Billed as the Queen of the Spring Classics, the Tour of the Battenkill is a 75-mile mixed surface event for riders wanting a challenging, scenic, and competitive ride/race. Selected by Strambecco as one of the Best Gravel Events in New England and Best Cycling Events in New England 2023, the event typically attracts over 600 riders from throughout New England and Canada. Riders are grouped by ability at the starting line and begin simultaneously at 9:30 a.m. with a neutral rollout. The first 5 miles feature a full police escort and rolling road closure. After that, the roads are open to the public, but traffic is very sparse. Course marshals have stationed at all critical intersections and hold traffic for riders. Neutral service is dedicated to cars and/or motorcycles. Sag wagons are also provided for riders not able to complete the course.
There have been a lot of superlatives thrown around about the Tour of the Battenkill since its inception in 2004: “America’s biggest one-day road race,” “the toughest one-day road race in the country,” “the greatest number of flat tires at a cycling event….”
The course that starts and finishes at the Washington County Fairgrounds is unlike any other in the US. It’s a back-road journey through open farmland, narrow canopies of trees, and a covered bridge — the naturally car-free, rural roads you wish you could ride every day. Its steep, punchy climbs help shatter the field of riders, with a group of six finishing together considered large. The main Gran Fondo course comes in at 75 Miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain. The route features many rollers and several notably steep climbs on gravel with pitches reaching 18% grade. If you are looking for slightly less challenging routes with a similar experience, this year includes a Medio route of 44 miles and a Piccolo route of 27 miles.
Battenkill’s 12 dirt sections spanning 18 miles are its trademark, and therein lies one of the special ingredients that have led to its popularity. Whether it’s the toughest one-day race in America is a matter of opinion. Still, to many riders — especially those new to racing — it certainly feels like it. The list of DNFs isn’t overly long, but the dirt sections can often result in punctured tires, so be sure to bring plenty of spares, pumps, CO2 cartridges, or perhaps tubeless tires, sealant, or extra-big rubber. Despite the risk of punctures, most riders go with road vs. gravel bikes. The gravel sections are, by and large, hard-packed and relatively smooth, although there are some loose sections to watch out for.
The Tour of the Battenkill Gran Fondo is truly a one-of-a-kind race for those seeking a serious challenge shrouded in pastoral beauty. The result is that everyone who finishes, even everyone who starts, goes home with rich stories to tell. The event has a very nice after-party with great food, entertainment, and libations. The start of the Tour of the Battenkill is at the Washington County Fairgrounds just 12 miles from Saratoga Springs, known as the “Queen of the Spas” and is a horse racing mecca. The town has a great art scene full of a great hotel, dining, and bar options. This is a great event to make a long weekend out of.
Tour of the Battenkill is produced by Ventures Endurance Events which also produces RAGBRAI (Ride Across Iowa) a Strambecco rated Best Cycling Event of the Midwest, Ride the Rockies one of the Best Cycling Events in the Rockies, as well as many popular running events.
This is a very well produced event on a super scenic course. Although technically a gravel mixed surface event, the gravel sections are not terribly technical and because most of the sections are so firm, they actually ride like the road. Most riders are on road bikes and my set-up with 32MM tires seemed ideal for the conditions. That’s not to say there aren’t some loose gravel spots to watch out for. There are 3-4 notably steep climbs, 2 on gravel with 16-18% pitches in sections. This is my second time doing the event and I’ll likely do it again in futures years. I live in NYC and making a night out of it in Saratoga Springs makes for a nice weekend getaway. Riders come from all over the New England area which is testament to the quality of the event. Also, lot’s of Canadiens.