Sunday, June 26, 2016

ToAD 2016: Great ... Eventually

When the Tour of America’s Dairyland began on June 17, many of the biggest names in domestic criterium racing were elsewhere. Tulsa Tough had just concluded on the previous weekend. In Minnesota, the North Star Grand Prix was in progress and would run through June 19. Did the lack of star power matter? Would the presence of, say, ace sprinter Daniel Holloway have brought out bigger crowds for the opening weekend and the start of the new week? I don’t know.

But I do know this: until Holloway arrived on Thursday the women’s field at ToAD was far more interesting than the men’s. Tina Pic and Laura Van Gilder were here. So too was Kaitlin Antonneau, the Racine native who is better known as a world-class cyclocross racer. But the West Allis sister act of Samantha and Skylar Schneider was missing, as were star sprinters like Erica Allar and Alison Tetrick. The mighty UnitedHealthcare team arrived on Wednesday and immediately produced victories by Katie Compton (our 12-time defending national cyclocross champion), Lauren Tamayo (a silver medalist in the team pursuit on the velodrome at the 2012 London Olympics), and Coryn Rivera (the 2014 national criterium champion). Samantha and Skylar showed up for yesterday’s race and finished 1st and 2nd, respectively. Tamayo won the series finale today in Wauwatosa.

Holloway finished on the podium in each of his 4 ToAD appearances, winning at Bay View on Friday. His presence alone was enough to elevate the men’s field to relevance. But things got even better this weekend when the UnitedHealthcare men’s team finally took an interest. Ty Magner won yesterday at Downer Avenue and placed 2nd behind teammate John Murphy today. UHC is a Pro Continental squad, one step down from the top tier of professional teams worldwide. It was the only Pro Continental team at ToAD this year and that’s too bad, but it showed up for the only dates that really made sense in a complicated season that forces it to cross the country several times. Chasing paydays on the American crit circuit is tough on racers and tough on team budgets.

ToAD is a great series but there is a big difference from the first weekend to the last. There’s no “general classification,” per se, so riders come and go. At the professional level you can’t really tell a story about ToAD in the same way you can about the Tour de France, where the winner races every stage, exploiting his strengths on some stages and using his teammates to minimize his vulnerabilities on others. At ToAD every day stands alone, but not every day offers the same prize money or prestige, so sometimes the fields are anonymous and the crowds disinterested.

I hasten to add that dedicated amateurs do pursue overall series titles at ToAD by racing every day, and winning is no small accomplishment. But the amateur ranks don’t bring out the crowds. It’s just a shame that with a busy national racing calendar that spans the lower 48 states, there isn’t a way for ToAD to attract and keep the big stars for the entire series. Every race could be important, instead of just a few.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Getting Into ToAD 2016

During the week that ended today I rode 214 miles, my highest total so far this year. I’m recovering well, climbing well, and I’m holding steady at 5 pounds lighter than this time last year. I went for a Medium when asked what size I wanted for my course marshal T-shirt at the Giro d’Grafton on Saturday. This was my third year as a volunteer for the Tour of America’s Dairyland race.

ToAD will make its West Bend debut tomorrow and I will be there as a fan … but not all day. Racing is scheduled to begin at 12:30 and end at 8:30. I plan to check out a couple of the mid-day amateur races and the women’s pro race at 5:20. Then it will be time for my own ride, and then a couple of hours of sleep before I get back into my nocturnal work schedule. ToAD doesn’t figure in my plans Tuesday through Friday, but I look forward to the Downer Avenue race on the east side of Milwaukee next Saturday. Not only is it a great venue from a fan’s perspective, but also it’s the biggest social occasion of the year for the cycling community in southeastern Wisconsin. It’s a great time to catch up with old friends.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dave The Doper?

It never fails. If you take your bike to the shop because it’s shifting badly, then it will shift perfectly for the mechanic. If you take your body to the doctor’s office for some internal complaint, then that complaint won’t manifest itself during your visit. The latter situation happened to me on Wednesday morning.

Back on May 23, there was one black mark on an otherwise outstanding physical examination: my blood pressure. On Wednesday I had a follow-up visit under less than ideal circumstances. I was just 2 hours removed from a work shift that concluded with considerable stress. A bad blood pressure reading would have been no surprise. What I got instead was one of the best readings I have had in the last 4 weeks … and I have been checking at least once every day. No pattern has emerged from all the data—day of week, time of day, etc.—and we’re not talking about numbers that are always high. Most of them are just high enough to merit attention.

Many of the lifestyle factors associated with high blood pressure don’t apply to me. I don’t smoke. I’m not obese. I don’t add salt to my food. I get a lot of physical exercise. OK, there is more work-related stress today than there was in the recent past, but I suspect my genes are the real issue. I can’t prove that, though, as I was adopted as an infant and have no family medical history. Whatever the case, I need to confront the problem.

I will be taking hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic, as prescribed by my doctor. The idea is to flush sodium from the body and, I’m told, I can expect a 10-point drop in my blood pressure. That’s enough to get back into the normal range consistently. Hopefully I will respond well to this treatment and won’t require more aggressive drugs. Hydrochlorothiazide can have some undesirable side effects, but I expect good results.

