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Bobby Lea back to Battenkill for more lonely dirt

Bobby Lea, one of the heroes of last year's Tour of the Battenkill, returns Sunday with different aims.

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Bobby Lea

Bobby Lea spent the afternoon of April 19, 2009, like so many other Northeasterners: riding with a partner on remote dirt roads. Unlike most riders, he was being chased, along with eventual race winner Scott Nydam, by a hungry peloton at the Tour of the Battenkill.

“I spent a long time out there with him,” said Lea. “I almost accidentally ended up off the front with Nydam.”

Lea and Nydam rolled away from the peloton twelve miles into the 124-mile race, which took place, like Sunday’s contest, on a circuit that included 30 miles of narrow, lunging dirt roads.

Nydam eventually attacked Lea 55 miles from the finish and rode to a solo win ahead of Karl Menzies and Francois Parisien. What did Lea end up with? A 24th place finish, just behind the first chase group, 5:21:41 behind Nydam.

“I’m definitely looking forward to going back,” said Lea. “I’m hoping I don’t have to spend 110 miles off the front with one other guy this time.”

Lea will start Sunday’s race with his new Bahati Foundation team, who reversed course this week and confirmed their attendance at Battenkill Thursday. While Lea is better versed on the roads near Cambridge than his teammates, each of them Battenkill rookies, Lea’s fitness suffered earlier this year when he missed nearly a month of training with tendonitis in his left knee.

“As long as I can make solid contributions to the team goal, then I’ll be fine with that,” said Lea. “I’d like to race into form and be good as we get to Philly and Nature Valley.”

2009 Battenkill pro men: Nydam and Lea on Meeting House Road in 2009. | Photo: Barry Koblenz/BaseTwelvePhoto

Lea put race miles – and confidence – in his legs on Saturday April 10 when he finished tenth in the 82-mile pro/am race. Those dirt-heavy race miles are unlike nearly anything the U.S. pro peloton sees and that is something Lea would like to see change.

“Battenkill’s a unique race since it has 15 miles of dirt roads each lap and we do two 100k laps,” said Lea. “That’s something we just don’t get around here. It’s narrow roads, winding roads, lots of short, steep ups and down, which is a lot like the terrain we have in central, eastern Pennsylvania.”

Lea will return to Battenkill Sunday among a six-rider squad from Bahati that will include Jason Donald and Matt Rice; each have shown good form this spring and should be well suited to the short, steep climbs of the Upstate New York circuit. A race like Battenkill is anything but predictable and Lea was hopeful to support his teammates and take any opportunity that presents itself in the dirt Sunday.

Lea acknowledged that that unpredictability is exactly what makes Battenkill such a compelling event. As he said, “Battenkill is such a cool race.”