Monday, August 21, 2017

2017 Reforestation Ramble

Last weekend produced mixed results and mixed emotions. I went up to Suamico on Saturday afternoon with high hopes. In an otherwise unspectacular WORS campaign, surely the Reforestation Ramble would be good to me. It’s a course with few technical challenges and the site of my only two wins as a bike racer. I took 3rd place last year, my fitness is good … what could go wrong?

Well, I could crash. And I did, but it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t the reason I finished 7th out of 13 in the Cat 2 (Sport) race for men, 50-54. At the midpoint of the 3-lap race, a younger rider who had started in a later wave caught me and misjudged the space he needed to pass safely. We banged handlebars and went down hard. I lost about 30 seconds in the exchange, but my finishing time of 1:27:54.4 was nowhere close to the 1:23:24.6 of age group winner Mike Owens (Colectivo Coffee). I was 54th of 104 overall. There was something missing today. I just wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

Does the answer lie in my Saturday night shenanigans? Maybe I was too serious in my approach to the unsanctioned short track cross country race on the lighted ski trails of the Brown County Reforestation Camp. It was great fun and my ability to stay on the gas for the duration of the race is a good sign that I’m getting fit for the cyclocross season. (The similarities between STXC and cyclocross didn’t go unnoticed: roughly 1-in-5 of Saturday’s competitors were on cyclocross bikes.) But there was a moment late in the race when I wondered whether I were damaging my chances for a good performance on Sunday. At that point I had already passed the point of no return, though, and those doubts didn’t slow me down.

I will slow down this week. Tomorrow’s cyclocross practice will be my only hard effort. I’m going to hit my mileage goal for the year sometime in the next day or two. I need 27 more miles to reach 3,378 this year and 60,000 lifetime. Next weekend I’ll be back on the mountain bike—just to practice, not to race. There’s nothing for me in the WORS finale at Lake Geneva next Sunday. I might use that day to get more familiar with Greenbush, site of this year’s WEMS Championships in October.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Move-In Day

My son Ryan will move into his dorm room today. He graduated from high school in 2016 with a bunch of Advanced Placement credits, then spent the last calendar year commuting to UW-Washington County and UW-Waukesha, and now begins his junior year at Ripon College. Living on his own will be a big step for him … and a big change for the rest of the family. But Ripon is just an hour away and there will be many chances for us to visit each other.

That’s my old Gary Fisher Wahoo in the photo above. It’s the bike on which my passion for cycling began. It was my only bike from 2003 through 2005. I outgrew it as my abilities increased. Ryan grew into it, and I was happy to hand it down. Today it goes off to college too. Ripon is a small school in a small community. There’s probably no better way for Ryan to get around than by bike. But, who knows? Maybe Ryan will come to love cycling for its own sake, not just for transportation. Despite a tiny enrollment of about 800 students, Ripon does have its own cycling team!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

2017 Race The Lake

Last year in my Race The Lake debut, a rear tire puncture cost me dozens of positions in the final 3 miles. I still had a good result, but not the result I deserved. For this year—the 10th anniversary—the race expanded from 88 miles to 100. The extra mileage was welcome news for me, as I’m a racer whose limited success comes from outlasting people rather than being faster. I went to Fond du Lac this morning with a pair of goals: finish in the Top 200 overall and in less than 5 hours.

If a Top 200 finish doesn’t seem very ambitious, then consider that Race The Lake is the biggest road race in Wisconsin, attracting a total field of 792 participants this year. And a century in less than 5 hours may be routine for some people, but I had never done one in less than 5.5 hours.

I can now say that my best century time is 4:16:28.43, and that I finished 157th overall. I’m really pleased with my performance. Unlike last year, when poor group dynamics led me to break away from my starting wave with a pair of accomplices, this year I started and finished with the lead group from Wave 4. It wasn’t the most cohesive unit on the road, but enough guys did enough work to deliver the group to the finish line. I was strong all day. My average speed of 23.5 mph was a big improvement over last year’s 21.5 mph (21.9 mph without the time lost to the flat tire).

The overall winner was Tim Savre (Project Echelon), a 27-year-old Cat 1. His time was 3:53:29.98. I couldn’t beat that. Nor could I beat former US Postal Team pro Robbie Ventura, who placed 7th with a time of 3:53:31.28. On the road I am just a 52-year-old Cat 5, after all. To be only 23 minutes behind those guys was a fair accomplishment.

