Category Archives: bicycle racing


The Gunks 10,000 happened.

Photo: Larry Chapman

Photo: Larry Chapman

Let’s back up a bit. Last year my friend and teammate Larry thought up a ride that would do almost every climb along the Shawangunk Ridge, totaling over 10,000 feet of climbing.

In my memory, I was involved in the very first spark of the idea, maybe during an on-bike conversation with Larry. But I think that’s just how memory works. Ten years from now, when the Gunks 10,000 is bigger than Burning Man, there will be hundreds of cyclists who were part of the original conversation that birthed the Gunks 10,000, and thousands of cyclists who participated in the very first incarnation of the ride.

Photo: John Cullinan

Photo: John Cullinan

In fact, in 2013, only 6 cyclists were there for the first Gunks 10,000 (or “G10K” as those of us in the inner circle, friends of Larry (FOLs), call it). I wasn’t one of them, although I did go to Larry’s house for beer afterwards.

Larry's yard.  Photo: Andrew Williams

Larry’s yard. Photo: Andrew Williams

This year was different. Last Sunday was the second annual Gunks 10K, and 24 cyclists showed up. The day was perfect, the route was gorgeous, and the event went off perfectly. It had the distinct feel of something that could become a much bigger event in the future, if Larry decides he wants to go that direction.

Photo: Larry Chapman

Photo: Larry Chapman

The expectation at the start was that the ride would split into two groups: one racing, and one at Sunday-ride pace. On the first big climb of the day, a 2-mile 8% classic just a few minutes into the ride, it became clear that just about everybody had come to race. Despite my intention of keeping my own effort throttled down to a level I thought I could sustain for 6 or 7 hours, adrenaline got the better of me, and I put down a personal best on the climb. Pathetically, that personal best was demolished by over half the riders, with the fastest guys beating me by almost 2 minutes.

The day went on like that. The fastest 5 cyclists were all legitimate climbing specialists, including, as it turns out, two former Tour of the Catskills GC winners, and a former New York state masters road race champion. And this despite the fact that Bicycle Depot, my own team — the home team — had two of our best climbers cancel at the last minute, one with the flu, and one with a hamstring injury.

While the skinny guys duked it out at the front, the rest of us settled into our own grooves and enjoyed the beautiful day. Larry and I started our own little competition with one another, which would end with him beating me by 6 seconds out of 2 hours of timed climbing. By the time the 6 1/2 hour ride was over, Jonas from Brooklyn had opened a 22 second gap over his buddy Pablo, to claim a permanently engraved spot on the Gunky Chunk, the handmade conglomerate-and-steel trophy. Larry and I were 18 minutes back, right about midpack; the slowest finishing time of all was only 36 minutes back, which is really not much, considering the epicness of the event.

I predict Larry will be turning people away at the next G10K.

Photo: Larry Chapman

Mid-ride break at Lake Minnewaska.  Photo: Larry Chapman

Larry himself.  Photo: Andrew Williams

Larry himself. Photo: Andrew Williams

Gunks 10,000 route.

Gunks 10,000 route.

That was last Sunday. Yesterday I rode with a friend up to the groundbreaking for the Kingston Point rail trail. Ulster County has an ambitious plan to connect all of the various defunct rail lines into a network of multi-use rail trails, with a hub in Kingston. Some pieces of the puzzle are farther in the future than others, but there is real progress happening. This will be a Good Thing.

On the way home I had to stop to photograph this ridiculous Mount Doom sunset.

Sunset over the Rondout Creek.

Sunset over the Rondout Creek.

Continuing the trend this morning, the weekly Bicycle Depot team cyclocross ride was somewhere between “breathtaking” and “whoaaa.”

Sky Top.

Sky Top.

Copes Lookout.

Copes Lookout.

See you next time.

– John S


The Tour of the Battenkill is a spectacle. Easily the biggest 1-day race on the continent, the race brings 3000 racers to the tiny town of Cambridge, New York. For one weekend, bike racers significantly outnumber local humans, and even local cows.

Schenectady Daily Gazette

Battenkill is styled after the Spring Classics of Northern Europe, and the course is a real treat. The exact route changes every year, but it is always about 65 miles, with around 5000 feet of climbing. (The cat 2s do the course 1.25 times, and the pros and cat 1s do 1.5 for an even 100 miles.)

