Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Anticipating The Equalizer

When the WCA cyclocross season begins on Sep. 6 in Sheboygan, one of the most challenging features of the course will be the very steep hill known as The Equalizer. It can be ridden, but for many riders it will be a run-up. Other WCA courses will feature stairs and/or tough hills, so practicing run-up techniques is an important part of preparing for the season.

Today at Royal Oaks Park, our weekly practice session ran on a slightly different course. We placed a barrier at the base of the sledding hill, just behind the baseball backstop, to force a run-up on a steep piece of singletrack. It’s as close as we can get to the conditions we will face on The Equalizer: not nearly as tough, but a good exercise for a Tuesday evening.

In the picture below we see contrasting approaches. Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) clears the barrier with a traditional “suitcase” carry, while I am already grabbing the downtube and preparing to shoulder the bike.

A moment later, Jeff hits the hill and starts to lift the bike to his shoulder. I’m running comfortably with my shoulder under the balance point of the top tube.

This shot gives some idea of the steepness of the sledding hill. What looks like the top is really just the spot where the singletrack meets the turf trail that we normally use. At that point we can remount and ride to the summit.

Next week I might simply push my bike up the hill a couple of times to see whether there’s anything to be gained or lost. If I recall my 2013 Sheboygan race correctly, I didn’t shoulder my bike on any of my ascents of The Equalizer. Shouldering is still an important technique—I fully expect to use it if the Sheboygan race takes us across the sandy beach of the quarry lake—but it’s not the only way to get the job done.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Reforestation Ramble

The Brown County Reforestation Camp in Suamico is my favorite place for mountain bike racing. I won my age group as a Cat 3 in a WORS race there in 2012, and there’s no WORS or WEMS venue I have raced more frequently. Today I placed 11th of 22 in my age group and 64th of 160 overall in the Cat 2 (Sport) WORS race. Whenever you don’t win, you should be at least a little dissatisfied and certainly I would have liked to place higher, but I’m OK with today’s result because I know it was the result I deserved.

Tim Grace (Heavy Pedal Velo Club) won the 45-49 age group in 1:41:57.3. Next was Bob Zimmermann (Team Pedal Moraine) in 1:42:54.0. With just three races remaining, Bob is second on series points and today edged a little closer to Jody Arlen (Bike Connection), who couldn’t compete due to a scheduling conflict. Overall, today’s Cat 2 men were led by 32-year-old Marcus Gagnon (unattached) of Deerfield, who finished in 1:37:09.6.

My time of 1:48:06.9 was the product of a very consistent effort:

Lap 1 — 53:52.8
Lap 2 — 54:14.1

I had a strong start, and with more than a mile of ski trails before the first section of singletrack I put many of my rivals behind me for good. This year’s race combined familiar trails in unfamiliar ways—there are many possible configurations at the camp—and I was happy with the course. I’m not a great technical rider and this was not a technical layout. On Lap 1, true to form, I lost most of the places that I was going to lose. Top rival Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) got around me by the midpoint of the lap and I figured I wouldn’t see him again. Near the end of the lap I was happy to follow Matt Keon (Colectivo Coffee) through the last sections of singletrack.

Keon beat me by more than 2 minutes in the 3-hour WEMS race at Suamico back on June 7. He is a better technical rider and the WEMS race featured more miles of singletrack. But today I was faster on open terrain and early in Lap 2 our brief collaboration ended. I might have continued to follow him through the singletrack, but I couldn’t wait to reach it. Keon went on to finish in 1:50:38.5, good for 11th of 16 in the 40-44 age group and 79th overall.

Alone, I began to pick off the riders ahead of me. For the most part they were younger guys who had started in earlier waves, but I got a big confidence boost when I went around age group rival Jeff Hatton (Titletown Flyers), with whom I have a long history of closely contested races in both mountain biking and cyclocross. Unfortunately, my steady progress then hit a snag behind a junior racer who was being paced by an adult companion through the singletrack. There was no room to pass two riders working in tandem, so I waited for the next section of ski trail. The delay allowed another age group rival, Ernie Huerta (Vision Cycling), to make it back to my wheel. Huerta and I then caught a small group that included Jeff Wren. A well-timed pass allowed Huerta to get into the next singletrack section before me, and he quickly opened a gap. Wren was just behind me, but after the race he confessed that his tactics then shifted to consolidating his place rather than challenging me on the wide-open ski trails that were about to take us to the finish line. Huerta came out of the last singletrack section with perhaps a 10-second gap on me, and, significantly, with another rider between us. Racing in the 50-54 age group, Dave Reich (Team Extreme) was now a buffer for Huerta and time was running out. I out-kicked Reich before the finish line but fell short of Huerta by 1.1 seconds.

