About 15 miles past the halfway point of the 124-mile Tour of the Battenkill in Upstate New York, Caleb Fairly peered down at his mud-splattered Holowesko Partners kit and thought to himself how cool it looked. At the time, Fairly was one among a group of 11 that slipped off the front of a dwindling peloton already battered by lap No. 1 of the rippling 62-mile circuit that’s 25-percent dirt roads.
“I was just thinking, I hope someone is taking pictures,” said Fairly, 23, who was born in Amarillo, Texas, but now lives in Colorado Springs. “I want to see what this looks like.”
Roughly two hours later, Fairly assured himself of the desired memento, first breaking away in a two-man move with Bahati Foundation’s Floyd Landis, then dumping the defrocked 2006 Tour de France champ on the day’s final climb, and soloing the final miles to the most significant victory of his young cycling career. His winning time was a daunting 4:57:07, a testament to the difficulty of an event celebrating its sixth running and first year on the UCI calendar.
Landis finished alone in second, at 2:24, with Fly V Australia’s Jay Thomson claiming third just ahead of Kenda’s Luca Damiani, both at 2:43. Team Type 1’s Kenneth Hanson led the bunch home in fifth, 3:43 back of the winner.
Only 59 of 162 starters finished the race that was stamped by a steady bone-chilling rain. Only four riders finished in under five hours.
“I thought that earlier break was going to be the winning move, so I was worried I might be too tired after it fell apart and came back together,” continued Fairly.
But for reasons of kinship, gamesmanship or both, Fairly claimed Landis rolled up alongside him and told him to keep his eyes on him. “When he went, I went and we just motored it toward the finish,” continued Fairly.
The pair quickly grew a gap that had pushed past a minute during the short grind up Meeting House Road, the seventh of eight dirt sections on the rolling counterclockwise circuit that wound its way around Washington County, starting and finishing in the small town of Cambridge, New York.
Behind Fairly and Landis, a decimated peloton did its best to track the escapees down, with Thomson, Damiani and Jamis-Sutter Home’s Andres Pereyra chasing together about 90 seconds back and the bunch at 2:30. But the endgame had already come and gone, save for a last push from Fairly on the final dirt section, the short, but steep Stage Road climb.
“It wasn’t really an attack,” said Fairly. “I was just going hard and that was it. When I came over the top I’d already gotten about 30 seconds on (Landis) and at that point I’d knew I’d probably win.”
It’s the second time Fairly snatched victory from Landis in 2010. The pair, who occasionally train together in Southern California, also made the winning break at the early season Boulevard road race in San Diego County, with Fairly soloing to the win.
Most of the action during the first half of the Tour of the Battenkill happened at the back, where riders were getting spit out as steadily as the falling rain from the slate gray sky above. Call it the combined effect of a tough course, tough conditions, and the skill-level disparity that comes when top U.S.-based pro teams square off with regional outfits just happy for the chance to measure themselves against some of the continent’s best riders.
“It took a long time for the break to go,” explained Jason Donald (Bahati Foundation). “That made it really hard. Then when we finally did get the break, almost all the big teams were in there, but some of the guys weren’t really working.”
The primary culprit was Jamis-Sutter Home, who had Tyler Wren in the escape of 11, but opted to keep the pressure on from behind, likely hoping to set up Alejandro Borrajo. Meanwhile, Fly V Australia had slotted three riders in the front group, and was clearly hoping it would stay away. Among them was Aaron Kemps, who after taking several turns at the front of the break, took off on his own.
“There were at least four guys in the group that were just f—ing around,” said Kemps. “There was no way we were just going to keep pulling and give them a free ride. So I hit it, figuring either they have to chase and give our guys a free ride, or I stay away the whole way.”
For a few fleeting moments, it looked like the later just might come true, as Kemps’ advantage stretched above two minutes. But with Jamis putting all its remaining riders at the front of the main field, it wasn’t long before the would-be chase, and eventually Kemps, were pulled back.
That set the stage for Landis’ attack, and only Fairly was able to tag along, setting up his picture-perfect finish.