For myself, wins are few and far between. So it’s no surprise I’m at a loss for words now that I’m trying to say something about my first win in a road race. I am still feeling the stoke, I am still beaming over it. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so deeply happy about a win. However there’s no need to bore anyone with a play-by-play of the entire race so I’ll simply touch on a few things that made my odyssey to Upstate one I will never forget – and give some thanks to the people I got to share it with.
Travel buddy – On this trip was one of the closest people in my world, Stephanie. Having good company made the 7 hour trip through the most populated corridor in the US fun. Having one who baked pre-race brownies was priceless. She spent the Winter training for the Boston Marathon which was only a few hours drive away and went off 2 days after Battenkill.
Planning – We arrived with enough time for me to get a quick spin around Saratoga Lake – the perfect way to unwind after a long drive. The legs were tight but my mind was super focused. It felt great just to breath Northern air.
Accommodations – If you ever race B’kill or you just want to treat yourself while traveling through the East side of Upstate I highly suggest you stay at the Gideon Putnam Spa – gorgeous, historic and nestled in a beautiful State Park filled with towering pine trees.
Family – I was also stoked to be visiting my cousin Ryan who lives in Saratoga Springs with his ex-pro ski champion Czech wife Pavla and his absolutely adorable but ‘oh-what-a-handful-she’s-gonna-be’ daughter Klaudie.
Friends – Seasoned racers Andy Cicero, Ky Hunter and team mates Collin Clark and Jared Janowiak rounded out the friendly faces also racing B’kill. Having friends from the hometown there certainly took the edge off. The morning of the race I warmed up as usual, made sure I’d have at least one bottle towards the end and studied the course.
Nerves – Sure I had heard of it but I’d never lined up at “Tour of the Battenkill” and sure … I was nervous. But mostly because I had blown my own plan and got to the start line late. Super late. Like minutes before the race started – positioning myself in dead, stinkin’ last behind about 100 guys.
Grit – The race is billed as “The toughest one-day race in America” so I was ready for Hell. We had great weather and after I had pre-ridden a bit of the course the day before and my legs felt amazing I knew it would be a good day. However I also knew the bike could fail, the tires could flat or I could be caught up in a crash. I knew that all too well. Starting dead last was a rookie blunder but I made my way through the field, doing my best to be respectful and courteous. This guy caught me on his video for a minute.
Work – I burned a few matches to push to the front before the first big climbs. I knew they would hurt. And they did. But I was very happy to be up front where it was safe.
By the time I got to the front a solo break had gone off. I have to give a nod to Dean Phillips who made us chase him for 30 miles. When we brought him back into the peloton I congratulated him on a bold move and knicknamed him “The Diesel” as I told him “Jens would be proud”. He nodded back a thanks and muttered, “I don’t feel good”
This is Dean about to get caught, he’s in red hammering away.
Suffering – Yes the race was hard. It was damn hard. You start to get a good feel of the effort here, captured by .
Some of the dirt roads had bigger-than-normal gravel rocks laid a week or two before the event. It was like mountain biking but our race still averaged almost 22mph for 62 miles. The pros averaged 25 for well over 100 miles. Insane.
Tactics – I had been keeping an eye on Kevin Walker, a fellow Rochester boy who looked very fresh and climbed like a motorbike. Dean had recovered and was also pushing the pace. A group of us ramped it up in the second feed zone and things were getting strung out. I loved the downhills, even in the gravel. But I knew we had one more big climb with 6 sections to it. Preserving a couple matches kept me from any thoughts of a breakaway. Thanks for taking these shots ©www.ksjphoto.com
Speed – When we topped out on the final climb The Diesel appeared beside me and he still looked strong. We went over 50mph on the downhill into town with Dean the Diesel leading the charge. A group of 6 formed and we worked well together to keep the 50m gap on the group behind us. As we hit the 1k banner Dean was again leading with me tucked in close behind. A bit of cat & mouse ensued but I had studied that final 90° corner and knew the line. Dean was first into the right turn and he took it tight & slowed just a touch – and I sling-shot past him on the left with just 300m to go. Click. Downshift. DIG.
Vertigo – At that moment time stood still and all these thoughts flashed before me. In front of me was the finish line and nothing else. No more training, this was it. Sprint dammit! GO! No more second guessing, this was it. Breathe! Keep breathing! No more anything – no further Job-sian tests would keep me from this. Years of ‘stuff in the basement’ turned into straight up gasoline and I poured all of it on that fire. 300m went by in 20 pedal strokes and a few seconds.
Imagine a finish line photo.
Elation – I have a ton of respect for the guys I finished with that day. Any one of us could have won it. Thank you for racing as hard and fair as you did – Kevin (2nd), Dean the Diesel (3rd), Jesse, Michael, Matt & Nick. Shout out to Mike Tabasco of who also won his Cat 4 race.
A tradition of the race is to give the podium finishers a bottle of chocolate milk – the sweetest milk I’ve ever tasted. We had finished ahead of schedule – our race was the fastest of the 5 cat 4 men and it seems no photographers were ready at the finish line so I got skunked on the one time I’ve had the hands in the air but now I have a bad-ass milk bottle with my name engraved on it…
And a funny looking finish line camera photo.
Then it was on to Boston and record heat for the 116th running. Steph still rocked a solid time (3:45!) tho I think she’s already planning her return for a PR.
Now it’s time to return to my roots and race the mountain bike. Thanks for reading!