In only 5 years, the Tour of Battenkill has acquired the moniker of "America's Queen of the Classics." What's more impressive is that they've earned it. It's the largest race in the country in terms of participants, with multiple full (125 rider) fields for many of the categories. The course (map), which does change from year to year, has a reputation for devouring souls and bikes and hopes and dreams - steep climbs, dirt roads, fast descents.
It's obviously the race I've been excited for since the fall. One goal: stay at the front, don't get caught with my drawers down like at Fawn Grove. Stick with William and Crihs. Stick with the front. There were ten miles of jostling for position in the first thirty wheels of a 125-rider pack before we were hit with a big, sharp double-climb. I was fourth wheel over the top and the group that made it up whole was about 30 riders strong. The other hundred? Inconsequential.
In pro bike racing, there's the pack, and there are breakaways. Wanna play it safe? Stay in the pack. In amateur bike racing, there is no advantage to staying behind. The race is always at the front, the strong will congeal and the weak will be smeared behind over a road already ridden.
At mile twenty, somebody behind me put his front wheel into my rear derailleur and crashed, almost (but not quite!) sliding out my rear wheel. The delirious and deleterious sound of bikes on asphalt. I glanced at my rear derailleur and saw the cage bend precariously toward my spokes. Crap. 44 miles remaining, major climbs ahead, and a low gear of 39x17 - 50% higher than the 39x25 I had equipped for the race. I muscled up the climbs, I cramped, and I doggedly hung on. It started to rain. We hit more dirt sections. The pace was manageable, then fast, then manageable again. More climbs. More struggling in a 60-inch gear. In between cursing I gave thanks for fixed-gear base miles.
Around mile 50 we hit a challenging dirt section and the 25-man lead group decided to start shedding some people. On a swift dirt descent with a sweeping left turn, two riders a few yards ahead of me started leaning into each other, then grabbing brakes and skidding all over the road. Two choices: barrel in to them or try to survive a wide line around them.
This morning I realized that the course description for this descent said, "Speed on a descent can easily be lost when you slam into a tree." I didn't slam into a tree but I surfed gravel off of the road and then flipped over my bars at 30+ miles per hour.
I got up, told the support car that I was fine, remounted, and rode the remaining fifteen miles solo - surprisingly fast, and in a surprisingly good mood which was further bouyed by seeing some familiar jerseys from our feed squad back at the finish line, calling my name and cheering. Hey. I clung on to the front despite mechanicals. I raced a smart race. I lost contact with the lead, but not because I couldn't stick. I've got an excuse, and maybe by now I've got some bad luck out of my system in time for Bear Mountain.
And, after my first race crash, I'm surprisingly unhurt. It felt great to get up, realize my bike was undamaged, realize that nothing was broken or bleeding profusely, and be able to get back on the bike with no pain.
No pain, that is, until I dismounted, the adrenaline cooled down, and I realized that my hip and ribs were killing me.
Ibuprofen is quickly becoming standard recovery food.