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.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Self-Flagellation



We’re heading into the first of two consecutive weekends without cyclocross races in the Wisconsin Cycling Association series. The WCA doesn’t schedule against the UCI races in our part of the world. Jingle Cross kicks off tomorrow and a lot of Wisconsin racers will be there. By car, Jingle Cross is only 3 hours from Madison and 4 hours from Milwaukee. An even bigger contingent of Wisconsin racers will be at the Trek Cup in Waterloo next weekend.

My cyclocross season began last Sunday in Milwaukee, but I still have ambitions in the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series. This Saturday I will compete in the 3-hour category of the WEMS race at Silver Lake Park in Kenosha County. Next Saturday I will practice at Greenbush in preparation for the WEMS Championships there on October 7. I will be in Waterloo on Sunday, September 24, to watch the UCI World Cup cyclocross races. I’m still a fan, after all, even if the amateur races at Jingle Cross and the Trek Cup don’t tempt me to participate.

But I really don’t want to go 20 days between my own cyclocross races, so this Sunday I will be in Rantoul IL for Patriot CX in the Heart of Illinois series. And I’m pretty sure I will enter both the open Cat 3 race (10:05 a.m.) and the Masters 40+ race (11:55 a.m.) for a total of 90 minutes of competition. With a high temperature near 90° and almost no shade on the course, Patriot CX should be brutal. I’m counting on that. I expect to go into Sunday with a little fatigue from Saturday’s WEMS race and to come out of it totally whipped. Then, with proper recovery and 2 good weeks of training to close out September, I should be stronger when the WCA season resumes.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

2017 Humboldt Park Cyclocross

The old, now grass-covered track at neighboring Bay View High School proved an appropriate place to warm up!



This was a super fun weekend of bike racing! I really enjoyed myself yesterday in the WEMS race at New Fane, and today I had an absolute blast in my cyclocross season debut at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee. I’m in a new subcategory this year and if today’s race was any indication of what is to come, then I expect this to be a great season.

I didn’t win today—I didn’t even make the podium. I finished 7th of 9 in the Masters 35+ Cat 3 race. But that’s OK. I wouldn’t have been competitive in my old race, Masters 50+ Cat 1/2/3. I haven’t lost anything. Today’s race played out exactly as I thought it would. In my own subcategory I always had someone to chase and someone to elude, and I caught the last few guys in the singlespeed and Elite Cat 3 waves that started before me. I got lapped by Cat 1 singlespeed strongman Carlos Casali (Intelligentsia Coffee) near the end of the race and even that was OK because I hung with him for a little while, testing myself. In the end, that’s all I want: people to race with and against … and a little success against racers close to my own ability. That’s not Casali, who won both singlespeed races this weekend and the Masters 35+ Cat 1/2/3 race earlier today. Mark Schultz (Heavy Pedal Velo Club) was today’s winner in Masters 35+ Cat 3. I was sorry to miss Saturday’s WCA series opener, Cross-Shooshko, where Dan Hendricks (unattached) was the Masters 35+ Cat 3 winner. It will be a few weeks before some kind of pecking order emerges and I know who my new rivals are.

Today’s race was dry, warm, and something of a track meet: there were few technical elements to the Humboldt Park course and I enjoyed staying on the gas. We’ll see if my enthusiasm dips when I come up against a twisty course with lots of slick, off-camber turns!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

2017 Northern Kettles Fall Epic



The WEMS race at New Fane is one of my “A” races each season. New Fane is the closest mountain bike race course to my home, I practice there frequently, and I have a history of modest success at the Northern Kettles Fall Epic. Today I added to that history, placing 9th out of 30 in the men’s 3-hour open division. I knew in advance that today’s race would feature several very strong riders who missed it last year when I placed 4th, so my goal was to secure a Top 10 finish.

I was outside of the Top 10 for the first half of the race, but I didn’t panic. I remembered that in 2016 I finished Lap 1 in 11th place but moved steadily through the field as the race progressed. Today I finished Lap 1 in 14th! I moved up 1 spot on Lap 2, 1 more on Lap 3, and 2 more on Lap 4. That got me into the Top 10. I jumped up to 9th on Lap 5 and then consolidated my position on Lap 6. The fastest guys were able to squeeze 7 laps into the 3-hour time limit. I was the quickest of the 6-lap finishers. I did slow down slightly with each successive lap, but my main rivals fatigued more dramatically.

Team Pedal Moraine had 7 racers in the men’s 3-hour open division. Matt Millin (2nd) and Matt Grady (6th) joined me in the Top 10. Team Extreme’s John Muraski, a 36-year-old Cat 1 from Campbellsport, took the win.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Next Generation



Wisconsin’s scholastic mountain bike season kicks off this Sunday at Minooka Park in Waukesha. Competition is open to middle school and high school students, and Washington County has its own team with representatives from different schools in our area. There was a big turnout this evening at New Fane for a practice session that included starts and time on the trails. It was great to see these kids out there while I was tuning up for Saturday’s WEMS race. Go, Washington County Trail Sharks!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Surveying Silver Lake Park



In 2013 I foolishly entered a mountain bike race on trails I had never seen before, and I paid for my mistake with a broken collarbone. It was Treadfest in Lake Geneva, the WORS season finale, and I didn’t attend the pre-ride because I had a cyclocross race that day. Thanks to the broken collarbone, that cyclocross race was my only cyclocross race that season. I was fit and motivated, but I had to wait another year for the results and the category upgrade I know would have come to me in 2013 if not for the injury.

Early this year I pre-registered for the Quicksilver Classic, a new race in the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series (WEMS). The race is scheduled for Saturday, September 16, at Silver Lake Park in Kenosha County. All spring and summer I looked for an opportunity to check out those trails, but other priorities prevailed: I pre-rode for all 6 of my Wisconsin Off-Road Series (WORS) races, I have been to New Fane 10 times in anticipation of next Saturday’s WEMS race, I have been to Greenbush twice in anticipation of the WEMS Championships on October 7. What can I tell you? It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for such a busy race calendar, and the busiest part of my season lies ahead. Today was a rare Sunday without obligations, a perfect time to hit Silver Lake Park … and probably my only opportunity before the race there.

Silver Lake Park has a great trail system. Most of the trails are loops unto themselves, and you might just keep going in circles on one you really like. But the loops also link to other trails and you could ride for an hour or so without covering the same ground twice. Silver Lake rates its loops by rider ability. The easy stuff is really easy—your only danger there is over-cooking corners because they are the only thing trying to slow you down—and the most advanced stuff is manageable for a rider of modest ability. But there are a couple of “gotcha” spots: obstacles that seem to be placed in your way out of malice. I’m glad I saw them today; I’m not sure everyone will see them at race speed.

I concentrated on singletrack today, but there are plenty of gravel park roads, ski trails and other open areas where the WEMS course might run. Today’s exploration wasn’t the best possible pre-ride because I don’t know which sections will be utilized. I’m hoping for the inclusion of those park roads, as they offer some tough climbing on a course that otherwise has only a gentle roll.

Tomorrow afternoon I will spend a couple of hours on the road bike. On Tuesday evening I will host another cyclocross practice at Royal Oaks Park in West Bend. On Wednesday or Friday I will see New Fane one last time before Saturday’s race. My cyclocross season will begin next Sunday, September 10, at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee.

Friday, September 1, 2017