Tour of the Battenkill a big draw

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CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- The super fit converged on Cambridge this weekend for the 7th annual Tour of the Battenkill. The grueling pro/am cycling race this year attracted nearly 2,700 entrants, and thousands more supporters and spectators.

Race organizer Dieter Drake said that the tour attracted a diverse crowd from 40 states and 15 countries. Cyclists compete in a multitude of class and age groups, with reasons for competing just as varied as their backgrounds.

"In the U.S., we have very, very few races actually this selective," said Jesse Anthony, a "Cat-1" (Category-1) pro rider from Cambridge, Mass. "Longer distance bike races bring out the real strength in guys."

"You're not saving anything," Anthony said of the one-day, 100-mile pro race (most amateurs raced 64 or 82 miles). "It takes a different quality of rider, and they hardly ever get a chance to show themselves in the U.S., because it's either short and fast or a long stage race. So this is a good opportunity for the guys who are in that riding ability: Super strong, super smart. They have that one-day focus, power."

Anthony and a group of cyclists met Saturday in the lobby of the Cambridge Hotel to talk about the race ahead of Sunday's showdown. With the high level of competition comes prestige and endorsements with winning -- and satisfaction with finishing.

There is some prep involved before entering a 100-mile bicycle race.

"Jesse Anthony rides his bike honestly more than most people drive their cars," said race announcer Dave Towle. For both the upper echelons and those aspiring, Towle said that a win at Battenkill was "a good one to have on your resume."

"You can ride your bike at an incredibly high level and never get the publicity that catches the right people's eyes," he said. "This race is that day. For these guys having a good day tomorrow -- it's one of the better days to come good."

This year's tour consolidated all the races and activities into a single weekend. Drake said that the mid-section course change -- replacing the stretch of Route 29 between Salem and Greenwich for back roads running south of the Battenkill -- took out a period for recovery and replaced it with another strenuous workout.

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Drake said that this year's finish -- concluding on Broad Street alongside the weekend race expo in the village Freight Yard -- was a success, leading to more people congregating around that natural focal point.

Saturday's atmosphere was laid back as racers registered in the afternoon, preceded that morning by short looped races inside the village for children under the age of 10, sponsored by the Cambridge Lions Club. A non-competitive Cycle for Health bike marathon on Saturday benefited wounded and disabled veterans. On Friday, a "Ride with the Pros" event allowed families and children to ride alongside some of the weekend's top athletes.

The atmosphere was more intense during Sunday's race as cyclists began and finished in waves throughout the day. Supporters cheered those crossing the finish line as fresh competitors awaited their turn, focused on getting in the zone.

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Upon finishing, cyclists rehydrated and swapped accounts of the race which, for many, would serve as a highlight of their season.

"That wasn't fun," said one of a big crash.

"I thought I was going to die on that last climb," said another.

And indeed finishing is an accomplishment across all categories. Drake said that for the amateurs, Battenkill was a unique opportunity to directly measure themselves up against the pros.

Jim Kuberka traveled from Buffalo with a group of seven and said that this was his first time at Battenkill. The Cat-5 amateur cyclist said that he had heard good things about the race. Their group arrived on Friday and spent the day Saturday sightseeing and doing a partial ride of the course.

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Race conditions were a little friendlier this year than last, at least for the pros who were rained on in 2010. This year's course included more dirt road sections but they were reported to have been recently graded and in relatively good condition. Anthony still warned of a "lot of sandy, downhill corners out there."

Crashes in the heat of the race would be nearly inevitable, and three cyclists were reported to have been seriously injured and airlifted to Albany Medical Center following an accident in the town of Salem at approximately 1:30 p.m., Sunday. No motor vehicles were involved according to Mark Spiezio, Cambridge mayor and captain of the Cambridge Valley Rescue Squad.

Competing on Sunday were racers ages 10 to 60 and up. "You have to give credit where credit is due," announced Towle as some of the youngest fields finished shortly after noon.

Charlie Snyder stood at the finish line awaiting members of his team, part of a group of four that traveled from Illinois. Snyder later that day would be competing in a 60-plus age category. "In Illinois, you're not going to get the hill workout," he said.

Drake said that past tours showed each cyclist brought an average entourage of two, with roughly 60 percent of participants coming from the greater New York metropolitan area. Many additional spectators and local residents turn out each year for the spectacle.

One couple from South Glens Falls lugged lawnchairs toward the race epicenter to cheer their son on. It was their second year at the tour. "He likes the challenge," said the mother. The family had spent the day earlier walking Cambridge and having lunch.

A multitude of local community organizations and businesses set up shop along Main Street through the weekend. Food and bike vendors greeted the crowds at the race expo. Live broadcasts of the finish line and expo were streamed online, but the spectators who lined the course over hilly countryside and covered bridge ultimately got the best experience -- short of participating themselves.

Contact Zeke Wright at ewright@benningtonbanner.com.


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