What’s Next?

After pre-riding the Reforestation Ramble course yesterday, I went to Ryan Park in Kewaunee to check out the trails that will be used for the WEMS race next weekend. I’m glad I did, because now I know that they aren’t trails on which I should be racing just before the start of the cyclocross season. A more technically expert rider will enjoy all the rocks and roots, but I could see only the potential for injury in a race I wouldn’t win in a series whose points championship I am not contesting. Looks like my next mountain bike race—perhaps my last one in 2014—will be the Northern Kettles Fall Epic at New Fane on Sep. 13. That race will feature plenty of rocks and roots too, but at least I know where they all are!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vuelta 2014: Better Than Le Tour?

Each season there are three Grand Tours at the top level of professional cycling: the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a EspaƱa. The Tour de France gets most of the attention from the press and, consequently, the public, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the best three-week race of the year. This year’s Tour was very dramatic for all the wrong reasons as crashes forced some of the sport’s biggest stars to abandon. Credit to Vincenzo Nibali for riding brilliantly to the general classification victory, but fans will always wonder what might have happened if Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Andrew Talansky had avoided injury, and what part Bradley Wiggins might have played if he had not been left off the Tour roster by his team.

The Vuelta begins on Saturday and the list of GC contenders is impressive. Chris Horner will try to repeat as champion. Froome, Contador and Talansky have healed their Tour de France wounds and will get their chances for redemption. Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal saw their Giro ambitions end during Garmin-Sharp’s disastrous team time trial on the very first day, so you can bet they are looking forward to the TTT that kicks off the Vuelta. Cadel Evans and always-the-bridesmaid Joaquim Rodriguez are getting a little old for Grand Tour podium ambitions but could be in the hunt this time. Rigoberto Uran will be in the mix too.

Former Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde was fourth in the Tour. Will he go for glory in this year’s Vuelta or just content himself in a super domestique role for teammate Nairo Quintana? Winner of the Giro back in May, Quintana has to be considered the top favorite for the Vuelta. He’s a brilliant climber and there’s plenty of work ahead in the mountains of Spain. The TTT and the two individual time trials are very short and should not be a liability for him.

So, who’s going to win? I think this one belongs to Quintana. If I’m right, the 24-year-old Colombian will join Contador (2008), Giovanni Battaglin (1981) and Eddy Merckx (1973) as the only men to win the Giro and the Vuelta in the same year.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Getting To The Point

My cyclocross season begins three weeks from today and I am full of enthusiasm for it. Training is going well: I feel strong no matter which bike I’m riding. In the last couple of weeks I have posted very good times on the mountain bike at New Fane and on the road bike at my Trenton time trial course. The first two cyclocross practices at Royal Oaks Park were confidence builders from both a fitness and a bike handling perspective. And I have a lot of miles in my legs, a deep reserve of endurance that allows me to recover quickly between hard efforts. My weight is at its lowest point so far this year and I might be able to drop another couple of pounds before the season opener at Sheboygan on Sep. 6.

What do I want to accomplish when cyclocross season arrives? It’s simple: I want to upgrade from Cat 4 to Cat 3 as quickly as possible. I will begin the season with 1 upgrade point already in my pocket. I earned it last year at Sheboygan in what should have been a good ’cross season for me, but the following morning I broke my collarbone in a mountain bike race. So, this year I need to pick up 9 points as soon as I can. With 10 points to my credit, I can choose to upgrade; I would be forced to upgrade at 15. Points are earned according to this matrix:

Moving up to Cat 3 comes with the enormous disadvantage of putting me in with some guys that I might never be able to beat, but the advantages are compelling.