My preparation for the race was really solid, and probably nothing was more important to it than the 100-mile training ride I did back on July 30. On that ride I experimented with a plastic shopping bag stuffed inside my jersey as a disposable insulator. I employed the same trick for the first 2 hours today, as the temperature was just 53° when my wave started at 6 a.m.  But that training ride left me with a broken rear derailleur. Fortunately, Mark Ramsey of Pedal Moraine contacted SRAM on my behalf and the manufacturer provided a warranted replacement. The bike worked flawlessly today.

I don’t foresee any more centuries on this year’s calendar … or any more 13-hour, 249-mile weeks! Shorter, more intense efforts will dominate my training now. I think I will make my 2017 cyclocross debut on Sunday, Sep. 10, at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee. I need more time on singletrack, too. There will be some room for long-ish road rides, though, as I still have to prepare for a trio of 3-hour Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series races. Next weekend: the Reforestation Ramble (Wisconsin Off-Road Series) at Suamico—and maybe a nighttime STXC race as a warm-up!

Sunday, August 6, 2017


I have been without my road bike for a week now and that’s not good as I try to prepare for next Sunday’s 100-mile Race The Lake. But what can I do? The rear derailleur is broken. I hope to have the bike repaired soon but in the meantime I have to keep training.

My cyclocross bike is a reasonably capable road bike—not the equal of my BMC, certainly, but good enough for training. On Tuesday I had a good performance in the first of this year’s cyclocross practices at Royal Oaks Park, then I switched back to slick tires for road rides on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Saturday’s ride was supposed to be a full-distance Wild Goose State Trail ride with Jeff Wren, but rain chased us out of Fond du Lac before we could get started. Fortunately, the rain didn’t come south to West Bend!

Today was another impossible-to-forecast day. Rain seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Late in the afternoon, Jeff and I headed to New Fane for some mountain biking. The trails were wet in a couple of spots, but certainly rideable. I learned later that it rained there at about 1 p.m., but I didn’t feel a single drop during my visit. And it rained briefly in West Bend while I was at New Fane, which shows just how widely scattered and localized the precipitation was this weekend.

I had not been on the mountain bike since the WORS race back on July 23, and I had not visited New Fane since July 16. But I felt only a little rusty and I got my groove back in a hurry. I’m satisfied with my lap times of 26:48, 26:42, and 26:35. Those are solid training laps and really not bad when you consider the condition of the trails. In a few spots I couldn’t follow my normal lines because they were wet, and much of the course was compromised by encroaching vegetation. There’s nothing like getting whipped by thorny branches. My left forearm looks like it lost a fight with a cat.

It’s back on the road tomorrow, presumably aboard the cyclocross bike again. Then I will switch to my backup wheelset/tires for cyclocross practice on Tuesday. By Wednesday I hope to have my BMC back in action, and it will get a couple of proper shake-down rides before next weekend.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

2017 Wisconsin Bike Festival

Work before play.
This weekend was all about the Wisconsin Bike Festival. Things started on Saturday with the Wisconsin Women Century. Teammate Justin Schroeter and I ran the Cedar Lake Wayside rest stop just outside West Bend. Our volunteer time was repaid today with free entries in the Holy Hill Classic, a century ride that each of us wanted to use as a tune-up for Race The Lake on August 13.

I had not ridden farther than 63 miles this season. But endurance wasn’t my biggest concern; the weather was. How could that be? Today was sunny, dry, and our first 80° day since last Sunday. The answer is that it was eventually an 80° day. At 6 a.m. when the ride began in Cedarburg, the temperature was only 54° and I was dressed for October: thermal long-sleeve jersey, knee warmers … even a plastic shopping bag stuffed inside my jersey as a disposable wind block. I knew the day would warm up, but I didn’t know whether it would warm up fast enough.

The field for today’s ride was small. I recognized a few strong local roadies, but it seemed to be mostly a triathlon crowd. Justin and I committed to ride together, and eventually we settled in with a couple of guys who seemed to be compatible with our objectives. We weren’t out to kill this one.

Justin’s a big, strong boy. Get behind him into a headwind and out of his way on a descent. But he knew he would be tested by more than 4,400 feet of climbing on today’s route. This year’s Race The Lake will be longer and hillier than previous editions, so Justin’s takeaway from today is to keep riding hills over the next two weeks.

My takeaway has nothing to do with conditioning. I was very comfortable in the hills today and I handled the distance easily. My takeaway is to get my road bike fixed! About 60 miles into the ride, a spring broke in my rear derailleur. Fortunately that left me with my easiest gearing combination for tough climbs: 34x27. Unfortunately I was spinning out at about 16 mph in my 50x27 when the route went flat, and I wasn’t about to ride 40 miles like that. When the route passed close to West Bend I said goodbye to my companions and detoured home to get my cyclocross bike ... and to change out of the thermal clothes! At the moment my cyclocross bike is outfitted with 700x32 slicks—good enough to get me back to Cedarburg. I have never started a century I couldn’t finish, and I wasn’t about to end the streak today. I improvised a route that allowed me to complete the 100 miles, and I still got my 4,400+ feet of climbing.

