Category 4 Winner – Alistair Siebert

Courtesy of some fantastic hospitality from Steve and Carolyn and a ride in up the Marmobile the night before I awoke in a picturesque cottage 10 miles out of Cambridge to the sound of woodpeckers pinging off the trees nearby. Wandering into the fantastically well-stocked kitchen I was greeted by Ebeneezer, Peanut, and the Brilliance who’d already made fresh coffee and oatmeal, legend that he is. A great start to a day I’d been looking forward to a while – Battenkill, my first out of town road race.

After some adventures ferrying participants to and from their respective races we hit the start line to meet up with the rest of Team Setanta, finding everyone in great spirits. The race really felt like the real deal; a huge number of racers, crowds of supporters, police on the roads directing traffic – awesome.

We rolled off for the neutral start in a big field with a pleasing number of familiar faces. Things went fairly steady, we hit the dirt roads and I really felt at home – look for the best line, watch for sketchers and stallers and try to ride near the front as efficiently as possible.

The first hard dirt road climb split the field nicely; I hovered near the front along with the team mountain goats Neil and Ira. I guess we lost over half the field there although some rejoined once we hit the road again. My mantra was to eat, spin, and rest as the random music soundtrack the mind somehow dredges up to amuse itself it on these long, hard rides drifted in and out as we went up and down enjoying the resistance changes as we swapped dirt for tarmac.

At around mile 25, my Ira crashed and at least one rider hit him and went OTB before unclipping. It was relatively slow speed but still, it didn’t look good and I was pleased to see him bloodied but unbeaten crossing the finishing line later. Apparently Steve had also seen the crash, stopped, helped Ira back onto his bike and together the two of them worked to chase back down the lead group – class.

The group was about 20 or 30 at that point and some of the CRCA riders tried to get a paceline going but it stalled a few times before attempts were permanently called off. I think people were keen just to recover on the tarmac; the dirt roads were really taking a toll.

The next section of the race was just a matter of clocking off the miles to me; I can’t remember anything particularly eventful happening other than the morale boost of Brilliance bridging back to the group after what must have been a hard chase. I hit a couple of pot holes really hard and waited for the instant deflation but it never came. I thanked the last minute decision to force that extra 10 psi into my tyres as I cranked on.
I tried not to look as we passed stricken riders receiving medical attention, and forlorn ones holding compromised wheels aloft.

I admit I greeted the drizzling rain started with a smile. Precipitation-obsessed Brit that I am, I now felt really at home. Thankful I’d kept the full finger gloves, armwarmers and kneewarmers on I focused on conserving energy; eating, drinking as I waited for the dirt road rollers to come after mile 40. At this point I turned to a rider and asked whether there was a big dirt road climb coming up and smiling he said “hmm….maybe” just as another rider said “please don’t attack in the feed zone, my mommy’s got a bottle for me”. Both comments put the necessary smile on my face and buoyed up, I think I moved to the front and started pulling. When we hit the dirt road rollers, I felt really strong and smooth and sensing some suffering pulled a little harder. The encouragement from behind came and other riders really started to turn the screws too. I felt this was the crux of the race, really splitting the field. I dangled off the front for a bit as did Jeff from Houlihan-Lokey and Danny from Luzzo’s pizza. I’d been in a break with Jeff in the first CRCA park race and knew he was strong and Danny I knew as an expert mountain biker from the local races. Neither could be allowed to fully escape. We reeled in Jeff on the final dirt road climb and settled into a pack of about 15-20 for the descent into town. It was getting tough at that point as we were passing multiple fields, keeping track of our field was hard. Danny from Luzzos had fully slipped away at this point and we had to band together to chase him down. He was really strong that day and deserved a higher place than he eventually finished with.

The final group was in place and from the looks going from rider to rider it was clear everyone was thinking about the finish. I remember being close to the front with about 3 miles to go and thinking it less than ideal dropped to about 5th wheel and started to soft pedal, aiming to relax and collect myself for the sprint. The move didn’t go unnoticed. Everyone was in good spirits and the high number of familiar CRCA riders was great to see. I scanned around; there were a couple of teams with multiple members in the group but no obvious lead out trains that I could identify.

In a display of great sportsmanship Jeff from Houlihan-Lokey wished me good luck from one CRCAer to another. He smiled with a chuckle when I rather cheekily chipped back that as we were team mates perhaps he fancied giving me a leadout?

We passed the 1km to go banner and the group spread across the road, I knew who I had to watch and did so. At this point I should probably say that being somewhat rushed the day of the race I hadn’t actually scouted the finish so there was a fairly important feature I was completely ignorant of. That being the 90 degree corner between the 1km banner and the finish line. With what must have been about 600m to go, Jeff looked back, smiled and said, “Okay, let’s go then,” and it was on.

I’d already shifted down in anticipation and standing up, tried for his wheel but somehow Danny was still feeling strong enough to pip me to it. As Jeff pulled off as I frantically realized we were coming into a 90 degree corner hot. I don’t think I braked but aiming for the apex and weighting my outside pedal as much as possible, I prayed for grip from my wet, overly-inflated tyres. In front of me, Danny missed the corner and went straight onto someone’s lawn, missing his well-deserved podium place but finishing okay and unhurt.

I snuck a look under my arm to see the chase lined across the road as the finishing straight yawned out in front of me. The clock ticked, the crowd and the announcer yelled and I concentrated on cranking the pedals, my face contorted with the effort. The lactic flush rose and the temptation to stop and sit increased until the line came a split second after I realised I’d won. A jolt of elation hit me and I think I managed one arm off the bars coupled with a grimace of some sort. The pack passed, congratulating me as I sat up, spun down and relaxed back into the warm post-race fuzz vaguely remembering something about chocolate milk prizes for the podium placers.

All in all, my best ever result on the bike in a fantastic race on a course that really suited me. A healthy helping of luck, some great sportsmanship, a lovely cottage in the countryside, and the support and encouragement of my friends, family and Setanta teammates all contributed. My thanks to you all.