The Tour of the Battenkill is ‘America’s answer to Paris-Roubaix’ – branded ‘America’s Queen of the Classics.’

In truth it bears more similarities to the Strade Bianche in Italy in that its run over dirt roads rather than cobbles and it’s far from flat.

The race carries a UC1 1.2 rating and is contested by a big field over 200 testing kilometres in upstate New York.

Raleigh fielded a team for the race – but the best British finisher was Team IG-Sigma Sport rider, Tom Last who finished 12th @ 6:20 behind ex-Tour and Vuelta star, Francisco Mancebo of the Competitive Cyclist team.

Last was third in the 2005 and 2006 National Junior Cyclo-Cross Championships and took a stage in the Surrey League Five Day in 2008.

He was third on GC in Ireland’s Tour of the North in 2010, last year he just missed out on a top 20 place behind ‘Sky’s slaughter’ in the Nationals and finished the Tour of Britain.

Tom took time to talk to VeloVeritas about Battenkill and give us his insider thoughts on the current UK domestic scene.

Hard going at Battenkill. Image©andrewfranciosa.com

Not a bad ride in Battenkill, Tom – what’s the race like?

“It’s really hilly, about as hilly as a road race can be – and lots of the climbs are on dirt or gravel.

“In similar races in the UK, like the Dengie Marshes and Rutland the roads you race on are used by the public to a certain extent – but at Battenkill they’re more like quiet forestry tracks.”

With hindsight, could you have finished higher?

“I tied up with 20 miles to go; it’s the toughest race and the best field I’ve ridden against, this year.”

The Battenkill parcours is reminiscent more of the Strada Bianchi than Roubaix. Image©andrewfranciosa.com.

Mancebo is a strong man.

“He’s been on the podium in the Vuelta and you could see that he was just getting going at 150 kilometres – we don’t race much over that distance in the UK so it’s hard.

“The guy I finished behind – Chad Beyer – rode the Giro for BMC last year; you’re up against some strong riders.”

How did Sigma get the invite?

“I’m not sure, Raleigh were there, too.

“I think the organisers just wanted to make the race a bit more international – all the US teams were there and teams from Canada, too.

“It’s a cool place to go and race, I really enjoyed it.”

Battenkill - America's Queen of the Classics. Image©mtbora.

It’s a good boost for you going in to the Rutland.

“I’m looking forward to it; we have a strong team – Dan Craven, Dan Lloyd, Simon Richardson and Wouter Sybrandy.

“I did the Tro Bro last year, I was in the group with Feillu but crashed – that’s a beautiful race, really technical.”

Do you still ride cyclo-cross?

“I was sixth in the ‘cross Nationals in January, the road season starts late in the UK and finishes pretty much after the Tour of Britain so I think it’s possible to ride both.”

Tom combines training and racing with his studies. Image©velouk.net.

You’re not a full time biker, then?

“I’m at university studying history and economics – so ‘cross is a good way for me to keep condition.

“After my A levels I took three years out, I worked part time and rode the bike.

“I got some good results with the Kinesis team but not fantastic.

“I think I have a good balance now between study and cycling.

“I’m from Great Longstone in Derbyshire but I’m at university in Newcastle, the roads around here are good for training.”

How would you describe yourself as a rider?

“I’m not sure, I don’t do anything fabulously well, my sprint is a bit of a weak point but I guess you’d say I was a bit of an all rounder.

“I like the off road races with an off road element – I was given 16th in the Dengie Marshes but a group of us were sent off course.

“Blain won that, Endura are just so strong.”

Do you have a coach?

“I’m self coached, I’ve been on the bike since I was 11 and I’m 23, now.

“I’m lucky in that I’ve spent time around inspirational riders and solid coaches – so I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge on the way.”

Did IG coming on board at Sigma make a difference.

“Yes, we’re one of the few teams at the highest level where the bulk of the riders are part time, but we have a good name in the sport – that’s probably one of the reasons we got the Battenkill invite.

“Even before IG came along we had good equipment and support, but it’s even better this season.”

Tom feels the team is even more organised this season. Image©cyclingshorts.com.

But Matt Stephens is leaving the fold?

“Matt’s an inspirational guy – he’s been a great help to me . . . “

And Dan Lloyd arrived.

“He’s a fantastic guy to have aboard; you can see that he just has a innate sense of positioning in races like Dengie, Doon Hame and Battenkill.

“He’s a very helpful person, generous with his advice.”

Isn’t it tough battling against Endura and Rapha?

“Endura are at a good level – you just need to look at Doon Hame where they dominated.

“But we hope to spring some surprises; but it’s not just them.

“Node4 are a strong team too, Mike Northey the New Zealand guy is very good.

“But Rapha are more of a development team for 2012.

“The standard is much higher than when I started, it would be difficult to get an entry in a Premier Calendar as an individual rider these days.

“If you look at some of the names on our team – Lloyd, Craven, Richardson, they’re all guys who have raced at a very high level.”

What’s the programme now, Tom?

“I have exams in May and June so that rules me out of the Ras in Ireland.

“But we have the Tour Series crits coming up – all told there’s about 20 crits to ride – so I’ll be getting into the swing of them.

“And of course there are the Premiers and the Nationals too.”

What’s your ultimate goal in the sport?

“I really enjoy the sport; I just want to go as far as I can in cycling and play a good role in the team.

“But I have to keep an element of realism – I had those three years out before university so I’m not pinning any hopes on a big pro contract.”