Diuretics, in general, and hydrochlorothiazide, in particular, have been used by cyclists and other athletes as masking agents. Because hydrochlorothiazide can obscure the presence of banned, performance-enhancing drugs, hydrochlorothiazide itself is banned, both in competition and out of competition. But I get to take it—hell, I don’t even need a Therapeutic Use Exemption—not because I’m special but because I’m not special. The US Anti-Doping Agency classifies me as a non-national level competitor, for whom diuretics are expressly permitted.

I am important to my family and maybe even to a few friends and for their sake I will follow doctor’s orders. But as a bicycle racer I am just a little fish in a big pond that soon will be augmented with my own salty pee.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Subterranean Home Gym Blues

On Saturday I surpassed 2,000 miles, year-to-date, and that’s not bad. Lately I have been feeling strong on the bike. Though I am not always sleeping well—a challenge with my overnight work schedule—I seem to be getting enough sleep to allow for good riding. But my commitment to upper body strength training has suffered. There never seems to be a good time to head downstairs to the home gym. I should be averaging 3 workouts per week, or about 70 so far this year. I’ve done only 31. That’s dreadful.

I need to fix this problem now or it will start to affect me on the bike. You probably know cyclists whose backs, necks and arms give out. It’s bad enough to be sore after a ride, but really bad to be sore during one. A racer who’s distracted by upper body aches isn’t giving 100 percent. But that’s not me; I have been super durable. I’m steady as a rock while other guys are wasting energy as they contort themselves in search of comfort. Against some opponents, that’s the only advantage I have! So, this week I recommitted to my strength training routine. Maybe the best time for it is early morning when I’m winding down from my work shift and not yet ready for bed. And maybe when I finally get to sleep, I’ll sleep better in the knowledge that I’m taking care of myself the way I should.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

"Up North" For Some R&R

There was definitely a theme to this week’s rides: See the Northern Kettle Moraine! I didn’t do it consciously; it just happened. On Monday I went up the Eisenbahn State Trail to the Fond du Lac County line. On Wednesday I took the road bike up to New Fane, stopping at the mountain bike trails to see friends. On Friday I did my first full-distance Eisenbahn ride of 2016; I hadn’t gone past Campbellsport since last July. And today I played again on the roads due north of West Bend, timing things just right to ensure I got a good soaking from the rain on the way home.

It all worked out to 8 hours in the saddle, and I enjoyed taking things a little easier after consecutive weeks of 12+ hours that culminated in The Gravel Metric last Sunday. This week’s road rides were by no means slow, but they were short. I plan to stretch my legs with a longer effort tomorrow. I’m 6 weeks out from the WEMS race at Suamico, where last year I “hit the wall” 2 hours into the race. Of course, that was in May. This year the race is on July 16 and I will have a deeper well of fitness from which to draw … as long as I keep working.

Monday, May 30, 2016

ToAD Update

Three weeks from today, the Tour of America’s Dairyland will come to West Bend for the first time in its history. The series will run June 17-26 and I plan to enjoy several of those dates as a spectator, but the June 20 criterium in downtown West Bend should be extra special. Back on January 20, I shared a map of the course based on the information I had at that time. The map above is the (let’s hope) final, official course. As revised, the course should prove less disruptive for downtown businesses. Savvy business owners will recognize ToAD as a huge opportunity. In particular, downtown restaurants and bars can expect big benefits. Racing will start at 12:30 p.m. and conclude at 8:30 p.m., bringing hundreds or even thousands of people into the downtown area on what otherwise might be a sleepy summer Monday.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

2016 Gravel Metric

Up to my ankles in the middle of Steward Creek.

The Gravel Metric is hard. Really hard. Technically, it’s not a race. But people race it. Technically, its course runs on nearly 70 miles of gravel and dirt roads. But the term “road” applies to some of them only by the broadest definition.

Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) and I loaded up our cyclocross bikes and traveled to Waterman IL this morning for the 7th running of The Gravel Metric. Previously, the ride started and finished in the heart of DeKalb IL. The new start/finish was a family farm, eliminating the “garbage miles” that we used to ride to get out of town and then to return. This year’s ride was a fight all the way. It was my 3rd appearance and Jeff’s 2nd. And just like 2014—the 1st time that Jeff & I traveled to the ride together—our on-road collaboration didn’t last long. We got separated at Mile 3 and didn’t see each other again until the ride was over.

Neither of us lacked company: about 300 riders turned out. It was mostly an Illinois crowd, but I saw some familiar faces. I rode for a few minutes with fellow Wisconsin cyclocross racer Kellen Muldoon (BELGIANWERKX) before he powered away. Little groups formed here and there, worked together for a while, then split up. Everyone needed shelter from the wind, which blew steadily at 15-18 mph and hit us with gusts in excess of 25 mph. The wind was the limiting factor today, much more of an obstacle than the course itself. I managed the 69.12 miles in 4:55:55. That’s just 14 mph … and I was far from the slowest rider! Some of the "B" roads were more challenging than most singletrack mountain bike trails.

Our hosts, Axletree, had plenty of food and beverages available at the finish. I almost couldn’t look at it. I didn’t trust myself to eat or drink anything more than a few chunks of fruit and some fresh water. But now the event is almost 6 hours in the past, I’m home, I have eaten dinner and I’m contemplating a recovery ride tomorrow. Today was an ass whoopin’ as The Gravel Metric should be. It was hard training—really hard—and that should pay off when I’m pinning on a number later this year.