This past weekend, I went upstate to ride the route for the Tour of the Battenkill. I had considered entering the race but decided that it would be more enjoyable to experience the route with some friends and enjoy the company of a good group ride as part of the Cycle for Health Bike Marathon.
The Tour of the Battenkill is one of the premier races in the United States and is special for a very particular reason. Unlike most other road races (and similar to Paris-Roubaix) the Battenkill route covers some incredibly challenging and brutal terrain. Specifically, it covers 10 sections of dirt and gravel and several climbs where the gradient soars above 18%.
I had ridden this last year but there had been some changes to this year's route and I was curious to see what they were.
The start in Cambridge was the same as last year and the group set a comfortable tempo as we headed toward the covered bridge at Eagleville. For me, this bridge really marks the start of the route, as I always come to the sudden realization that... I'm not in NYC anymore. There are no covered bridges anywhere in NYC, as far as I know. A quick right turn after the bridge and we're soon on the first dirt section. This section isn't that bad, though it's not uncommon to see some people get a little nervous as they try to figure out how to maneuver their road bikes over a dirt road.
Those of us who know the route aren't really concerned about this first dirt section. It's the obstacle at mile 11 that occupies our collective thoughts. Juniper Swamp Road... a 0.2 mile climb that would seem insignificant if it weren't for the fact that it is a dirt climb with gradients upwards of 18%. (Some people have said that there are sections that are close to 24% but I can't be sure about that.) Because of the dirt surface, it is difficult to stand and climb this section... riders are usually forced to sit in their saddles and grind to the top. If you stop on this climb, there is no way you're getting back on your bike... you'll have to hump it up to the top and remount. People have been known to lose their kneecaps on this ride.... It's also where the group ride lost any semblance of a group ride as each rider struggled to just get to the top.
Joe Bean Road is the next climb after Juniper Swamp and is characterized by what feels like a million false flats. I remember the first time I climbed this road... it almost made me cry. I probably would've if it weren't for the fact that I couldn't really breathe. Oxygen debt sucks. So does being cursed with weak quads (and a weak lung and a weak heart and weak hamstrings and.....)
Carney Cassidy Road was the new addition to the Battenkill route this year. On paper, it didn't look that impressive. Except it was. Every damned foot of that climb was painful. The surfaces of most of the climbs in Battenkill, even when they're on dirt, are relatively smooth. But on Carney Cassidy, it was as if someone decided to just litter rocks and pebbles over the entire climb. With a gradient that hit 14%, my rear wheels decided that they no longer were interested in providing any traction at all. For the record, it's a lot harder to climb a hill when 30% of your effort is spent just sliding in dirt. Thank god for Gatorskin tires... I can't imagine what this road would do to a set of regular race tires.
Meeting House Road and Stage Road, both familiar challenges on this route, finish things off. Meeting House Road has always been one of my favorite sections. You crest the top of the first hill and look down into the little valley... it's straight, it's dirt, and it's beautifully painful. It's probably one of the most picturesque parts of the entire route (see the last picture). And finally Stage Road is the final kick in the nuts before returning back to Cambridge... this year, the dirt on this section was much smoother and despite the miles and hours in the saddle, it proved to be not that bad of a climb.
Overall, a great ride in awesome weather! Looking forward to riding it again soon.