One advantage is the longer race duration. Cat 4s race for only 30 minutes but Cat 3s race for 45, and in my case longer is better. Late in the race I generally gain positions rather than lose them. Getting over the initial shock of the start can be a problem and I need to do a better job of warming up before the race begins. But if I have a chance to settle in just a little bit, then I am more durable than many of my rivals.

The biggest advantage is scheduling. The Masters Cat 4 race is the first race of the day. Going through registration and then pre-riding the course before 9 a.m. is a drag. Sometimes the course is still being set up during the pre-ride period. And it’s cold. Doing the Masters Cat 3 race would push my start time out to 2:30 p.m. when the temperature could easily be 10-15 degrees warmer. My pre-ride window would be 12-12:15, and there would be opportunities to observe—and to learn from—the early races.

I have never raced later than Nov. 5 and for the most part that's because of the weather. If I can move up and out of that early morning start time, then this year could be different. I have ridden as many as 330 miles in November and as many as 175 in December. It isn't that I don't ride at that time of year; I just prefer to ride at the warmest part of the day!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

New Fane, Again And Again

I got to see New Fane twice this weekend. During a road ride on Saturday morning I passed through the unincorporated hamlet that straddles Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. But usually when I mention New Fane it’s a reference to the mountain bike trails just to the southeast. That’s where I was late this afternoon and these were the results:

That’s a short warmup (too short), followed by three uninterrupted laps, followed by a short cooldown. Lap distances vary slightly because the Garmin satellite briefly loses me at unpredictable intervals when I’m deep in the woods, and because I don’t always hit the Lap button at exactly the same spot on the course, though I try.

The important thing is the improvement I am making. Today’s final lap of 25:25.5 is my personal best at New Fane this year, beating the 25:46.2 I posted on Wednesday. I would love to have a Top 10 finish in the 3-hour category on Sep. 13 when the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series comes to New Fane, and I am now consistently posting lap times that make my goal seem possible.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Problems Solved

Two weeks ago we identified some major problems with my wife’s car. Today we brought home a new car … new to us, anyway. We replaced a 1998 Toyota RAV4 with a 2009 Toyota RAV4. Maria is delighted to have her own vehicle again, particularly one that so closely matches the one with which she had to part. I am not delighted to have an auto loan for the first time in more than a decade, but the new vehicle is a nice upgrade and it didn’t break the bank.

In the same blog post that brought our car troubles to your attention, I also mentioned that I might have to go to Atlanta on business this fall. Looks like that’s off the table. My company restructured a couple of its operational groups and I have a new boss. I really liked my old boss but my new boss has at least one significant advantage: he’s a serious cyclist and a prominent member of the Atlanta cycling community. Earlier this week he spotted one of my cycling pictures on the company’s intranet—there’s a page where employees can post biographical information as an aid to better interaction over such a far-flung enterprise. He sent me a message and we spent a few minutes comparing interests and accomplishments. A lot of people say that cycling is the new golf, and it can’t be a bad thing that my new boss and I share the same sporting interest.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


In my profession—which, by the way, is the secure transmission of financial data—PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy. It’s an industry-standard data encryption/decryption scheme that also serves as proof that the data was exchanged with the desired party.

This evening at New Fane, PGP stood for Pretty Good Progress. It’s what I am making as I prepare not just for cyclocross season but also for a handful of mountain bike races later this month and into September. New Fane itself will be the site of a WEMS race on Sep. 13 and I want to perform well on my home course. Today I posted my fastest lap there so far this year: 25:46.2. That beats the 26:10.9 I posted on July 5. It was a solid workout today, starting with a short warmup in the parking lot and then 3 full laps separated by brief “resets” back at the car:

That’s encouraging stuff, especially considering I didn’t have peak energy the day after a cyclocross workout. The training plan for the remainder of the week is simple: group road ride on Thursday, short solo road ride with a 6 km TT interval on Friday, group road ride on Saturday, and “whatever” (but nothing too taxing) on Sunday.

I will be off work next week; no PGP, SCC, SFG, HTTPS, SSL or any of a hundred other acronyms, abbreviations or (I sometimes suspect) complete fabrications. It will be a week of high mileage and high motivation. Then comes a taper week that ends with the Reforestation Ramble (WORS) on Aug. 24. That could be the first of 12 consecutive race weekends for me.