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Tour of the Battenkill Gran Fondo

Cambridge NY
Sunday April 06, 2014
by: Laura Pyle

First gran fondo--and since Heidi says 2014 is the Year of the Gran Fondo, that seems important. Heidi is the writer of training plans, motivator of intervals, quarry of my pursuit. She, Dan and I trundled up to New York for Battenkill--and wondered why we were driving north in early spring. Going back in seasonal time was not awesome. We were lucky, though, that the day of the GF was around 50 degrees with a clear sunny sky, perfect go-fast weather. I'd brought my cyclocross bike since we were promised gravel, but most people were on road bikes, so I left the tires at high pressure. Sure enough, gravel up in New York was hard-packed dirt with some pebbles. Live and learn, and the 'cross bike has lower gearing than the road, which was just fine for several of the climbs, especially Herrington Hill and Stage Road. I started near a guy wearing a Black Fly Challenge jersey, so I found out what that was, then tucked in to stay with him for the first paved stretch. The first real climb was Joe Beane Road, and I felt great charging up it past all the riders I could see in front of me until . . . I felt something leap from my jersey pocket. My phone?! I don't usually bring the cell on big rides—part of the appeal is being cut off from everything but the ride—but we had to run the MapMyRide app to be timed on the ascents. I hopped off and turned back, only to find the escapee was just a pack of gels. I love my LBS, but that jersey needs deeper pockets. I ran the bike to the top of the hill, stowed the phone in my saddlebag to avoid future scares, and headed down. I'm actually most pleased with my descents on the Battenkill GF—I stayed loose and braked very little. I can really tell a difference in my awareness of my body on the bike since starting to ride rollers, too, and that probably helps my overall confidence. The ascents were good, some hard grinds but nothing unmanageable. After going out hard and blowing up on some recent training rides, I kept reminding myself that only four sections were timed and to take it easy in between—except when Heidi zipped past and I jumped on her wheel because that's practically reflex. Pacing does not come naturally to me. She got away from me after Herrington, though, and I scaled back and treated the rest of the GF like a ride rather than a race, which was easier once I was on my own and also once I realized that aside from Monster Cross, I can't remember when I last rode over fifty miles. The scenery was great—Battenkill Valley is gorgeous, and even the ice still on ponds looked nice in the bright sun. It was serious weather luck getting the sweet day we had rather than the grey cold and mud the racers on Saturday had. I rode all winter except when the roads were icy (though we had plenty of that; it's what inspired me to go looking for rollers), but after a few days of 70 degrees and daffodils in Virginia I can't even imagine how cranky I'd have been riding in late-winter weather. So over the finish line I cruised (on my own, which was weird, since people were lined up and cheering while they waited for the Sunday races to roll in), 65 miles and 5700 feet of climbing in 4:44. And man do I wish I didn't know the time—if it's a ride rather than a race I don't want numbers to analyze. The gran fondo seems to be a hybrid ride-race creature, and definitely this year's fad. We're doing another one in Delaware next month, so I'll see how that goes after some more long rides. At least for Battenkill, my lollygagging gave Heidi plenty of time to get a picture of my finish—she crossed the line 14 minutes ahead of me.