Sunday, July 24, 2016

Undeniably Summer


It can’t last much longer, but this is what I want. I’m reveling in this summer weather. Thursday was the first 90° day in West Bend since August 14, 2015. We got to 90° again on Friday, almost got there on Saturday, and made it 3-of-4 today. Throw in high humidity and we’ve had heat index numbers around 100° and I couldn’t be happier. I finished the week with more than 12 hours in the saddle and 211 miles, critical preparation for next month’s Race The Lake.

What does the National Weather Service have to say about the current situation?

“A heat advisory means that a period of hot temperatures is expected. The combination of hot temperatures and high humidity will combine to create a situation in which heat illnesses are possible. Drink plenty of fluids. Stay in an air-conditioned room. Stay out of the sun. Check up on relatives and neighbors.”

Reasonable advice. I have been drinking plenty of fluids. In fact, I have been downing an electrolyte drink before rides, not just during. Stay in an air-conditioned room? Sure … when the ride is done. Stay out of the sun? Nonsense. Check up on relatives and neighbors? Actually, I have. This morning I enjoyed a ride with a family member who was visiting from California, and this afternoon I would have enjoyed a second ride with a friend from West Bend if not for a mechanical problem with his bike that cut our plans short.

If there’s a downside to this recent weather streak, then it’s the nearly constant threat of thunderstorms. (The threat is only “nearly constant” because sometimes there are thunderstorms.) Small price to pay, I say. Tomorrow I will be out there again, getting started on another 200-mile week. I did two metric centuries this week but I still haven’t gone past 69 miles this year. I’d really like to bang out at least one ride of 100 miles or more before I take on the 90-mile Race The Lake, and the upcoming week might be the best time for that sort of effort.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Saturday In The Park

Slow-motion riders fly the colors of the day.

Yesterday the organizers of the new cyclocross race in Wausau posted their race schedule: Masters 4/5 at 9 a.m., Junior Boys at 9:45, and so on. In a typical season, every race in the Wisconsin Cycling Association series follows the same daily schedule. The WCA has been tight-lipped about this year’s order, but now it looks like the cat’s out of the bag.

Cross Of The North is scheduled for September 11, a Sunday. My Sundays are completely free, so going to Wausau for 45 minutes of bike racing is “reasonable” even though it’s a 160-mile drive to the race venue. Making the trip even more reasonable is the start time of my Masters 1/2/3 race: 2:15 p.m. If I had to get up before the sunrise and drive that far for a 9 a.m. start, then I probably wouldn’t bother.

Last year my races began at 11:15 a.m. and getting to them on time was never a problem, but this year the race venues are spread over a larger area. Again, on Sundays there is plenty of time to get where I need to go. Saturdays are the potentially difficult days, thanks to a third-shift work schedule that keeps me in the office until 7 a.m. Most of the Saturday races on this year’s calendar are nearby, but I would have been hard-pressed to cover the 87 miles from the office to Manitowoc on October 1 or even the 77 miles from the office to Fitchburg on October 15 if I had been stuck with the 9 a.m. timeslot. Getting to the venue is only the beginning; then comes registration (even if you’re pre-registered), changing clothes, warming up and pre-riding the course. That can be a lot to pack into 2 hours.

Starting at 2:15 has benefits for me that go beyond travel considerations. I will welcome the warmer temperatures of mid-afternoon. After upgrading from Cat 4 to Cat 3 before the start of the 2015 season, I was able to move to a later race time and there’s no doubt that the extra warmth helped me. Moving from 11:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. should make things better still. On an autumn day in Wisconsin, 2:15 might be more than 10° warmer than 11:15. And then there’s sleep, which has become something that I will take whenever I can. On a day like October 8, I should be able to get some sleep between the end of my work shift and the start of the race. PumpkinCross is just 15 miles from my house, so if I’m in bed by 8 a.m., then I can sleep until about noon before I have to get ready! The 5 Saturday races in Milwaukee may give me similar opportunities.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

2016 Stump Farm WEMS Race



I didn’t know what kind of race I was going to have today in Suamico. I worked overnight, rushed home and devoured a big breakfast, went to bed for a little less than 2 hours, then drove the 117 miles to the Brown County Reforestation Camp. My race was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. with a wave of 3-lap racers entering the course on which the 6-lap and 10-lap races were already in progress. I didn’t get to preview the course and my warmup consisted mostly of medium-fast laps around the parking lot. It wasn’t what you would call ideal preparation.

But the trails at the camp are fast and flowy with few technical challenges. I especially like the wide-open ski trails that serve as transitions between sections of singletrack. I have raced there often and well, winning my age group in WORS races in 2012 and 2015. A little pre-ride would have been nice today, but it wasn’t strictly necessary. I was relaxed and (fairly) confident.

Then the race started. It was a shock to the system. I had to tell myself—out loud, if I remember correctly—to trust in my fitness. If I could get past the first few breathless miles, then I would settle into the race and all would be well. And so it proved: with a time of 2:05:59, I finished in 16th place out of 37. That’s a good result for a 51-year-old Cat 2 mountain biker in a race won by 32-year old Cat 1 Dan Teaters (Team Wheel & Sprocket) in 1:44:31.