It was my first century since August 2, 2014. It was also the exclamation point on a 13-hour, 217-mile week. The week to come looks wet and much cooler than I would like. It also brings the first of this year’s Tuesday evening cyclocross practices, an altogether different kind of effort that I expect will be a real shock to my system. And it’s back on the mountain bike next weekend, not to race—I couldn’t be less interested in the WORS event at La Crosse on August 6—but to look for more improvement in my skills. Juggling the not-so-complementary needs of race preparation for road, mountain, and cyclocross is no easy task.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

2017 Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic

This has been an uncommonly wet summer in southeastern Wisconsin and for a while it looked like another round of heavy rains might force a postponement or even a cancellation of the Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic, today’s WORS race at Minooka Park in Waukesha. An already wet course got hit with more rain on Friday night, but not as much as predicted. The start of Saturday’s pre-ride was pushed back from 12 noon to 4 p.m. to give the trail crew more time to clean up, and those folks did an amazing job. I had such a good pre-ride that I went to bed last night with thoughts of a podium position.

Today’s race went well for me, but not that well! I took 8th out of 15 in the Sport 50-54 group, 86th out of 148 overall.

Why did I think I would do better? First, the uphill start and long ski trail lead-out played to my strengths. Second, the singletrack at Minooka—tight and twisty though it can be—isn’t especially technical. For example, there are no technical descents, and those are a big problem for me at other courses. Today I did get a good start and I was running with some of the top guys until we hit the singletrack. Then their superior skills allowed them to pull away. I reclaimed time on some of them when the trail would open up, but I lost too much time in the woods to be truly competitive. Series leader Stuart Shelton (Team Extreme) won the age group, his third victory this season. He also has four second-place finishes and has locked up the series points title.

My Team Pedal Moraine teammate Scott Palmersheim won the Sport 55-59 class. I like to think I helped: I quickly got out of his way when he caught me midway through Lap 2.

Up next on my race schedule is the 100-mile Race The Lake on August 13, so after today’s mountain bike race I went out for a quick 20 miles on the road. I finished the week with 201 total miles (mountain and road combined) and 13 hours in the saddle. It was my highest volume week so far this year. But I might surpass those totals in the week to come: I will test my endurance next Sunday in the non-competitive 105-mile Holy Hill Classic.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

TDF Stage 13 Vs. My Monday Training Ride

Yesterday I completed my longest ride so far this season: 63 miles. That’s 101 kilometers, the same distance covered by the riders in the Tour de France last Friday on Stage 13. But total distance is where the similarities end!

My solo ride was just training, not racing. In a competitive situation—or at least in a group of riders sharing the work—I would have improved on my average speed of 17.5 mph. I took 3:36 to complete my route.

Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) won Stage 13 of the Tour de France in 2:36, completing his 101 kilometers an hour faster than I completed mine. Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) finished last in 3:03. So, my training ride time was just 33 minutes off the time of a Tour de France contestant over the same distance. I should feel pretty good about myself, right?

Not so fast! My ride included 1,716 feet of climbing, which is an OK total over that distance in this part of the world but nothing special. Located in the heart of the Pyrenees, Stage 13 of the Tour de France included three Category 1 mountains and something like 7,600 feet of climbing! Faced with that much climbing, I surely would have been nowhere near Felline’s time, not that 33 minutes was very close in the first place. And I went into my ride well-rested after an easy weekend. The Tour de France guys had just completed a brutal 133-mile mountain stage on Thursday, 126 miles on Wednesday, 111 miles on Tuesday … you get the drift.

At 101 kilometers, Stage 13 was the shortest road stage of the Tour de France in 30 years. At 101 kilometers, my Monday ride was my first metric century of 2017. Usually that distinction goes to Cheesehead Roubaix, but not this year. I had not gone past 50 miles prior to yesterday—more mountain biking means fewer opportunities for long road rides. But I’m now less than 4 weeks away from Race The Lake, a 100-mile road race around Lake Winnebago, and I need to train for greater endurance. Yesterday I felt good. I would have needed some food and more hydration to make it to 100 miles, though. On July 30, the Holy Hill Classic will tell me whether I’m on track: 105 training miles with an estimated 4,474 feet of climbing. I won’t get through that without eating. It should be great practice for Race The Lake in every respect.