Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Mark Badger Thing

"It's a tug of war. We expected more, but with one thing and another, we were trying to outdo each other … "

The good news today is that I have surpassed 5,000 miles, year-to-date. I came into 2016 with no pre-defined mileage goal, but as 5,000 began to seem likely I got very interested in reaching it. In my 13 seasons as a cyclist, this is my 5th time with 5,000 miles or more. I first did it in 2011 and I would have done it every year since if not for time lost to a broken collarbone late in 2013. I’m not done riding this year and there’s a reasonable chance I will surpass 5,236 miles, making this my 2nd highest mileage total ever, but I won’t get close to the personal record 6,236 miles I rode in 2015.

The bad news today is that I gave a terrible performance at the Sun Prairie Cup. I was 22nd of 23 overall in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race, 14th out of the 15 Cat 3s. Really, I was dead last: the guy I “beat” took a DNF. Arlen Spicer (BELGIANWERKX) won my race. Team Pedal Moraine’s Steve Cummins took the win in Masters 55+ Cat 4. Clearly, they handled the TONS of descending, off-camber turns better than I did on a Sheehan Park course that was shorter but more challenging than before. I was so slow that I couldn’t catch the guy in front of me even when he suffered a significant crash on the final lap.

That guy was Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts), against whom I have enjoyed a remarkable rivalry. Today was the 8th time that Mark and I have finished consecutively. I hold a 5-3 edge in those meetings, which include both cyclocross and mountain bike races. Mark is 2-1 against me this year, beating me at the Reforestation Ramble and again today. I held him off yesterday at Celtic Cross in Fitchburg, just as I did last season. His victory over me today was a repeat of the 2014 Sun Prairie Cup.

Saturday’s Celtic Cross was a much better race for me on a McGaw Park course with few technical challenges. I was 15th of 20 overall in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race, 11th out of the 15 Cat 3s. I crashed at the midpoint of the race, but recovered quickly enough to keep Badger behind me. How’s that for evenly matched? On back-to-back days, each of us crashed and still prevailed against the other! Fitchburg’s own Jay Mass won Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3.

There are two races scheduled for next weekend. I’m more interested in Sunday’s race at Oshkosh than I am in Saturday’s race at Washington Park in Milwaukee, so I might put all of my energy into it. But weather could be the big factor as I make my plans: there’s rain in the forecast. Wet and /or muddy, and I’m out. I’m happy with my 5,000 miles, I’m obviously not contending for high finishes in my cyclocross races, and I’m thinking about allowing myself an off-season.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The 2017 WEMS Schedule

Last night the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series announced its 2017 schedule, and it appeals to me as no WEMS schedule ever has before:

04/29 - The Wild Ride Buzzard Buster @ Hatfield
05/06 - Southern Kettles Classic @ Eagle (Emma Carlin Trails)
05/13 - 9 Hours Of Alpine Valley @ Elkhorn
05/27 - Stump Farm 100 @ Suamico
06/10 - Romp In The Swamp Epic @ Wausau
07/15 - RASTA Rock ‘n’ Root @ Rhinelander
08/19 - Hundred-Down In The Underdown @ Gleason
09/09 - Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane
09/16 - 9 Hours Of Silver Lake @ Silver Lake
10/07 - GEARS Greenbush Grinder (WEMS Championship) @ Greenbush

If I’m still working overnight, finishing my last shift of the week on Saturdays at 7 a.m., then the races in Hatfield, Wausau, Rhinelander and Gleason probably won’t make it onto my calendar. It’s asking too much to work for 8 hours, then to drive 3 hours or more from Brookfield, and then to race for 3 hours or more. But the rest of the WEMS schedule is intriguing. My participation at Emma Carlin might come down to whether I can practice on those trails prior to the race. The weather can be quite limiting that early in the season. Greenbush has often been used as the first venue of the year, and lack of access to it in April has been one of the factors keeping me out of that race. As the series championship race in October, Greenbush is more attractive. There will be many opportunities to practice there during the summer. And the new race at Silver Lake in western Kenosha County could be fun … but as with Emma Carlin, I’ll need to see those trails in practice before I commit.