About 1/3 of the course, and most of the climbing, is on narrow dirt roads. The terrain is an effective stand-in for the various Classicbergs of Flanders, with many steep 5-minute power climbs on pitted dirt.  Although the route does change from year to year, there are a few signature features that are always in the race. Juniper Swamp (yes, really) is a very steep 2-minute dirt climb that almost always separates the field early. In the middle of the race, Meetinghouse Road is a ruler-straight series of corrugated steep dirt risers that are highly photogenic, but deeply painful. And finally, Stage Road is a make-or-break 6-minute dirt climb 5 miles from the finish.

Although there is a lot of climbing, it’s not a climber’s race. The hills aren’t long enough, and the other challenges of the course overwhelm the overall elevation change. The course rewards power, positioning, and bike handling.

Local phenom Alec Hoover on his way to a podium in the cat 3 race (Alec was a cat 5 last year):

John Bulmer

A note on the photographs in this post:  Battenkill is a highly photogenic race, and many talented photographers invest their time and effort to produce high-quality images of the event. I’ve used watermarked images in this post, but please follow the photographer’s link to see all of their fine work. 

This year’s course was the toughest I can remember, with a new section of brutal and relentless dirt climbs around mile 50. Even in perfect conditions, times on this course would have been 10-15 minutes slower than last year.

As in happened, conditions were far from perfect. The endless zombie winter that wouldn’t die left the ground frozen and drainage clogged well into the early spring. Ten days before the race, I rode the course with some friends, and some dirt sections were still covered with big patches of ice. One of our pre-ride group crashed on the ice, even.

During the ten days between the ice ride and the actual race, there was enough warmish weather to melt the ice. But the combination of continuing snowmelt, deep frost line, and heavy rains the day before the race meant that we knew we could expect sloppy conditions.

I was all kinds of nervous about the race. I’d been thinking about it, and training specifically for it, since last November. As the day approached, I fretted like Oskar Schindler about all the things I should have done but didn’t. More 8-minute intervals! More 3-hour threshold efforts!

I rode up to the race with my riding buddy Jim. Jim races for the Bicycle Depot, and he’s something of a local legend. He’s 50, a former Olympic rower, and had some vague stint in the armed forces that may or may not have been some sort of super-soldier experiment. What we know for sure is that Jim doesn’t feel pain the way normal people do.

As we drove up, we shared the usual nonsense pre-race plans: good places to try to attack, weighing the competition, that sort of thing. These plans never amount to anything, because as Mike Tyson said, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. My actual plan is usually just to conserve energy whenever possible and follow strong wheels. Jim’s pre-race plan is always to try to “race smarter”, but when the race actually starts, he usually goes off the front right away and time trials the entire race. Often enough, it works and he wins, partly because he’s a monster time trialist, and partly because, as mentioned earlier, he seems unable to feel pain. Knowing Jim and his habits, my secret plan for Battenkill was even simpler than my usual plan: I would glue myself to Jim’s wheel and hold on like grim death until my legs gave out.

We got to the race, hemmed and hawed about how much to wear in the cold drizzle, wisely chose to underdress, pinned on numbers (fancy fabric numbers this year), warmed up a tiny bit, and said hi to a bunch of racers we hadn’t seen since last fall. Spring races are always fun that way.

Race time. We lined up with 100 other guys in our cat 4B field, one of five cat 4 fields at this enormous race. Jim and I pointed out a couple of strong guys to each other, and I could see some other racers pointing out Jim to their friends. (Jim soloed off the front at Battenkill last year and won his field solo by nine minutes.) Shivery from cold and jittery from adrenaline, we waited for the countdown, clipped in, and followed our pace car through town for the neutral start. Jim worked his way right up to the front, as always, and I tagged along.

Once out of town, the moto ref shouted “racing!” and pulled away. Jim got in the drops and started chugging away at the front. I sat inches off his wheel and settled in, trying to keep things smooth and steady. The chit-chat stopped and the field lined out behind us. I could practically hear everybody thinking “already?!”

Through the iconic Eagleville covered bridge and onto the first dirt section. Surprise! Conditions were not just sloppy, they were full on cyclocross sticky rutted mud. Jim continued to hammer away at the front, and I stuck with him. Conditions didn’t allow for looking back, but given Jim’s relentless pace, and the mud, we were clearly shedding a lot of the field.