Last year I faded badly toward the end of the race. This year my lap times were very consistent: 41:34, 41:47 and 42:38. It’s worth noting that this year’s race was shorter, but I feel good about the way I sustained my effort both physically and psychologically. There’s no daydreaming in a mountain bike race; it’s a fully-immersive experience. But I’m not completely wiped out, so there’s a long road ride on the schedule for tomorrow. I allowed myself a little extra rest this week in anticipation of the WEMS race. In the week to come I will return to high-mileage training in anticipation of Race The Lake on August 14.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Riding Rings Around Us

In Wisconsin we still think of mountain bike racing almost exclusively as a meandering ride through deep woods on singletrack. As it is practiced internationally, mountain biking is quite different. Olympic and UCI World Cup races feature multiple laps on short courses that are fast and open. Most technical sections are man-made, the extra-wide trails allow for passing almost anywhere, and from almost any location a spectator can watch the entire race. As you should expect at that level, some of the technical sections are very technical indeed. But the races are more about fitness than finesse.

The “short track” event at the Midwest MTB Championships in Portage is the closest thing Wisconsin has to the racing style the UCI describes as “cross-country Olympic.” The other WORS and WEMS races are closer in spirit to what the UCI calls “cross-country marathon.” There’s also “point-to-point,” “cross-country eliminator” (short track racing in multiple heats, eventually producing a champion from a tournament bracket), “time trial,” “team relay” and “stage race,” but these UCI designations are unknown in Wisconsin and very rare in the rest of the United States. Each has its cool features, its star riders and its fans, but cross-country Olympic is the (pardon the pun) gold standard.

Mountain biking joined the schedule of summer events at the 1996 Olympics. Next month in Rio de Janeiro, the United States will be represented by Lea Davison, Chloe Woodruff and Howard Grotts. Why only 3 athletes from the heavily-populated country where mountain biking began? Frankly, we’re just not very good at it anymore.

Americans swept the first world championships. Ned Overend and Juli Furtado won in 1990, followed by John Tomac and Ruthie Matthes in 1991. Alison Dunlap gave the US its most recent world championship in 2001. The last American man to stand on the podium at the world championships was Tinker Juarez, who took 2nd place way back in 1994. Recent years have been dominated by the French and the Swiss on the men’s side and by the Canadians and a potpourri of Europeans on the women’s side. At the Olympics, American women have won 2 bronze medals: Susan DeMattei in 1996 and Georgia Gould in 2012. No American man has ever reached the Olympic podium.

Davison placed 2nd behind Denmark’s Annika Langvad at the 2016 UCI World Championships on July 2, but her silver medal was something of a fluke. Davison was running in 4th when both Sabine Spitz (Germany) and Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) suffered flat tires in the final lap. Woodruff took 14th place, more than 6 minutes behind the winner. Grotts placed 21st in the men’s race, 5:30 behind winner Nino Schurter of Switzerland. Davison was 7th, Woodruff 19th and Grotts 17th at a test event on the Rio course last October. Our chances for an Olympic medal in 2016 aren’t great.

And maybe you don’t care, but USA Cycling should. Preparing our best cyclists for international competition is its main reason for being. USA Cycling has been very quiet about mountain bike course design. All over America, mountain bikers are racing on trails that were meant for riding. Now, I understand that Olympic and World Cup courses are purpose-built, expensive facilities that few volunteer trail groups could hope to replicate, but we are going to continue to fail if we don’t start racing like the Europeans.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Going Down?

In 2014 and 2015 there were zero sanctioned bike races in Washington County. This year there are two … and they couldn’t be more different. The first was a Tour of America’s Dairyland criterium on June 20 in West Bend. The second is scheduled for next Saturday, July 16: downhill mountain biking at the Little Switzerland ski hill in Slinger. We haven’t had anything like that before, and it’s the first mountain bike race of any kind since the 2013 Sunburst Showdown in Kewaskum.

Little Switzerland has added numerous bike park features over the last couple of years and I have heard good things, but I’m not tempted to participate. Sometimes it’s all I can do not to crash when I have both wheels on the ground, so flying through the air doesn’t appeal to me. But I get why some people like it, and it should be great entertainment for the spectators. Here’s what you need to know:


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Staples

Today’s ride was my life in microcosm: solid but unspectacular, an effort driven more by a sense of obligation than by passion, and not really what I wanted to do. But I did it, and that’s the important thing. On days like this when motivation is lacking, it’s really beneficial to have a “go to” workout.

I am fortunate enough to have several. If I want to go mountain biking, there’s New Fane. Riding two full laps takes just about an hour. Then there’s my favorite road route: 26 miles of quiet country roads to Newburg and back. Figure on 90 minutes. Today I chose the Eisenbahn State Trail, but not the whole thing. I sometimes ride all the way to Eden but more commonly I turn around at Campbellsport. That’s 32 miles total, mostly on gravel, and it takes a little less than 2 hours.

Last week I was a bit under the weather. This week I had some family obligations that reduced my time in the saddle. The break in the routine hasn’t been good for me. I’m planning on a couple of long rides this weekend to get back in the groove.