I’m still working on my 2016 racing season, so any plans for 2017 are very preliminary. But I’m pretty sure I will give more emphasis to mountain bike racing and less to cyclocross next year, and it’s not unthinkable that I will be going after series points in WEMS and in the Wisconsin Off-Road Series.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

2016 Velocross At Humboldt Park

Last year the Velocause cycling team introduced a new venue to the Wisconsin Cycling Association cyclocross series: Humboldt Park in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. It was a really fun course that featured a surprising amount of elevation change for that part of the city. When I saw the event reappear on this year’s schedule, I knew I would be going back.

This year’s edition of the race was considerably bumpier than last year’s, but my new tubeless setup allowed me to run lower tire pressure and most of the course favored a power rider who likes to stay on the gas all the time. I got another average result—15th of 20 overall and 10th of the 14 Cat 3s in the 45+ age group of Masters 1/2/3—but the race was very satisfying nonetheless. Aside from one noteworthy mistake, I handled the course well and eventually found a pretty smooth line.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not perfectly suited for cyclocross because I’m not an explosive starter. I need to settle into the race. That means guys like today’s winner, Arlen Spicer (BELGIANWERKX), are long gone by the time I hit my stride. But today I rode across a 1-minute gap to overtake the last couple of guys in the 35+ age group. That kept my head in the game when otherwise I might have resigned myself to 16th place in my age group behind John Young (Hollander Benelux Racing).

Young was inches ahead of me on Lap 1 when I overcooked a corner on the approach to a sharp uphill section, lost all momentum and had to run to the top. The seconds I yielded to him there were difficult to reclaim in the laps that followed. But I remembered outclimbing him at Cross-Shooshko, and with each little hill today I got closer. I made the catch with 2 laps to go—Young gave a word of encouragement as I passed—and I slowly stretched out my advantage to the finish line. It’s a small victory, for sure, to be 15th instead of 16th, but friendly rivalries go a long way when you’re not fighting for podium spots.

I won’t go to the Badger Prairie race in Verona tomorrow; I’m opting for a long road ride instead. But if the weather is fair in Dane County next weekend, I should be back in action at Celtic Cross and the Sun Prairie Cup.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The WORS State Championship Controversy

The Wisconsin Off-Road Series has a full-blown controversy on its hands at the highest level of competition. At issue is the use of volunteer points to secure the overall series title in the men’s Elite category. The state champion for 2016 will be Nathan Guerra (Vision Cycling), whose season was cut short by injury. Guerra didn’t race in the series after the Midwest MTB Championships on July 24. But by volunteering at the Reforestation Ramble on Aug. 21, Guerra earned an additional 186 points. Those points ultimately proved to be the difference in the final standings. Guerra finished with 1,548 points, 56 more than Pete Karinen (True North Apparel).

And Karinen is not happy:

Surely there was a more constructive way to criticize the WORS scoring system, but at least that got the conversation started. The people who are coming to Guerra’s defense—including WORS kingpin Don Edberg—argue that Guerra worked within the rules that governed the 2016 season. Here’s the relevant rule:

“Series competitors who forfeit participation in a race to help run the event may qualify for volunteer points. To receive these points, a point total equal to a racer’s lowest scoring race excluding DNFs, a racer must: 1) contact the race director at least 8 days in advance of the race to apply for acceptance to the race staff, 2) work a minimum of 5 hours on race day, and 3) pick up a VP (volunteer points) form from the WORS tent, fill it out, have their Race Director sign it and turn it in to WORS Timing & Scoring. A series competitor may include only one VP in their overall results. The VP will either replace a competitor’s lowest scoring event with a point value equal to the second lowest score or one equal to their lowest score depending upon the number of scoring events they have in their overall score.”

