Sunday, October 15, 2017

2017 Fitchrona Cross Omnium: McGaw Park

Cyclocross at Fitchburg’s McGaw Park and Verona’s Badger Prairie County Park is nothing new, but this year the organizers of those events promoted the weekend as a 3-day omnium. Racing began on Friday evening and I would have appreciated the novelty of racing under the lights around and between McGaw’s baseball fields. But I work on Friday nights. I couldn’t risk being late or, if things had gone really wrong, missing work altogether. On Saturday the omnium moved to Badger Prairie. Both races were muddy. I don’t think I would have done well.

Today the omnium returned to McGaw Park for its finale, and it also was muddy but I didn’t want to go race-less this weekend. High winds out of the northwest helped to dry the course in time for my 3:30 p.m. start. Some parts of the course stayed very wet, but most of it was nice and tacky. I ended up 12th out of 15 in the Masters 35+ Cat 3 field.

I lost ground before we ever left the starting grid, thanks to my low ranking on USA Cycling points. And by Lap 3 I was somewhat hampered by an accumulation of mud and grass in my fork. (You know who has it good? Those professional racers who get a squeaky clean bike from their pit crews every half lap!) But I had good legs today. When I could put down the power, I was fast. I might have cracked the Top 10 if the course had been dry.

Andrew Hague (Trek Midwest Team) got the win, followed by Josh Borgmeyer (Trek Cyclocross Collective) and Chris Pappathopoulos (unattached). Pappathopoulos took 1st and Hague took 2nd on both Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Friday’s race wasn’t part of the Wisconsin Cycling Association series, but it will help Pappathopoulos on USA Cycling points. He’s having a great season and shouldn’t be starting next to me in the last row!

The series continues next weekend with the GP Jo Vanderaffe at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park on Saturday and the Battle of Waterloo on Sunday. I expect to line up on Saturday, but there’s rain in Sunday’s forecast and that would keep me out of the Waterloo race. Today’s race was as muddy as I want to get. We’ll talk about my commitment to “real cyclocross weather” when you volunteer to clean my bike, my kit, and my shoes.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The “Go” Box

Several years ago I was introduced to the idea of a “go” box: a collection of cycling essentials that always stays in your vehicle as a kind of event insurance if you should forget your primary gear. And it’s a great idea, but I have been haphazard in my adoption of it.

No more! I should have learned my lesson after the 2015 Northern Kettles Fall Classic, when I forgot my helmet, shoes, jersey, and gloves. On that occasion I made an emergency call to my son, who delivered everything in time and saved my race. That event was just 20 minutes from home. If I had made the same mistake at a more distant location like Wausau or Madison, then I would have forfeited my entry fee. Although there have been no big mistakes lately—on 1 or 2 occasions I have neglected to bring my preferred eyewear, but there’s always a pair of sunglasses in my vehicle—I finally have implemented the “go” box as a permanent Plan B.

What’s in the box?

  • 1 spare team kit: jersey, bibs, socks
  • 1 helmet
  • 1 helmet liner
  • 1 pair of gloves
  • 1 pair of shoes
  • 1 pair of SPD pedals
  • 2 water bottles

The reason for most of that stuff is obvious, but pedals? Yes. Someday I might need to borrow a bike! If it doesn’t already have SPD-compatible pedals, then I’ll be ready with my own. Borrowing a bike is very unlikely in a race situation, but there could be a shop visit or demo event that turns into a chance to ride.

There are many other things that the box could include. Mine assumes fair weather. It also assumes the company of other riders who can assist me if tools or tubes are required. And it assumes the availability of food and water at or near the start of the ride. Food and water aren’t made better by long-term storage in the back of a minivan that roasts in the summer and freezes in the winter.

I’m not prepared for every imaginable scenario, but I am prepared for the ones that are most likely to compromise my racing plans.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

2017 Diablo River Cross

Today I traveled to Sunset Point Park in Kimberly for the inaugural Diablo River Cross. I don’t have much to say; it went badly for me. I didn’t sleep well last night and maybe that was to blame for the listless performance that left me 10th out of 11 in the Masters 35+ Cat 3 race.

Sun Prairie’s Chris Pappathopoulos (unattached) got the win. He’s returning to cyclocross this year after a 6-year absence and already has 2 podium appearances to his credit. He was 3rd in the season opener, Cross-Shooshko, back on September 9.

I missed Cross-Shooshko … and I missed yesterday’s PumpkinCross in Grafton. But I have no regrets: yesterday’s Masters 35+ Cat 3 race ran under a steady rain. I didn’t pre-register for the race because I believed in the weather forecast. However, I did have a completed USA Cycling race waiver, enough cash to cover day-of registration, and a minivan full of cyclocross stuff … even a jersey with the number already attached. Had the rain stayed away, I would have rushed to Lime Kiln Park, just 15 miles from home. But I’m not a mudder. Hell, I’m having a hard enough time when the course is dry!

