Monday, April 6, 2009

Battenkill Pre-Ride Report, etc.

This weekend I took a trip up to my former home of 5 or so years, Saratoga Springs, NY with the intention of doing some serious training in hilly country and doing a pre-ride of the revised Tour of the Battenkill Course.

Joining me was the always stalwart Jay Combs. Our plan was to do a longish ride up in the Adirondack foothills on Saturday followed by the pre-ride of the course the following day.

Saturday proved to be a truly epic day - more so than I had intended actually. (To be clear, I think epic is an overused term in the cycling world used to describe rides that, on any objective level, fall short of deserving that adjective.) We did 95 miles with 4500 feet of climbing.

To add to the degree of difficulty add mid to high 30 degree temps, rain, snow and 35+ mph winds coming from the west. There was a good degree of ice on Lake Sacandaga as we rode by.

Pretty desolate, cold and difficult all told. We probably overdid it a little bit.

But who cares. Really what I want to talk about and the two or three people who will read this want to know about is the Battenkill course. Here's the short story. It's completely different, longer and much harder than the previous version.

Here's the longer version: The race previously started in Salem, NY. A true one horse town. This year Dieter Drake, the race director, saw fit to move the start/finish south a bit to Cambridge, which ranks at least two and a half horses on the same scale. Still a small, rural town but it has charm, more than one store and a really nice main street nestled between rather large ridges on all sides.

The course uses many of the same roads as it has in the past, but all recycled routes are done in reverse. This includes the first climb from years past, which is now a screaming downhill after a dirt climb. Racers may also remember the final climb from the past - half dirt, half road with a right hand turn at the top followed by a very fast descent onto the finishing straight. That's now a very steep uphill followed by a fast dirt descent... you get the idea.

The infamous Meetinghouse Road is still a major factor, but comes much later in the race.
I think it's easier going this way as each of the four pitches gradually becomes smaller and less steep. Meetinghouse drops onto a relatively flat section of about 4 miles. This turns into a fast descent and a long stair-step climb followed by a fast downhill into Cambridge. The final few K are flat with a 90 degree right turn onto main street and about 250 meters to the finish line.

There is also a higher percentage of dirt roads this year. They come early and often. This year, the dirt conditions appear to be very good. Unlike last year, which was extremely dry and warm, upstate NY has had a good degree of rain and colder weather. The dirt roads were, for the most part, moist and well packed down. There were few sections with loose gravel. Toward the end of the course there was one section about 15 meters long with golf ball sized white stones covering the entire surface of the road. This looked like some county plan to add structural integrity to that section of road, but made it extremely treacherous for those on skinny tires.

Having done the course this year, raced the previous course numerous times and having lived there for years, here are my recommendations:

Use a cassette with a 25T cog or higher. Some of the dirt sections are extremely steep - especially at the beginning of the course and it will be good to have a wide range of gears.

There should be no need for extra wide tires. This isn't Belgium - there aren't cobbles or extremely rough sections of road. I used 25mm tires on the pre-ride and will be using 22mm for the race.

Use tubulars if possible. While the dirt roads are in good shape and fast, there are sink-holes and some larger rocks rolling about loose. They were not a problem in a small group during the pre-ride as we were able to avoid them. In a large group however, avoidance might not be possible and you'll want to reduce the risk of pinch flats and blowouts.

Bring lots of provisions and/or be diligent about getting feeds at both feed zones. The course is relentless and there are few places to rest - hiding in the group won't help much in this race.

It's a harder course than before, but in my opinion, more fun. It's more rhythmic, rolling and the dirt sections are much improved. Not sure I'll feel the same way after race-day. As Jay put it after he regained blood-flow to his synapses, "it was the longest 62 miles I've ever ridden." He needed two bottles of chocolate milk and a cherry coke before he started to recover.
Pretty much sums it up.


Blogger RMM said...

If the course hurt Jay, us mortals are in serious trouble.
Thanks for the heads up.

April 7, 2009 at 7:56 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

"There should be no need for extra wide tires. This isn't Belgium." 'nuff said.

April 7, 2009 at 8:38 AM  

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