Sunday, April 20, 2014

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunters?

"You're expecting HOW MANY people?"
Cheesehead Roubaix is now just one week away and I suppose there is still time for the weather forecast to turn really bad, but right now it looks like April 27 will be cool and mostly dry. And that, I think, is what the riders want. Too wet and the unpaved roads would be a slopfest; too warm and the ride just wouldn’t feel like the northern European spring classic it is designed to emulate. If the Facebook event page is even close to accurate, then there could be in excess of 200 riders this year. A ride that big has a couple of built-in problems.

The first problem is parking. We won’t all fit in Fireman’s Park. There’s a small lot available to us but it is imperative that we not park on the grass or on the park road. It is also imperative that we not park right next to the fire department, as those spaces will be needed by firefighters if there is an emergency. If you can, please carpool with friends to reduce the number of vehicles coming to Newburg. As a village of just 1,200 people, it won’t easily accommodate 200 visitors. We will gather at Fireman’s Park to begin the ride, but please consider parking on one of the nearby streets rather than inside the park itself.

The second problem is how to begin the ride in an orderly fashion. Traveling on open public roads, we simply cannot present motorists with an unbroken line of 200 cyclists. Riders are coming to Cheesehead Roubaix with very different objectives. Some want to go as hard as they can to test their fitness; others want to enjoy the ride at a more relaxed pace. Let’s let the hard chargers go first so that they aren’t fighting through slower traffic in the early miles. If you are a USA Cycling-licensed rider, road/cyclocross category 3 or higher, you belong in the first wave. Cat 4/5 riders go next, followed by everyone else. Obviously I have no way to enforce these recommendations, but please do an honest self-assessment of your abilities and objectives before you begin. If you expect to ride much slower than average, feel free to begin before 9 a.m. or change your start/finish to Yahr County Park. That will ensure you reach the Belgianwerkx rest stop before it closes at 12 o’clock.

We will wait a couple of minutes between waves to create separation. After a few miles of riding, things will string out in a more organic way. Trust me: you do not want to hit some of these unpaved roads in groups so large that you can’t see anything but the rider immediately in front of you. There are dangerous ruts and potholes on the route and it is critical that you be able to pick safe lines. On the first unpaved sector, Lovers Lane, it’s very unlikely that you will encounter motor vehicles. It’s very likely that you will need to swing from one side of the road to the other to avoid obstacles. Other than that, ride as if the commissaires are going to disqualify you for crossing the center line. These are open roads and you are not absolved of your responsibility to Wisconsin traffic laws. Be safe and represent the sport well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pop Goes The Schedule!

© Deb Davis
Last week I mentioned that my employer might send me to Tampa FL for a conference, May 12-15. Today that possibility became an actual plan, one that will have significant impact on my cycling ambitions this year.

I will drive to Tampa over the weekend that precedes the conference and I will drive home when the conference is done. So, I will miss the mountain bike races at Greenbush (May 10) and Rhinelander (May 18) as a direct result of the business trip. I expect to be home on Friday, May 16, but after all that driving the last thing I will want is another 450 miles round-trip to hit the Rhinelander race. We’ll see if I feel energetic enough to participate in the Washington County Bicycle Club time trial on Saturday morning, May 17; I might just officiate.

The mountain bike race at Iola (May 4) is off my calendar too. I still have not ridden singletrack since last September and the trails in my area remain closed. There is no way I will be ready to race in less than three weeks.

Of course I am taking a bike to Tampa, where the average high temperature for May 12-15 is 87 degrees. In West Bend we haven’t had an 80-degree day since September 19. Our high on Tuesday plus our high on Wednesday didn’t even add up to 80! With plenty of sunlight after each day’s meetings conclude, I should have good opportunities to ride while I’m in Florida.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spreading The Gospel Of Gravel



Your reading assignment for this morning is the 2014 Cheesehead Roubaix preview I wrote for Belgianwerkx. This year's ride will be bigger and better than ever!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Weather This, Whether That

Don’t stop now, damn you.


Late yesterday afternoon we finally cracked 60 degrees. We got to enjoy it for only an hour, but it broke a long streak of below-60 weather that began on Oct. 31, 2013. Today we reached 63, making this the warmest day of the year. I shouldn’t complain, but today also marked exactly six months since we last hit 70 degrees: Oct. 11, 2013. This is not an exaggeration: I literally never put my cold-weather gear into storage. I have needed warmers and tights even in July.

Tomorrow I will be at Greenbush with some other Team Pedal Moraine people for four hours of trail work. The popular John Muir Trails opened this afternoon, but that’s 80 miles south of Greenbush. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources still has not opened the mountain bike trails of the northern Kettle Moraine. Greenbush, New Fane and Pleasant Valley (a non-DNR property) all remain closed. And the weather forecast is not good: rain throughout the weekend, a rain/snow mix on Monday, cold and cloudy through the middle of next week and then more rain and/or snow next weekend. Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area (a West Bend park) is open, technically, but no responsible rider would use it until it dries out.

