warmed up, then headed to the start about 5 minutes ahead of the scheduled 10 o’clock start time. Unsurprisingly, it was a mess as well, with officials standing around and telling riders only which ways they couldn’t go. I asked an official about start times, he asked another official, that official talked to a pace car driver, and said that the first field would start 15 minutes late. I then logically asked about field order (since every field was moronically listed as having the same start time) but only got a shrug in response. Having failed to find out where to go in the “correct” way, I just followed a mob around until I ran into some other Cat 3’s. Then we sat around for a bit, before the organizers and officials finally got it sorted out to send us on our way.
Pace was hot from the gun, as the course went slightly up and immediately onto dirt. Definitely my hardest road race start ever, once the neutrality ended. A big plus of catting up, though, is that now when two people attempt to occupy the same space during the jostle for position, rather than spaz out, or worse, crash, they just sort of negotiate through gentle (and not-so-gentle) taps. I experienced plenty of this, because I let myself slide just a bit too far back over the first section of dirt, and ended up cranking and gasping and negotiating like mad to keep from getting strung right out at the back of the field. After a mile or two, I managed to wedge myself into center the Death Lump, where field goes from being linear to roughly triangular. It’s is a nice place to be (good location without extra wind resistance) and a terrifying place to be (you can’t see anything).
After the first stretch of dirt, the field swung out onto NY 22 and a brisk headwind. I snuck up the outside on the wheels of some ECV guys, and having acquired a decent position, was attempting to spin the first three miles of mad stomping out of my legs. Right as we come back into Salem, I attempt to downshift, casuing the chain to hop neatly off of the big ring and onto the bottom bracket. My Ultegra 9 parts set is pretty beat, after going on four years of heavy use in crappy conditions, so not much I can do to prevent the occasional slip-up. And of course, I’m right up against the yellow line, so I have to wait for everyone else to go by me before I can pull over and put the chain back on. They pass, I pull over, put the chain on, and shoot up behind the wheel van.
I ride the draft for a second or two, before traffic backs up, which really just makes things easier for me; or rather should have made things easier. Unfortunately, cars kept stopping to turn left, which stopped the flow of traffic and made drafting from car to car (legal, so long as I don’t wait too long behind any one vehicle) impossible. Knowing the officials were just behind me, I couldn’t do anything too wild, so I ended up in the shoulder, just cranking as mean a gear as a I could into the headwind. The stoplight at the edge of town was red, but I thought fast and dove across a gas-station parking lot into the lane that had the green, and kept on riding. The field was about a quarter-mile ahead, and with the 30mph speed limit, I figured it should be an easy draft and catch. Then the light turns green and the wheel van behind me all but peels out, swuinging into the left lane and flying by me at like 50 mph.
Now that’s just fÂµÂ¢&ing cold. We’re four miles into a race of 50, there is one rider off the back, through no fault of his own, the field is just up ahead, and rather than help him out (or even drive in a safe, legal manner, with no specific intention to offer a draft), you break multiple laws to catch a field that’s clearly right in front of you? I don’t even have profanity incisive enough to express what a douchebag move that is. People wonder why I sometimes take such an inimical attitude toward race authorities – now you know. The 20 dollars I spent to participate in this event is what makes it successful; it’s nice to see that the people supported by this success have gone out their way to make sure I don’t get my money’s worth. Happy Easter to you, too, @$$holes.
Driven largely by rage, I throw myself lactic and catch on to a group the cars stuck behind the field at the foot of the paved climb (the one I saw on the way in). But by now, the leaders are out of sight, and the field is strung out enough that the cars can just cruise by. Plus, the old ticker’s going like 190-something, and this is one steep bitch of a hill. While I’m no sprightly ascender, I was once King of the Mountains, and I think that gives me the authority to say that this hill is too freakin’ steep for a 23 (and certainly too steep for any race ending in”Roubaix”).
By the time I clear the apex, the only person left in sight is the big guy (I consider myself “fat” for a cyclist, but by any standards, this other gentleman is a person of carriage). We descend, he appears to wait up, so I sprint forward to him. Turns out, he wasn’t waiting, just bailing. I change his mind, we paceline and chew the fat a bit, he says some not so nice things about the promoter (apparently, this course was described as “flat” last year), then he changes his mind and bails again. I take off and begin the Longest. Time Trial. Ever.
I ramble through Cambridge, Greenwich (pronounced “Green Witch” – no, I’m not joking; their High School’s mascot is the Green Witches) and back to Salem, blasting by occasional stragglers as I go. After two hours, I checked my HRM and it gave an average HR of 170, which I was determined to carry all the way to the line. I tried once or twice to get a group together, but after blowing the legs off a few dudes, I just stopped talking to them as I passed. There are more climbs than just the first, but they’re much less steep and more reasonable. I snagged two more places within like 2k of the line and finished up in 2:50:34, 44th place, 12 spots from DFL (plus 4 DNFs). Fast enough, riding alone in some unfriendly headwinds, for 3rd in the Men’s 4 race.
So, yeah. Battenkill-Roubaix is a scenic, interesting, fun course, The dirt is (almost too) smooth, very few folks flatted (that I saw), winds are merciless, and the first hill is a 25-toother. Downside: despite the excellent course marshalling, the people who run the race don’t really seem to have everything dialed in. It was a miserable day, but satisfying in that I learned I could ride at 85-90% of my max HR for three hours, and in that it’s given me impetus to codify my thoughts on effective race management in a forthcoming rant.