Peter Amorosa

At mile 12, after a moderate paved climb, we hit Juniper Swamp, which was utter carnage. It looked like about half of the previous field was littered across the steep, muddy hill, trying to get back on their bikes, running up the hill, or just sitting on the side of the road sobbing. It was the bike race version of Antietam, or Gettysburg. Jim’s reptile-brain strategy of “pedal hard always” was suddenly brilliant, because it was critical to be at the front of the pack. About a dozen of us managed to ride the hill, while the remains of our field detonated against the exploded ordinance of the previous field.

Me in the black/orange; Jim in the Depot kit. Jim may or may not be aware that he is currently in the middle of a bike race.

Barry Koblenz

Our lead group got over the hill and Jim finally relented to let us rotate through. After a few miles of pacelining, the moto ref told us we already had a minute and a half on the field. Many days were ruined at mile 12 of Battenkill this year.

We hit the next significant hill, Joe Bean Road, and Jim reasserted his need to set the pace. For the next 20 miles Jim hammered away Cancellara-style, as our lead group slowly attrited away. Eventually Jim got a bit of a gap off the front, which slowly and inexorably widened, second by second.

Around mile 45, with Jim about 10 seconds ahead and our chase group whittled down to 3 racers, we hit the new section of the course, which started with a very steep dirt wall of a climb. The front of the previous field (who had a 10-minute head start on us) was crawling up this hill like a group of ants. As we passed the previous field’s pace car, my two fellow chasers picked up the pace and I couldn’t respond. I watched them pull away, and descended into a dark, lonely place.

John Bulmer

At this point I was 4th on the road, with 20 miles to go. I tried to settle into a strong TT pace and keep it smooth and steady, but riding alone at Battenkill, it’s hard to keep that deadly off-the-back defeatism out of your spirit. I’d realize I was slowing to sunday-ride pace, pick it back up, only to slowly lose focus and slow down again.

I had essentially cracked. Luckily, over the first 45 miles of the race, we had built up such a significant gap, and the field had shattered so completely, that I only lost three places over the last 20 miles. (Our field was so utterly fragmented that out of 100 racers, the largest group to cross the line at the same time was five guys, 15 minutes back.)

Meaghan Carney

I crossed the line in 7th place, with no other racers visible ahead or behind.

Jim was waiting at the line. The two chasers who dropped me had caught him, and he finished second.  This photo was taken just after the catch.  This amount of suffering, by the way, is what it takes to podium at Battenkill.

John Bulmer

This year’s Battenkill was not only the toughest Battenkill out of the three I’ve done, it was the toughest race I’ve done, full stop. Between the harder course and the muddy conditions, the race surpassed its reputation. It was, in a word, epic.

After Jim’s podium ceremony and chugging a quart of chocolate milk, we stood around in our sweaty kits for a while, trading shivering war stories with racers we knew. Eventually it started to snow, and we decided to get back to my van before our physical condition got medically dangerous.

Our trip home was an absolute comedy of errors. We got a half hour out of town, realized we’d forgotten our pit wheels, drove all the way back, picked up the wheels exactly where we’d dropped them off — apparently our wheel car never showed up for the race. Headed home again, planning to stop at the Falls Diner for a burger, realized we were going the wrong way, drove a half hour back to the diner, finally got our damn burgers (so good!), and eventually got home having accomplished the 2 hour return trip in something like 5 hours.

Another Battenkill in the books! A great race and a decent result.  Now the spring races are done. It’s time to take a couple of weeks off of training, relax and reset for the summer.

John Bulmer

Here’s the race:


PS. I couldn’t resist generating a little animated silliness using some of the many sequential images.  I’ve linked the images rather than embedding because they are incredibly distracting. Apologies to the very talented and prolific John Bulmer and Meaghan Carney.

Meetinghouse Road.
Stage Road.

– John S, aka globecanvas

Warning: Bicycle Race Content

There are many ways to use a bicycle.

This blog is mostly about exploration, and illuminating the many pleasures of cycling in and around the Catskills. As such, I imagine that many readers place a high value on the ways a bicycle is a vehicle for exploration and self-sufficiency. It’s not about getting from point to point as quickly as possible; it’s about the path in between. Randonneurs don’t care about who gets there fastest, but they respect those who experience the best journey.

