Monday, October 20, 2008
On Saturday, I had the chance to ride the new Tour of the Battenkill Valley course, which me and hundreds of others will be racing over next April.
My initial impression is that the new course is more challenging than the previous one.
Almost all of the dirt sections remain, and three new ones have been added, for a total of eight dirt sections, over last year's 6. The course is also about 7 miles longer. The race will run counter-clockwise this year, as opposed to clockwise last year, which means most of the race will have a prevailing head wind. The finish is more technical with a hard right hand turn at 200 meters to go, and the start/finish has been moved from Salem to Cambridge, although Salem remains on the route. Greenwich also remains on the route, and the village of Shushan has been added to the course. Finally, there are several new climbs (paved). Every climb will be decisive, so if you're thinking of racing, start training for hills now!
1) The first major obstacle will be the same as in previous years: Juniper Swamp Road. This is the infamous pitch of dirt that pitched up to near-20%. In last year's race, the loose road surface had many racers running 'cross style up the hill. This year, the climb comes around mile 13.6, a few about three miles further into the race than in years past. Although the race has reversed direction from last year, Juniper Swamp will still be climbed from the same direction. There's an extra stint north on Perry Hill Road, on the dirt, to approach the climb from the north.
2) After descending Juniper Swamp Road into Shushan, the race turns north onto Route 64. Last year, the race went south on 64 coming out of Salem, before turning left onto Cross Road. This year, racers will tackle a long, steady grade up the road until the crest. Then you'll fly down a series of switchbacks to Rt. 22. From there, the race runs straight into Salem.
3) Bean Hill Road is back. In years past, this was the last major descent before the final run in to the finish. Next year, the race will climb the hill. It's a longish climb, about 1.5 miles, and it's pretty steep. This will hurt, but it's followed by a long decent down Bunker Hill Road and Ferguson Road, so stragglers will likely be able to catch back on.
4) Mountain Road. This is one of the new dirt sections. It replaces The Intervale Road decent by the Willard Mountain Ski area. This may be the one section where the new section is not as challenging as the former section. This is a climb, but not too steep.
5) Becker Road/Meeting House Road. Last year, this triple-threat dirt section was decisive (I mean, it was decisive for some, I was off the back with a flat tire). This year, we will negotiate a tough dirt descent down Becker Road (this was a climb last year), followed by a traverse across Meeting House Road in the opposite direction from previous years. The net elevation change is about the same, although this section will likely still serve to make one of the final desisive splits. The climbs start at 48.7 miles in.
6) Following Meeting House Road, the course is all new, diverting south toward the Rensselaer County line. I'm not familiar with this section, so I don't want to make too many judgements about the last 10 or so miles. I will say this: You'll turn onto River Road, which follows the Hoosick River. Then the course diverts north on Stage Road. This is a painful climb, and it will be decisive, it comes at 4 miles to go.
From there, it's a fairly-straight shot north to Cambridge. More so than the original Battenkill Roubaix course, this will be a race of attrition.
Other thoughts: When I rode the course last week, the dirt roads were all in great shape, with only a few wheel-eating holes. Most of them were nearly-indistinguishable from pavement. But it's supposed to be a long, harsh winter. We'll see how the roads look in April. There are also a few technical transitions from dirt to pavement. It'll probably be smart to find the limits of your rubber now, rather than later.
Posted by Andrew J. Bernstein at 8:20 PM