Mention Battenkill and you might as well have been Pete Bouchard announcing another snow storm in February, as likely to elicit a “Friggin snow” status update as a “Woohoo off to Stowe again!” post. After snow storm upon snow storm and hours of watching old Tour stages on indoor trainers, it seemed everyone was hungry for outdoor racing and had vehement opinions as to whether this early season race met the bill or not. While one cyclist bashed it as a “stupid one day race with an exorbitant entry fee on questionable road surfaces in the ass end of nowhere that is not close to anything,” yet another garnered a multitude of “likes” with her announcement “three months of training, now for the best race of the year!!!” Battenkill, like New England weather, is a wild ride that gets on many people’s nerves but is a much-anticipated adventure for others.
I was proud of having embraced the New England weather this winter. When it snowed, I took the opportunity to cross train by snow shoe running, snow shoe hiking, and taking up skate-skiing. Also, I honed a new skill training indoors: the rollers. Despite my spiritual practice, the dark and cold admittedly got to me. Not halfway through the season, I was grumpy for lack of sunlight, had serious cabin fever and was chomping at the bit to race.
Inspired by the composure of the Japanese in the face of the recent disaster there, I’ve taken to reading some Taoist philosophy. I have a translation of Lao –Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, which has some lovely ideas for staying “in the center,” for avoiding succumbing to too many highs and lows:
If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.
Whatever the universe provides is enough, sun or no sun, races or no races. And this brings me back to Battenkill. Cooperating with what the winter brought along and accepting the winter for what it was, actually crescendoed to real excitement for my first race! I started having butterflies toward the end of the week, feeling that spark that seduces you into suffering, deliberately, for several hours on a perfectly fine Sunday in April.
Lao-Tzu will tell you, whether Battenkill is loved or hated by the world, it is “enough” to work with if you’re willing to show up there and just do your job. 4,000 feet of climbing, with a max grade of 18%, ¼ on dirt roads, and 64 miles total, to be exact. And centered in the Tao or not, that seemed like enough!
Things came together nicely, the folks at Seaside Cycle got me set up with some Vittoria 25s that ride like the BMWs of tires, as well as some new gearing. Luckily, I was able to stay with some old friends in Lenox, MA and to camp out at my brother’s host family’s place in Cambridge, NY race morning close to the start.
The race rolled out at an easy pace, and stayed steady until the first hill, which in fact looked just like the squished-up profile map on the race website. Lactic acid choked my legs, and my body went nearly rigid in shock as I looked for a spot in the woods to immediately ditch the race. Lyne’s words came to me though, “don’t panic,” which at the time I had thought was an odd thing to have told me in preparation for a 3+ hour race. Exactly how dire can it get, it’s not a sprint? While my mind spilled all over the hill, my legs suddenly took over and got me to the crest of the climb. The next hill was less of a shock, and by the third, I was up with the front group leading up the hills. In between were merciful gently rolling sections where I could practice maneuvering to keep a good position, eat and drink, and try to get centered again.
I got dropped on one screaming downhill, but caught back on. Up one other hill toward the end of the race, I lost contact again, but managed to fight back into what remained of the peleton. I stayed up with the lead 5-10 of the peleton until 10k to go. A group of 20 or so surged on the final hill and I didn’t make the train. My legs just hadn’t had many efforts of that intensity yet and were exhausted. The remaining 15 or so of us fractured into tiny groups over the climb and time trialed our way to the finish. I pulled in just under 2 minutes down, in 29th spot.
Just over 3 ¼ hours of racing but what seemed like an eternity of mental and physical tests– for my 3rd road race ever, I was happy for having stayed tough, ridden safely, and gotten in some great training with a strong field of women. When all was said and done, hills and descents, hype and slander, highs and lows that were Battenkill, I had so much to process. Having been so accustomed to time trialing, which is a consistent, hard effort that I control 100% at all times, it was a huge adjustment to produce and absorb bursts of high-end power in between stretches of easy pedaling. The peleton was an organism that had to be monitored and navigated, cooperating with it while also riding my own race.
Life, and New England weather, are far more like road racing than a time trial. There are a series of highs and lows out of my control, and I have to learn to stay centered mentally and pace myself physically through it.
Incidentally, when I went to get showered after the race, I looked in the mirror and realized that the sun had been shining all along…I have the beginnings of tan lines to prove it!
1 Lex Albrecht
2 Kacy Wander
3 Melissa Ross
4 Kathleen Billington
5 Veronique Labonte
29 Crystal Anthony