For racers looking to peak mid-season, there’s no real need to be following a training plan in early December but for those looking to do well in early season races, now is the time to ramp up the miles. I’ve chosen Tour of the Battenkill as an “A” race so I will be hyper-focused on riding a ton this Winter – and riding on gravel. There’s only 18 weeks left until race day so I’ve jumped back into the deep end of the training pool and yesterday was a friendly reminder of how tough this Winter will be.
I joined the MABRA Rolling XMas Ride created by local legend Ryan McKinney who has to be one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. He’s always exuding positive energy and thankfully I’m not in his category of racing because he’s insanely talented on a bike as well (as he was when I first met him over 10 years ago).
The ride started with close to 50 people, including a rider who is widely considered one of the best American pros:
Having a 15 year history racing mountain bikes I love gravel, even on skinny tires. Along the Xmas Party route there were a few challenging, unpaved downhills that I absolutely relished. If nothing else it reminded me why I signed up again for Battenkill. Since America doesn’t have cobbles for our early season classics as does Europe, gravel/dirt roads have taken center-stage for our early season road races. The Tour of the Battenkill is billed as one of the toughest one day road races in America and considering it is held just outside of Saratoga Springs, NY in April, the weather has the potential to be the most challenging aspect of the race. Throw in a dozen dirt/gravel road sections, tough but fairly short climbs and as always road tactics and it favors a particular type of rider. I have experienced both a great result and a terrible one at Battenkill, in that order. So I’m going to back to try and leave it on a good note.
It wasn’t long into the Xmas ride until the group was thinned out and by the time we hit Blue Mountain there had been a big split as many stopped and waited for others to repair flat tires. Rob and I got cold waiting and figured we would get a lead on this challenging 30 minute climb. Knowing that most of the people in the main group were cat 1’s and 2’s (read: much faster than Rob and I), we figured a head start would ease the pain of inevitably getting passed. Half way up, the pavement turns to gravel and oddly enough Rob didn’t seem as happy to see this sign as Ryan had been earlier.
We only were passed by a few guys however I didn’t stop to take a photo at the top because I was as gassed as Rob. Fumbling with gloves when you’re cross-eyed is a great way to drop a phone and considering I just did that 2 weeks ago – I figured no photo. You’ll just have to close your eyes and envision a fantastic view on a sunny, relatively warm day overlooking the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains as seen from a bike. We ripped into the winding downhill and enjoyed the tail wind all 20 miles back to town. We cut the ride a little short but finished strong instead of entirely destroyed. Turns out most of the group did the same and was only seconds behind us getting a pull from our awesome moto support rider Darren B (who would help cars pass the group safely on the tight, dangerous roads).
Once Rob knew we would be eating soon a smile came back to his face.
The ride had started and finished at the new Haymarket Bicycle Studio right in the 4 corners of The Plains, Va (not far from Jared’s first shop location in Haymarket).
It’s exciting to see what Jared has been up to, not only keeping his first shop in the black but opening a large new space which looks to have the potential of a gorgeous studio. And with a very quaint bistro next door serving veggie wraps, authentic Philly cheese steaks (served on Amoroso’s rolls), and vino I will be returning a few times this Winter. Hope to see you out in the Plains, thanks for reading. -Jason Berry