Major climbs 9
Terrain A mix of smooth quiet tarmac and gravelly dirt roads
Number of finishers 196
Best The gravelly dirt roads
Worst Not long enough
The Batten Kill (‘Kill’ meaning river) is a tributary of the famous Hudson river, flowing from Vermont into New York. It’s most remembered by tourist eyes as being home to several covered bridges, one (at least) of which I passed through, in a blur, at the beginning of the Gran Fondo.
The term ‘Gran Fondo’ in the USA doesn’t necessarily translate to ‘sportive’, the term we’re familiar with here in the UK. They are similar, though; there are feed zones, with the best American hospitality encouraging “wee Brits” to get stuck in along the next “super-tough section”.
There are timed splits (rather than a time for your total ride) and hundreds of keen amateur riders ready to do their best over a 65-mile route. Unlike sportives in the UK, though, there was no ‘fun’ route, no hybrid bikes, and no fluoro rain jackets.
Word from the locals was that most of the riders taking part in the ride either didn’t fancy the race the day before, in which over 3,000 men and women competed, or just weren’t quite ready for it.
What that meant was the most brutal start to any group ride I’ve ever experienced outside of a bona fide racing event. Ten fast downhill miles and I was already blowing out of my ears, and we were nowhere near the first off-road section yet.
The Tour of the Battenkill is supported through various marketing avenues with the tagline ‘America’s Toughest Race’. “It’s like ya’ll’s Paris-Roubaix,” I kept hearing. The Battenkill challenge used to be home to a professional race, up until this year (although it is still home to North America’s biggest one-day racing event).
It’s no coincidence that this year’s event was also the first to include a ‘Gran Fondo’. Lack of sponsorship sadly killed the very popular professional event, but as a first-timer it was still a great weekend experience.
After a killer start, I decided to take it easy and chat to some of the locals closer to the back of the pack. There was a good mix of riders and abilities that had travelled from nearly every state in America, to take a seriously tough challenge.
For British riders, the USA is a long way to travel for a 65-mile ride, and the Americans know it. They love a challenge as much as we do, so next year they’re planning to offer lower and higher distances, including a very challenging century ride, as well doubling the number of entries available.
Dishing the dirt
There was only one distance available: 65 miles. The amount of climbing topped out at 5,000ft, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Fifteen of the 65 miles are over gravelly dirt roads. We’re talking a mix of gravel stones and mud, which can be pretty hair-raising on the steepest sections. I gave a little thank you to the previous day’s rain and racing that saw over 3,000 riders, 10 times the amount of people in today’s Gran Fondo, clean the pathway a little, making our lives a whole lot easier.
The last five miles were again super-fast, with a good level of riding ability from other riders. I was happy to sit on the wheel of a couple of locals for the last drag and let them outsprint me to the finish line, exhausted. Overall, it was a great event, for more serious riders.
Missed it? Try this…
Tour of the California Alps Death Ride, July 13. South of Lake Tahoe, this American killer takes in five passes in 129 miles with 15,000ft of climbing. Go to www.deathride.com.
This article was first published in the June 13 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!