When he could race, Guerra raced well. He won 3 of the 7 races in which he competed, he never finished lower than 3rd place, and he was undefeated in 6 head-to-head meetings with Karinen. He was the better racer. On the other hand, he did race only 7 times. At the Elite level, a racer’s best 8 results are counted for the overall WORS title. Without those volunteer points, the last of Guerra’s best 8 results would have been a zero. That would have dropped him to 6th place overall, resulting in a silver medal for Justin Piontek (Adventure 212 / Specialized) and a bronze for Ben Senkerik (Team Extreme). Those awards are nothing to sneeze at, as WORS is our USA Cycling-recognized state championship series.

And then there’s the money: as overall champion, Guerra gets a $1,500 prize. He’s a professional racer, after all, and the distinguishing characteristic of professionals is that they get paid. So, the question is not whether Guerra did anything against the rules. The question is whether riders at that level should be able to earn volunteer points in the first place. WORS couldn’t exist without volunteers—they do most of the work while the WORS staff provides the series administration and the USA Cycling officials oversee competition on race days—but volunteers don’t come from the ranks of the professional riders. Of the 36 Elite riders who scored series points, only Guerra earned volunteer points. He used the system to his advantage, but others might have done the same. It’s not just true that the other Elite men didn’t volunteer; none of the other state championship contenders competed in every WORS event. Those were missed opportunities to score points or to replace earlier results with better ones.

Still, to award a state championship under these conditions is far from desirable. I agree with the strict interpretation of the rule, but I also understand the complaints of the people who think there’s something outside of the spirit of competition in this situation. Starting in 2017, the volunteer rule needs to exclude Elite racers. There’s too much at stake for guys who are trying to scrape together a living from a sport with few financial rewards.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

2016 Grafton PumpkinCross

From my home in West Bend, the closest race venue of the WCA cyclocross series is Lime Kiln Park in Grafton. And it’s always a great course, so I anticipate PumpkinCross much more eagerly than most races. But PumpkinCross hasn’t been good to me. I crashed in 2011 and had to settle for 7th place when I might have had a Top 5. In 2012, I was very fit from a successful WORS mountain bike racing season, but heavy rains prompted the Village of Grafton to cancel PumpkinCross to protect the park grounds. In 2013, I attended PumpkinCross as a fan but not as a racer; I was recovering from a broken collarbone. In 2014, I finished in 6th place despite a bad starting position. I went into the race as the series points leader for Cat 4 Masters 45+, but I didn’t get a call-up. I also dropped my chain that year and had to retake 2 positions late in the race. In 2015, I flatted and had to run half a lap to the pits for a new wheel. The best result I could get in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 field was 23rd out of 30 overall, 8th out of 9 Cat 3s. That experience led me to abandon a clinchers-with-tubes setup in favor of the tubeless wheels and tires that I now use.

Today the bike worked perfectly and the weather was perfect and the course was perfect and I was in perfect health … if not necessarily in perfect fitness. My result is nothing to shout from the rooftops, but at least it’s honest: 25th out of 30 overall in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 field, 15th out of 19 Cat 3s. I handled the technical stuff really well, but I lost at least 1 spot every time up the big hill. Coming into today, I had just 5 hours on the bike this week. Those weren’t bad rides, but I knew my top-end fitness was slipping. For most of today’s race, I could see Troy Sable (unattached) just 20 seconds ahead and Dave Dineen (KS Energy Services / MOSH / Team Wisconsin) just 10 seconds ahead, but I couldn’t close the gaps.

As a SuperCup race, the PumpkinCross fields were stacked. There’s no shame in losing to the guys who beat me. Michael Meteyer (Trek Midwest Team), a Cat 2, won the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race. In the Masters 55+ Cat 4/5 race, Steve Cummins (Team Pedal Moraine) took the win.