I end this week with only 7:04:22 in the saddle. It was my shortest week since the end of April, and I’m sure that impacted my performance in today’s race. I ride better when I ride more. Tomorrow I will embark on what I hope is a high-volume week. But there’s a lot of rain in the forecast after Monday. Time to dust off the trainer in the home gym?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

New Shoes Debut

Shimano M089
Why, yes, those were new shoes on Sunday at the cyclocross race in Wausau! I saw them in a browser window and I just had to have them.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Into The Hinterlands

Atop "Heckle Hill" at Flyover Silver Creek CX. (Nick Moroder photo)
As is true in most states, there’s a big city bias in Wisconsin’s cyclocross series. Racers in heavily populated areas are spoiled by an abundance of events close to home. Getting them to travel is tough, despite the novelty of new venues and unfamiliar opponents.

This season, though, there’s extra incentive to leave the Milwaukee-Madison corridor. Five races have banded together to form the Hinterlands Cyclocross Series. It’s a part of the larger Wisconsin Cycling Association series, but it will crown its own champions and pay out its own series awards. Savvy racers who want to win WCA overall titles will also recognize that the Hinterlands Series gives them 5 opportunities to score points in comparatively small fields: whether you’re the 1st of 10 or the 1st of 100, you get 25 points. When only the best 8 results count in the overall standings, it’s easy to see how 5 scoring chances in the Hinterlands sub-series could make or break your season.

2017 Flyover Silver Creek CX

Flyover Silver Creek CX kicked off the Hinterlands Series on Saturday at Manitowoc. It was the 4th running of the race and my 3rd participation—I missed it last year. The course is one of the best in the entire WCA, featuring a pair of tough hill climbs, a run along the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline, and the signature flyover with its steep staircase. I got into my pedals quickly, but otherwise my start was pretty bad. I wasn’t adequately warmed up. As Lap 2 began I settled into a sustainable pace with West Bend rival Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) and the Hinterlands Series’ most vocal advocate, Nate Phelps (Gryphon Velo Racing). Wren had some issues with his chain and dropped back on Lap 3 while Phelps and I picked off a couple of riders from the Cat 3 Open and Singlespeed fields that had started before us. But we weren’t pulling back anyone from our own wave. By Lap 4 it was clear that Phelps and I were running our own race. Late in the final lap he accelerated hard and passed me on a little climb. I tried to close the gap on the final straightaway but came up 1 second short. I was 7th out of 9 in Masters 35+ Cat 3. Mark Schultz (Heavy Pedal Velo Club) took the win in a field that included no riders from the counties of Milwaukee, Waukesha, or Dane.

2017 Cross Of The North

Clearing the last barrier at Cross Of The North. (Melissa Putzer photo)
Waukesha and Dane were represented in today’s Cross Of The North at Wausau, but only 2 Milwaukee County guys made the trip. That’s not a big surprise; Wausau is 3 hours from Milwaukee by car. But the weather and the course were beautiful. If you missed out, then you really missed out. Again, I would rather do battle in a small field of riders on a warm, dry day than to scrounge for points in a big field on a wet, cold one. Mark Schultz (Heavy Pedal Velo Club) won again, completing a perfect weekend in Masters 35+ Cat 3. I took 9th out of 13, but it felt more like 2nd out of 4: by the midpoint of Lap 1 the leaders were comfortably out of my reach and my race became all about beating my friends from Gryphon Velo Racing. Nate Phelps gave me plenty of trouble yesterday, but today I was able to shake him by the end of Lap 2. Derek Moran—new to cyclocross but a very handy Cat 2 on the road—went back-and-forth with me for most of the race before passing me for good with 2 laps to go. But when he went, he dropped me off at the back wheel of Quentin Gniot. I did the rest, passing “Q” just before a tough run-up, setting the pace for the next 1.5 laps, then withstanding his last charge before the finish line. The bumpy finishing straight had convinced me to lower my tire pressure at the end of my pre-ride, and the extra traction helped me in the final moments of the race.

On Saturday I got Moran but Gniot and Phelps got me. On Sunday I got Gniot and Phelps but Moran got me. That’s good stuff! The new Masters 35+ Cat 3 race is now 3-for-3 in delivering the experience I want: real competition at my level, not just a ride through the park at a respectful distance behind the leaders.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

2017 UCI Cyclocross World Cup: Waterloo

Today the biggest cyclocross races on the planet were right here in Wisconsin. The UCI World Cup came to Trek’s corporate headquarters in Waterloo, and by car that’s just an hour from my house so of course I went! Trek has hosted major cyclocross races before, but this is the first time Trek’s event has been included in the UCI World Cup. That’s the top level; it doesn’t get any bigger.

Reigning world champion Sanne Cant pulled away late in the women’s race. Racine native Kaitie Antonneau Keough took 2nd ahead of fellow American Ellen Noble, who out-sprinted defending World Cup champion Sophie de Boer for 3rd place. The elite men’s race was over almost before it started, as Mathieu van der Poel delivered a dominating performance. US national champion Stephen Hyde was the best of the American men today, finishing 18th. The event featured equal prize money for men and women, plus free admission for all spectators.

