Tour of BattenKill – America’s Queen of the Classics

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Photos courtesy of ©Barry Koblenz/BaseTwelvePhoto

Tour of the Battenkill. The name alone sounds menacing enough. It conjurs up images in my head of some American Civil War battlefield that they thought would well suited for a bike race  The race is only four years old, but has all the makings of a “Classic”. Early spring, dirt roads, bad weather – a real hardman’s race.

The website says:

Racers compete over rolling terrain on both dirt and paved roads as they travel through the world famous Battenkill Valley. Set in early spring, the race starts and finishes in the scenic village of Cambridge, New York and courses through covered bridges, family farms, and rural villages along the many challenging backcountry roads that traverse Southern Washington County, New York.

Held on the same day as Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of the Battenkill got overshadowed in the media and there wasn’t much mention of it. I was surfing around Velonews looking for the race results, and to my astonishment I found that my mate Brett Tivers had just won this race over the weekend!

Brett is a Kiwi who’s lived in Melbourne for the past few years and is a regular at our local races. He a full time school teacher but this year decided to have some fun and race with the Louis Garneau Test Team (officially called Garneau-Club Chaussures-Norton Rose) based in Quebec, Canada. There are a couple other Aussies from Victoria racing on this team as well – Shaun McCarthy and Sam Witmitz.

Brett has always been an excellent bike racer and I couldn’t have been happier to see him crossing the line of Battenkill with his arms in the air. I got in touch with him straight after I saw his result to congratulate him and asked for a few words on his experience at the Tour of the Battenkill.

For good photos of last years’s Battenkill mudfest, check out Elcyclista.

The Tour of the Battenkill

by Brett Tivers

Whether you’re a beach road warrior or a pro cyclist, you’ve probably seen the legendary race Paris-Roubaix  and thought to yourself “how CHOICE would it  be to do a race on roads like it?!”.  Well, over the weekend I got to experience a race as close as I am ever going to get to Paris-Roubaix in the American one day classic Tour of Battenkill. Held on an undulating 160km course with numerous dirt road sections and rough pave, the Louis Garneau Test Team were pretty excited at being invited to this race.

The race had an interesting start with a parade rolling through the small New York town of Cambridge closely followed by the American national anthem. Theres always a first for something. You don’t see that in Australia!

The start was one of the most conservative starts I have experienced. Rolling along the nice hot-mix road everyone was content to wait to the first section of dirt 15km into the race before anyone laid the smack down. The entry onto the unsealed roads was via an enclosed bridge with an immediate right hander onto the dirt and everyone knew they had to be up at the front. This section was crazy as the riders all charged at it with full steam. All anyone could do was simply focus on the darkness and try to see 1 meter of road in front of you along with bottles flying, dust everywhere, and the crack of carbon wheels hitting pot holes.

A small move established amongst the dust and I too soon found myself up the road. As all racers will know this is the best situation on these treacherous roads. If you’re up the road your are at least avoiding the carnage behind you and more importantly you can pick the best lines and “get your eye in” (in cricket terms).

I got brought back by the bunch and each dirt section was approached and ridden with max speed with everyone constantly jostling for position. I found it best to lay off the wheel in front of me a bit so I could see more of the upcoming road. Those who pushed the limits in moving forward soon found themselves going backwards after either running off the road or smacking into big potholes.

110km into the race we approached a massive unsealed section of a climb with loose dirt. I was having the time of my life with dust and stones flicking everywhere while fighting for position where I made my way over the top of the climb in a select group. A slight lull left me the opportunity to attack and bridge across to a small break up the road. Once across to the break the complacency of the group quickly led to my impatience and I had to attack. One other rider joined me which led to “the chase” of  the solo Kelly Benefits rider (Jesse Anthony) two minutes up the road.  The last part of the race consisted a insane dirt roads. One minute you are flying down a dirt hill at max speed to suddenly come across large junks of sand that flicked the bike all over the place.

Eight kilometers from the finish the mind changed from working for a teammate to the realisation that we weren’t going to get caught. I soon shifted to the mentality the posibility of actually winning this race! A climb approach and I knew I had to get rid of my partner as I didn’t even want to consider taking him to the line. I attacked and luckily dropped him and the chase to the lead man was on. Jesse Anthony was riding bloody amazing as he simply had been holding the time gap so well that I found myself still with 30sec to chase down over the last 6km and he wasn’t slowling down. I was almost at the point where I started thinking I should concede and simply ride for second place. But as the old saying goes, “dangle the carrot in front of the rabbit and it will chase” held true. I started to slowly bring him back but still thought that for kilometers from the finish that I am not going to catch him. I screaming at myself for only have a 12T cassette rather than an 11T. Two kilometers from the finish I timed my run to him to attack on the other side of the road on a uphill drag. Only then did I realise I had the win in my hands. Riding into the home straight with 300m to go and realising I had won the race was pretty awesome to experience.

After the race the reality of this win didn’t really sink in. My 2 Aussie teammates seemed to be more excited than I was and it was a good laugh to be presented wit a 1L bottle of chocolate milk instead of a bottle of champa’s seeing as I’m lactose intolerant. Shaun and Sam can go halfies!!!!

Three days later and I’m back into the reality of training in the cold spring conditions of Quebec. My reflecting thoughts on this is it’s a race I will remember forever – not only for the win but the fact that it was an insanely intense race ridden in the same caotic drama-filled fashion as the Paris Roubaix. Roll on Tour of Battenkill 2012.

Big thanks to all our team sponsors and most importantly the Louis Garneau brand – seriously the most amazing kit to ride and the knicks are by far the most comfortable pair I have ever worn – get onto it!!!

Tour of Battenkill 2011 Race Video

by Tim Eck

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