On the other hand… at a recent local event, I struck up a conversation with a guy wearing a shirt silkscreened with a stylized track bike.


He turned out to be a lifestyle advocate for cycling as functional transportation. He didn’t own a car (David Byrne style). For him, bicycles are literally about getting from point to point — not about the speed, or the journey, but the simple fact of moving people and goods with no dependency on energy infrastructure. (I guess they didn’t have a shirt with a stylized cargo bike at the store.) While I certainly support his cause, he was a somewhat overzealous advocate. He was scornful of both recreational cyclists and racers, because he felt that they create a public perception of cycling as a leisure-class or athletic-niche activity.

All of which is to say, bicycles mean many things to many people. It’s human nature to self-select according to our interests, and it’s easy to caricature those whose interests don’t mesh with our own. Sheldon Brown, socks and SPD sandals, leather saddles. Lumberjack beards, skinny pants and brakeless fixed gear bikes. Garish lycra, shaved legs, and uncomfortable carbon frames.

Essentially, this is a big pre-apologia for posting a bike race report on Riding the Catskills. Racers are a small subset of bicycle enthusiasts, and a particularly easy subset to make fun of. Bicycle racing is contrived, narrow, and highly specialized. And it attracts people with obsessive tendencies. Most people have no idea how hard you have to work to be a mediocre bike racer!

But I do it anyway. Racing offers a completely different set of rewards from the other ways to use a bicycle. Like jumping out of an airplane, racing is a heightened experience. Success requires maintaining absolute focus on the moment, while another part of your brain constructs situational and tactical awareness, all while your body is trying to concentrate all of its energy into physical output. In my view, the measure of a successful race is not winning, it’s maintaining that heightened state for as long as possible.

The desire to achieve that state creates a strong compulsion. My buddy Jim rode his stationary indoor trainer so long this winter that his sweat literally ruined his aluminum handlebars. If you’ve ever ridden a trainer for even 20 minutes, you may have some inkling of how unnatural this is.

shweddy_bars[photo: Bicycle Depot]

For me, the compulsion manifests in winter riding that seems almost masochistic to outsiders. I’ve reported here on hundred-mile rides on a heavy singlespeed, icy roads and sand-covered descents. I haven’t reported on interval training and hill repeats, which are far more boring and can’t be prettied up and passed off as an appealing way to experience the Catskills.

The spring race season in upstate New York started last weekend, with the first race of the 3-week Trooper Brinkerhoff series in Coxsackie, in Greene County. The Trooper series (formerly known as the Johnny Cake Lane series) is a fast, rolling, very windy road race.

The weekend after the Trooper series is Battenkill, one of the biggest races in the country. This is a brutalizing route through gorgeous, hilly dairyland in New York’s Taconic Valley, not far from Bennington, Vermont. Battenkill is modeled on the cobbled Spring Classic races of Belgium, and features long sections of pitted dirt roads and sharp climbs. It’s a spectacle, too: thousands of racers invade the tiny town of Cambridge, New York, literally doubling the population for the weekend.

battenkill[photo: Schenectady Daily Gazette]

The local spring races conclude with the Hunter Mountain Spring Classic, a relatively new, hilly road race right in the middle of the Catskills.

I’ll be doing all of these races over the next two months, sprained knee willing. I probably won’t report on all of them, because I don’t want to bore everyone to death with race report navel-gazing. But I will report if anything interesting happens.

Like last weekend, when I won the Trooper race.  Smiley

Shortest race report ever: a field of 65 category 4/5 racers. A few breakaways tried to get away but fizzled in the wind. A pack of about 40 racers at the front was psyching itself up for a bunch sprint. At the 1k sign I took off from about 10 racers deep and never looked back. The surprise kilo attack worked, I got a gap, railed the final corner, and won the race by about a bike length over the chasing pack. That’s me, on the left, looking happy.

[photo: J. Harvey]

My goal for the spring races is to get the last few points for my cat 3 upgrade, then race open masters fields exclusively. Masters fields are very skilled and fast, so I will never again get another podium or upgrade point, but the quality of racing is high, and after all, it’s all about the journey, not the result.

– John S, aka globecanvas