The Tour of the Battenkill


photos from 2009 Paris-Roubaix

The website for the 2010 version of the Tour of the Battenkill states that this race is “America’s Queen of the Classics.” Which, I guess is probably correct, but only because it is really the only one of its kind. But it begs the question: What would it take for Battenkill to both be considered a “classic” and be treated with the same sort of reverence as her European cousins? The quick answer is that nothing that Battenkill could do would ever put them in the same category as some of the heritage rich races that populate the European calendar. But a closer examination suggests that Battenkill has what it takes to cement itself in the hearts and minds of the U.S., at least in terms of its “classic” races.

The tough thing about comparing the differences between US and Euro races is that the brunt of the comparison lies on the fans and in the courses themselves. While the course at Battenkill has been called one of the toughest in the country, mainly due to its use of the steep dirt roads surrounding Cambridge, New York the race simply does not have the cobbles, ancient towns and historical relevance that Belgium and France provide. And besides all that, the fans are the element that European races such as Gent Wevelgem, Ronde Van Vlaanderen and of course Paris-Roubaix have making them some most exciting races running. One million fans lined the course last year at Roubaix, compared with the the few hundred Battenkill spectators.

While Battenkill does not have the history that a race like Paris-Roubaix it is not that far off in terms of comparison. Possibly, the race falls into a category here in the States that no one knows what to do with. It is very obviously a single day “hard man” road race, with the focus on rough terrain and coming this early in the season the race defies categorization. ROAD magazine did a full feature on the race last year and more importantly the surprising number of Professional teams that showed up. BMC rider, Jackson Stewart, raced Battenkill two years ago. Last year he raced Roubaix, taking an early ride to the showers after giving his bike to Tony Cruz. His comments on the race fell into line with that of ROAD.

While Battenkill doesn’t have cobbles it has dirt & gravel roads that are similar, where many times there is only one good line where there isn’t much of a possibility to move up. Another element that makes Battenkill a truly hard race is the short, steep hills. The hills add a level of difficulty to the race as you have to climb on dirt and descend on dirt and at times you are approaching the entrances and exits of the sections at high speeds—challenging each riders handling abilities. That part of the country is extremely beautiful and the terrain makes for a uniquely hard race. I’m glad America has such a race.

Year after year like a tried and true stopwatch these European Classic races tick by. Fans literally pour out on to roadways and line the streets just for a moments glance. Heroes they have waited all year to see sprint through their little towns with all but a few minutes notice. Bicycle races here (with the exception of the Philadelphia Races and the growing popularity of the Tour of California) tend to pass through towns largely unnoticed by the vast majority of its residents.

That being said the Tour of The Battenkill is the best thing in years to come along and even starting to make that American Classics claim is the right way to go. Rapha-Condor-Sharp team director John Herety on what it would take to make this race into a viable “classic.” His response was certainly a little humorous in its reference to not only television, but also the shining North Star of Texas, Lance Armstrong.

TV, Sponsors TV, Sponsors, TV, Sponsors, TV, Sponsors. Lance Armstrong! all the other elements [Battenkill] appears to have already, you need consistency, by this I mean the event has to last more than 3 years minimum at a good level. In my experience new events try and grow to quick and the demands to find that big money sponsor each year get tougher and tougher. Better to have a really good smaller race for a number of years before going bigger, establish yourself on the UCI calendar, word gets around, if the event is good, teams will come without you having to pay big sums of start money. In the long run I think that’s the better approach.

Fortunately for us Battenkill Race Director Dieter Drake knows how to throw a party. The past three years have literally seen the town of Cambridge, New York overrun with cyclists, participants and volunteers all with the common goal of making this race a successful event. This year will be the first time that the Pro race will be separated by a week from the amateur version of the race, but this could possibly work in getting the much needed fan support on the bigger day. The addition of some larger team, especially ones traveling from across the Atlantic could also help to bolster support for the race.

Drake has done such a good job so far that it will be great to see how this plays out over the next couple of years. The support is there from the racers and teams, now the key will be in getting people and fans out to see them race. So, if you find yourself anywhere in the area on April 18th come out and help shape the history of bike racing in the States. European races started small and all signs point to yes in making the Tour of the Battenkill a lasting event. But that will rely not only on how smoothly the race goes off, but how much support it receives from attendees. Come out and support the next American Classic.

Note: the Rapha-Condor-Sharp team will be crossing the pond to participate in the Battenkill race this year. There will be chances for you to participate in welcoming the team, especially if you are in the NY area. So keep an eye out for the boys in black (and pink) as they bring the British National Champion Kristian House over to race in the New World.