by Bruce Bird
On Saturday April 13th 106 riders lined up for the men’s Cat1 82 mile Battenkill road race at 8:30am. It was 3 Celsius, damp and not particularly windy. The race started on time and we easily rolled along at 40kph for the 1/2 mile neutral start. In no time at all, the pace wound up to 45-47kph and remained there until we crossed the covered bridge after 10kms later. Even though the pace was relatively high the going was easy at the back of the peloton, even conversation level at times thanks to the smooth roads and a slight tail wind.
I lined up for the start with my young team mate Gaelen Merritt, a new comer to the Cat 1 level. I freely offered Gaelen advice on a race strategy based on my experienced in the past two years events. I recommended that we sit tight for the first 22 mile loop and wait until the descent after the Juniper Swamp Road climb. This was a gamble to be sure, but when you are racing against teams that have 8-10 riders you have to gamble if you want to win. My experience had been that anyone who put in attacks prior to this point in the race was ultimately chased down by the group, wasting valuable energy.
Conversation from the peloton interlude…During the neutral start I recall one guy saying to another "I'll see you out there". I could not help but think, what heck was he talking about; we were already ‘Out There’.
That was a conversation from the peloton, now back to it.
I saw that a group of five riders had gotten away from the pack but had no idea as to the make-up of the break. The group off the front was certainly small enough to ensure that all riders were participating in its success. I figured that not all of the teams represented would be happy with the make-up of the break group and would eventually join the chase effort. I heard guys in the back half of the peloton saying to one another that they had a guy in the break as a way of assuring one another that they could continue riding at the back without breaking any team racing protocols. I can assure you that the guys saying had little to no chance at placing in the top ten and if they were truly quality teammates they would get to the front and try to exert some influence as to the speed of the peloton or be in a position to tag onto a chase group for a free ride.
I moved up half way up the peloton after the dirt sections following the descent and watched Gaelen ride 30 meters off the front and then get chased down. It was great to see Gaelen get into the mix and demonstrated that he was feeling good. A few minutes later he got into a five man chase group that gained 20 seconds on the peloton while the break was 90 seconds ahead of the main pack. The next 5km were pretty intense and I hoped the chase would keep going but eventually the pace of the strung out peloton was too great and the chase group was caught. All the hard riding helped to reduce the gap to the leaders, however, there were no counter attacks and all of the gains were lost as the pace of the peloton slackened.
Gaelen move back to mid pack to recover and I was preparing myself for the inevitable selection that would occur on the paved climb just past the first feed zone. After about 70 kms of riding we rode past a sign indicating 1 km to the feed zone. Suddenly I heard and saw two riders go down on the right side of the road in front of me. Riders were doing everything they could to avoid the two downed riders. I was in an awful spot heading right for the riders on the ground. I braked hard but not too hard and looked for an opportunity to alter my path towards the inevitable. I had an opportunity to move slightly to the right and took it, but by this time I was basically at a stop and put a foot down to keep myself upright. For an instant I thought that I was fine and then SMASH! Some guy behind ran right into my rear wheel snapping 4 spokes like they were dry twigs.
I watch a lot of cycling videos and every time a group lf riders goes down, apart from the seriously injured riders, the others riders always seem to be in a daze looking all around very confused. I always want to yell out at the TV from my trainer to the dazed rider ‘Get Back On Your Bike and RIDE, the peloton is getting AWAY! This time I was the dazed rider looking all around as the peloton disappeared around the bend up the road. First I looked at my busted wheel, then at the two guys on the pavement, then at the guy who smashed into me, then back down the road to look for the service vehicle that was nowhere in sight. My wheel was broke, the guys on the ground were okay and the smasher tried to get moving again but his chain seemed to fail. The four of us all looked back down the road but still saw no sign of a wheel car. I asked the guys who had been on the ground if they were planning on trying to ride again, to which they answered no. I then asked if I could borrow a rear wheel. Logan Cornel (Coach Chris) in a completely selfless gesture let me use his rear wheel, thank you Logan. After struggling to make the switch I got back on my bike and started rolling, I was now in 103rd place of the 106 riders that were at the start line with 65kms left to ride; the other 3 who were in the incident did not get rolling again.
I finally rode through the first feed zone and let the people there know that there were three riders stranded less than one km back up the road. I could not see any riders in front of me just open road. I kept my pace high as I was determined to do my best even though the peloton was gone for good. I owed my best effort at least that to Logan who leant me his wheel, to my family who accommodates this obsession of mine, to my teammates, my sponsors and to myself.
After about 15 minutes I finally came upon a dropped rider but he had a leg cramp and could not join me in my efforts. Steadily I continued to reel in dropped rider including several small groups and each time I roared out ‘Does Anyone Have any Fight Left?’ I had to translate the message to French for several riders and I am pretty sure that I botched the translation in all my excitement and fatigue, judging by the puzzled looks; 'Tu Veut Encore Battailler' in retrospect I believe I was actually asking them to fight me more...my bad and definitely not my intention.
After passing about 25 guys one rider from Kelly Benefit said that he would give it try and latched on to my wheel for about 10km. We had spoken near the start so he knew I was racing the next day as well in the 40+ category. He asked me if I was going to save anything for tomorrow, to which I replied 'I'll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow'. I think we formed a bond of suffering.
I lost my new friend from the Kelly Benefit team on the climb on Meeting House road. I kept pushing myself to the limit and rolled across the finish line in 54th place having ridden my own private Time trial for the final 65 kms and having moved up 49 places from 103rd to 54th. I ended up 8min 49seconds behind the winner and 7 min down from what was left of the peloton. Gaelen finished in 6th place overall which is amazing, just wait and see what he does at the Tour of the Dragons. I am sure that Gaelen can recount how the Garneau team crushed every chase attempt and then won the group sprint.
Riders from team Gareneau Quebecor finished 1-2-4, they were the class of the field, and they controlled the race and deserve their great results. It warmed up to about 10 Celsius by noon and we were able to enjoy a couple of delicious pints of Brown’s ale in signature Battenkill mugs at the race expo.
|Ian Scott, David Thompson & Bruce Bird at the Race expo|
For a complete listing of the results click here