Next up for me is Velocross at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee on Saturday, Oct. 15. If nothing else, today’s race was good for knocking off some rust from a body that hasn’t been pushed hard enough in the last couple of weeks. By this time next week I hope to rediscover some of the fitness I have lost. A good race in Milwaukee may encourage me to race next Sunday at Badger Prairie in Verona. Right now I’m not committed to Sunday’s race, as I am not chasing series points.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The 2017 WORS Schedule

The Wisconsin Off-Road Series announced its 2017 schedule today, surprising much of the state’s mountain biking community with the news that the long-running season finale in Sheboygan is gone. (The host club for that race dropped the news on Monday.) Removing Sheboygan from the schedule means the entire 10-race season will run in just 4 months, May through August. That leaves September and October free for Wisconsin’s fledgling high school league, which has close ties to WORS.

As I write this, the biggest mystery is where the season will begin on May 7. Based on the map above, I think the first race will be the Englewood Opener in Fall River. That was a new, non-series event this year. But there’s also uncertainty surrounding the WORS Cup. That used to be a 3-day event called the Subaru Cup. This year it was called the Midwest MTB Championships. As a 3-day event, it featured not just a cross-country race, but also short track cross-country and Super D. As a 1-day event, there won’t be enough time or resources to do anything except the cross-country race.

My own plans for 2017 took a hit today. This year I did Race The Lake and my favorite WORS race, the Reforestation Ramble. They were on consecutive Sundays. Next year, they both fall on August 20. I would have liked to do both again. If I had to decide right now, then I would choose the WORS race. I might have series ambitions. The condensed WORS schedule appeals to me, and the Cat 2 (Sport) 50-54 classification is going to be very competitive.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sodden Impact

Go ahead, make more rain.
Are we in a weather funk, or what? In September we had 15 days with measurable rainfall, including 6 out of the last 10. And so far we’re 1-for-1 in October. This weather is killing my cyclocross season. Some cyclocross racers love wet and/or muddy conditions. Not me. The Wisconsin Cycling Association season resumed today in Manitowoc and I was not there. After working overnight and facing the prospect of racing in the rain 70 miles from home, I took a pass.

There’s more going on here than a single decision to skip a race in circumstances that would have made it impossible for me to be successful. My training has been terrible lately. On Monday, very high winds kept me off the bike and behind the lawnmower. On Tuesday, rain forced me to cancel the season finale of the cyclocross practice series at Royal Oaks Park. I did 2-hour training rides on Wednesday and Thursday, then got rained out again on Friday … and again today.

I feel like I’ve lost some of the edge on my fitness. I have lost the mental edge. Immediately after canceling practice on Tuesday, I set up my Raleigh on the trainer in the home gym. I need to make peace with it, but I haven’t yet. The ugly truth is that I am not fully committed to this cyclocross season. As much as I love the sport, I haven’t convinced myself that training and racing in cold, wet conditions is worthwhile when the result is, at best, a mid-pack finish.

I am still what I always was: a guy who just might succeed by outlasting you. The WEMS race at New Fane back on Sep. 17 provides a perfect example. I was in 11th place at the end of Lap 1 and in 10th place at the end of Lap 2, then I jumped up to 5th place by the end of Lap 3. I was still in 5th place at the end of Lap 4, but closing fast on the guy ahead of me. I moved into 4th place early on Lap 5 and held that position for the remainder of the race. But that’s mountain bike racing; cyclocross doesn’t work that way. Explosive starts leave me fighting for the scraps after the first minute. Throw in weather that I truly hate and you have a recipe for demotivation.

Next week’s forecast holds some promise and I still plan to race at PumpkinCross in Grafton on Oct. 8. The WCA season really is just getting started and I shouldn’t give up on it yet. I am hedging my bets, though, by looking for other cycling opportunities. There’s an appealing gravel grinder in downstate Illinois on Oct. 30, for example, that could be a great alternative to another weekend of rotten weather in Wisconsin. And I’m only 468 miles away from a 5,000-mile season. But that’s a consolation prize, and when I’m planning for 2017 I should look for more competition goals early in the season. Autumn is never what I want it to be. Saving myself for it is failing to make best use of my abilities.