I have not ridden on mountain bike trails since Sep. 8, 2013, when I crashed and broke my collarbone in a WORS race at Lake Geneva. The races at Iola (May 4), Greenbush (May 10) and Rhinelander (May 18) are still on my calendar, but I am far from 100 percent committed to them. As of last weekend, people were skiing at Iola. That means Rhinelander still has snow too. And now there’s a new wrinkle that could wipe out my plans for Greenbush and Rhinelander even if trail conditions dramatically improve: another business trip. I might be going to sunny Tampa FL for a conference, May 12-15, with travel days before and after. I am not a big fan of Tampa or of Florida in general, but at least I wouldn’t need my cold-weather gear.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

35th Street NW

The Spring Classics are in full swing and my favorite one-day race, Paris-Roubaix, is now just five days away. There are few places where you can still ride on cobblestones—even in northern France, some of the roads used for Paris-Roubaix are closed at all other times of year. While on vacation two weeks ago, I had the unexpected experience of descending a steep hill on cobbled 35th Street NW in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC:




The photo above, taken in June 2011, is from Google’s “Street View” mapping feature. Conditions were not as nice when I visited. Two weeks ago that smooth gutter was partially blocked by debris. I had to venture onto the cobbles, and I am a good rider on bad roads, but I would have preferred to ride the gutter all the way down.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Weekend Of Mixed Emotions

I had a very full weekend of cycling for early April. It began on Saturday morning with a drive around the Cheesehead Roubaix route to check road conditions. And that news is good: everything is shaping up according to schedule. Some of the unpaved roads are still closed, but the ones I could see were not too bad. On Saturday afternoon I did a 35-mile road ride. On Saturday evening I watched the Sunny King Criterium as it streamed live on the USA Cycling website.

Sunday began with streaming coverage of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, won in a four-man sprint by Fabian Cancellara. The race was marred by a series of crashes. Stijn Devolder suffered more than most, either getting caught behind crashes or crashing himself. Devolder’s heroic efforts to get back into the race moved Eurosport commentator Carlton Kirby to tears, but ultimately the Belgian road champion could finish no better than 86th, nearly 10 minutes behind three-time winner Cancellara.

But the worst crash at Flanders involved Johan Vansummeren, who collided at high speed with a woman who was standing on a traffic island in the middle of the road. Here’s a still image from a video taken by another fan, showing the woman, a man and a small child standing where no fans should ever be during a bike race:


Just seconds later, Vansummeren and the woman were lying on the ground. Vansummeren was taken to the hospital for treatment of facial cuts and then released. The 65-year-old woman was placed in a medically-induced coma and remains in intensive care with life-threatening brain injuries. Belgian law enforcement authorities have begun a formal investigation into the incident.

I spent Sunday afternoon on the Eisenbahn State Trail, in the company of friends as far as Eden and then on my own for the trip back to West Bend. The trail surface was a little soft in places and the headwind really cut into my speed on the return. I averaged just 13.8 mph over 50 miles. That’s slow, but it was an honest effort. We’ll see what kind of legs I have on Tuesday when I get back on the bike after today’s scheduled rest. Sunday’s ride put me ahead of my 2013 mileage pace, and I ride better as I ride more so I’m hopeful that greater fitness is on its way.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Swim/Bike/Run (To Nowhere)

In 2013 the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships came to Milwaukee and attracted a record number of participants: more than 4,000 athletes, representing all 50 states. The event will return this year, August 9-10. If you want to be ready for the bike portion, then the good people at RacerMate have what you need:

Just add the aroma of brewer’s yeast and dead alewives for a fully immersive experience!


“Ride past the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by renown (sic) architect Santiago Calatrava, along the shores of Lake Michigan on a short out and back. When you pass transition again you are directed onto the Hoan Bridge—not accessible (normally) to bike traffic. After a ride out to the city of Cudahy you’ll turn around for a ride back to the Hoan Bridge and back into transition.

“This popular ride can only be ridden on race day—or on CompuTrainer.”

Wow. Sandwich an indoor ride between a swim in the endless pool and a run on the treadmill and you’ll never have to leave the house! People do seem to want to ride across the Hoan Bridge for some reason, but once you’ve actually been to Cudahy, staying home will seem like the more attractive option.

But seriously: the CompuTrainer is a great product. I have used it on a few occasions and would have one of my own if not for the expense. There are three different options starting at about $1,600. Because of the cost, many users rent time at CompuTrainer-equipped shops rather than investing in the hardware themselves. A typical CompuTrainer studio will have between 4 and 16 stations, allowing riders to compete against each other and even to simulate the aerodynamic benefits of pack riding. Friends from Belgianwerkx and Team Extreme recently competed for charity at an indoor time trial hosted by Crank Daddy’s.

Spring still hasn’t quite sprung across Wisconsin, but it will soon and indoor trainers will collect dust for a while. But wouldn’t it be great to have a CompuTrainer racing league next winter?