Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tour Of The Battenkill Part II

There are hundreds of stories in every bike race. That's one of the things that makes this sport so captivating and beautiful, I think. More than the obvious truth of the old adage that the winner and the last placed rider of a race suffered equally, the peloton is a rolling anthropological goldmine of co-constructed narrative and lifetimes full of back-story.

My mother was a folklorist. When I was young, in the 80's, she spent much of her time in the wilds of rural Washington County, interviewing the old-time tradition bearers and doing field work for various projects. For several years she directed the "Festival at the Fair" at the Washington County fair in Greenwich (Green-Which, two words. This ain't Connecticut, people) which created a venue for everyone from legendary local fiddle players, to champion pig-callers to the old blind man who carved chains from solid sticks of wood, to be seen and appreciated by their community. That's the ethic of folklore, see, finding the extraordinary in the everyday. The art we live with every day and come to take for granted is no less worthy of study than the art we deify (and reify) in museums.

Because of this I know, for example, that there is still at least one (more, I think) church in Granville, NY where the services are done in Polish and Slavic, and there are others where the congregation is largely Welsh. This is because of the slate quarries around the Vermont border and the migration of European master stone workers to the area in the nineteenth century. I know, too, that Bernie Ouimet has a house full of old pump organs and accordions, right on Meeting House Rd in Easton, just a stone's throw from the Battenkill race course. So this race, for me, it runs deep. My mom isn't around anymore, and I am several lifetimes removed, in some respects, from the kid I was on all of those interminably long and hot Spring and Summer days, tooling around in her little, orange VW Rabbit that year she put 60, 000 miles on it, commuting back and forth from home in Rexford to Argyle or Cambridge every day. But roots are roots, and I feel something for those hills, feel like I owe something to this race. Some year I'll pay the debt in full.

My story of the Pro Men's Invitational (I didn't race on Saturday in hopes of having fresh legs and good JuJu on Sunday) is that I raced for 150k, felt like I belonged there, rode my heart out, committed several acts of daring-do, flatted around 80 miles in, got back in the group easily, and ultimately rolled in 21 minutes down to be scored an ignominious 56th. I had never previously started a race of more than 105 miles, and I've never finished well in a race over 80 or 90, so I feel pretty good about my ride.

The story of the race itself, apart from my insignificant role in it is that Scott Nydam of BMC rode away 15 miles in, because he could, and stayed away all day, largely alone, sometimes with company. The only serious or convincing bridge attempts came from Francois Parisien of Planet Energy, Karl Menzies of OUCH, who eventually caught and dropped Parisien for 2nd place, and Justin Spinelli of li'l ol' Spooky /NCC / Kenda. The first time the field hit the climb of Joe Bean Rd about 30 miles into the race, Justin took off after the break (Nydam and Bobby Lea from OUCH at that point) with Toby Marzot from Mountain Khakis. The field didn't react and they got 2 minutes up the road almost immediately. A little while later Toby was back in the field having suffered a flat tire and he reported that Spinelli was absolutely killing it.

In the end it was not to be and after getting within a maddening 5 or 10 seconds of Nydam, Justin was eventually swept up by the field just before the second pass of the covered bridge in Eagleville, having spent a valiant 40 miles in mostly solo pursuit. The man is going well, he will win something big this year. You heard it here first.

After that, attrition did its thing, flat tires were suffered, guys quit and climbed in team cars, and ultimately I was gapped off the group about halfway up Joe Bean Rd the second time as guys started blowing up and moving backwards. I had enough gas to climb at tempo, and I was still hauling on the flats pretty good, but 90 miles in my high-end was pretty much done and I couldn't accelerate across the gaps that were opening, so when the field made the turn onto Ferguson Rd and picked up the tailwind, I was done. I managed, with the help of Keir Place from Planet Energy, to keep the gap to the field at around 30-45 seconds for a couple of miles, but it was hopeless. We got caught by Peter Morse from Jet Fuel, Jake Hollenbach from Empire, one of the Bikereg Cannondale boys and some others, and my teammate Adam Sullivan was in there, too. Eventually the group reshuffled a bit and Nick Bennette from Metlife caught us on Meeting House Rd. From there on in it was a cordial but quick paceline, and a nice, gentlemanly pace up Stage Rd the final time. When we came through the feed zone at Christ The King church we were about two minutes down. We lost another 19 minutes in the next 30k. Now that is a bike race.

Two moments of particular satisfaction from the race:
1) Making the selection the first time up Stage Rd when the shit hit the fan. It was hard, and some impressive riders didn't make it. When we came back through Cambridge and through the finish line the first time, it was absolutely full gas racing with attacks going constantly all the way up 313 to the covered bridge. And I was still there? Well yeah, I was.
2) On Mountain Rd on the first lap I didn't like my position, so I scooted into the gutter and rode up to the front of the strung-out field. We weren't going flat out, but it wasn't easy and I was like "hang on a minute, I ride this stuff well." So I rode Becker Rd up front with the OUCH fellas and started Meeting House Rd in good position. Which is good because the field got cut in half there. I realized just how hard it was when I saw one of the BMC guys just sit up and stop pedaling, leaving a huge gap to close, which I did. The funny part was a few minutes before that when, immediately after reminding Adam Myerson to be careful of the sketchy descent, I took a bad outside line, wound up in some really loose sand, and had to ride offroad into the grass and then cut back up across the shoulder to save it. It was pretty cool, and the exit looked like this (thanks to Andrew Franciosa). A second earlier I was out of the left border of the shot. Yikes.
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So obviously the chance to race in an NRC caliber field in my own back yard was pretty fantastic. And beyond that, huge props and hats off have to go to Dieter Drake for having had the vision to start this race 5 years ago. Many people, including me, didn't think the race could grow to the extent that it has, and Dieter has proved us all shortsighted. Chapeau. I believe I saw some UCI types lurking around and it would seem they were evaluating the course and the organization for UCI certification next year. Fingers crossed. I'm already looking forward to it.



  1. Nicely done man, appreciate the insight into the race. Maybe you too are an NRC type dude.


  2. I love that you can combine folklore and bicycle racing into one entry and that you have a firm understanding of the similarities between the two.

    I'm not a huge sports junky outside of bicycle racing and baseball, and I'd argue that my attraction to both sports has a lot to do with their mythic and epic poetic qualities.

    I don't know how many times I've spoken with Red Sox fans who turned off their televisions during their 2004 ALCS game 3 drubbing by the New York Yankess. I watched the entire game through the final out. Why? Because if I hadn't it would've been liking skipping ahead
    to the part where Rip Van Winkle wakes up? Or just reading the last five pages of "On the Road." You might think you understand how the story ends up, but really you don't.

    Cycling is beautiful in the way that stories unfold, and that that victory is not just found in winning the race, but in "losing" as well. The guy who hangs on to finish with the lead group; the guy who hangs on just to finish at all; the guy who hangs on as long as he can . . .

    I've got a show on Thursday and I can't decide whether I should practice my mandolin tonight, or just head out for a ride. Either I think I'll be equally prepared.