Many southern Wisconsin communities set all-time highs this weekend—today was the hottest September 24 ever here in West Bend—and obviously 90° is very hot for the fall/winter sport of cyclocross. In Waterloo a lot of racers suffered terribly before collapsing at the finish line. It’s weird to think that their enduring impression of Wisconsin will be its unbearable heat. When the Wisconsin Cycling Association’s cyclocross series resumes next Saturday in Manitowoc, the high temperature will be something like 63° … and possibly much cooler if the wind shifts a little and comes off Lake Michigan. The WCA series has been on hold since September 10, yielding the stage to the UCI events in Iowa City and Waterloo.

A Change In My Plans

Yesterday afternoon I went to Greenbush for a final practice session before the WEMS Championships on October 7. It did not go well. It was not fast. It was not fun. Greenbush is an endless rock garden and not a course on which I can do well. So, there will be no WEMS Championships for me. A couple of days ago I removed the Stump Farm Trail Races (October 29) from my calendar—I can’t live with that $50 entry fee—so this is the end of my 2017 mountain bike season. I’m putting PumpkinCross on my schedule for October 7. I’m really enjoying cyclocross right now, and that race at Lime Kiln Park is the closest race to my home. It would be silly to miss it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fun And Fitness Far Afield

Bill Nigh (center) sprints away at the start while I screw with my Garmin. Probably a lesson in there somewhere ...

Super busy weekend: a mountain bike race, two cyclocross races, a trip down memory lane, and something like 700 miles of driving to connect it all …

2017 WEMS Quicksilver Classic

I was so well-prepared for the inaugural Quicksilver Classic mountain bike race—it’s a shame that the results don’t reflect the effort I made. Not only did I preview the trails at Kenosha County’s Silver Lake Park back on September 3, but also I arrived early on Saturday to revisit a couple of sections that I thought might give me trouble. My morning pre-ride went well and I hit the start line with a lot of confidence. The start itself was a bit rough, but I got into the first section of singletrack in decent shape and began my pursuit of Stuart Shelton (Team Extreme), who beat me in WORS races all spring and summer on his way to the Sport 50-54 title. If I could hang with him, then I would be OK. At the end of Lap 1, I was right on his rear wheel. I spent most of Lap 2 in front of him—I even imagined I was pulling away for a while—but he overtook me late in the lap and put 12 seconds into me before I hit the line. By the end of Lap 3 he was more than a minute ahead, running in 8th position while I followed in 9th. And then my rear derailleur failed at the start of Lap 4, forcing me to retire from the race. Shelton went on to a 7th place finish. I should have had a Top 10 at least, but my 3 completed laps were good enough for 13th place in the 28-man field. Michael Humpál, a 35-year-old Cat 1, took the win ahead of my teammate and fellow West Bender, Bill Nigh.

2017 Patriot CX

Immediately after the WEMS race—sooner than expected, in fact—I drove to Rantoul IL where on Sunday I raced twice at Patriot CX, the season opener in the Heart of Illinois (HICX) series. For me, it was a better and more affordable option than Jingle Cross, the UCI event in Iowa City IA that has become so popular with Wisconsin cyclocross racers. I knew the turnout in Rantoul would be small but the competition was legit and my primary goal was to add to my fitness, not to my palmarès. After a couple of practice laps on a rough course that included lots of off-camber sections and 100 meters of deep pea gravel, I lined up for the Cat 3 race. By the midpoint of Lap 1, I was last in the 8-man field. But I kept racing and as the final lap began I was quickly reeling in my closest rival. When I accelerated hard out of the last turn, he couldn’t go with me. I’ll take 7th place over 8th place anytime, and I got a kick out of discovering that I was 8 years older than the next oldest guy in the race.

It was sunny and 84° as my Masters 40+ race began an hour later. I was not the oldest guy in that race. Nor was I the fastest: I placed 9th out of 15 overall in a field that included riders from Cat 2, Cat 3, Cat 4, and Cat 5. I had enough energy to ride at a steady pace, but I didn’t have anything special to give. My average speed dropped half a mile per hour from my Cat 3 race pace. Overall, I got what I wanted out of Patriot CX: hard training. Sunday’s effort should pay dividends in Wisconsin Cycling Association races later this fall.

Reminiscing … And Looking Ahead

Rantoul is just an hour by car from Charleston IL, where I lived from mid-1976 until early 1981. My travels rarely take me to that part of the world, so I took advantage of the chance to see some familiar places from my past. I probably won’t need to scratch that itch again for a long time.

The same goes for Patriot CX: for the last few years I was curious about it, and now I know. I am glad to have done it.

The logistics of this unusual weekend make the next WCA weekend look simple by comparison: Flyover Silver Creek CX in Manitowoc on September 30, then Cross Of The North in Wausau on October 1. Manitowoc is 68 miles from my house and Wausau is 159. I can sleep in my own bed after Manitowoc, and my race in Wausau doesn’t start until 3:30 p.m. If the weather is fair, then count me in for both.