Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mixing It Up

From north to south, today I followed the route shown in red.
As I mentioned on Wednesday, this hasn’t been the huge week of cycling for which I hoped.  Today I rode for the first time since Monday and it was great to be back in the saddle.  I’ve been staying busy with weightlifting, a Thursday afternoon hike at Ridge Run County Park, a Friday morning visit to the doctor for a routine physical examination, and yard work throughout the week.  I’m definitely “old school” when it comes to yard work—think manpower, not horsepower—and it’s good exercise all by itself.

Today’s ride was just 40 miles, but they were challenging miles.  First I took the Eisenbahn State Trail to Campbellsport, fighting a steady wind and working pretty hard just to average 14 mph.  The return trip was almost effortless: 18-23 mph the whole way thanks to the tailwind.  Feeling good, I crossed US Highway 45 and took Friendly Drive down to Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area.  Usually I take the flat doubletrack trail through Glacial Blue Hills to Beaver Dam Road, but today I decided to challenge myself on the technical singletrack that the local mountain bikers love so well.

My Giant FCR3 is not a mountain bike; it’s a flatbar road bike intended for “fitness” riders.  But it has a good aluminum frame, a sturdy CrMo fork and cyclocross tires.  It’s more than adequate for my rail trail adventures, but unfit for technical singletrack.  I didn’t expect to get far.

But I surprised myself.  I used a series of switchbacks to reach the top of the ridge to the west of the Ice Age Trail, overcoming rocks, exposed roots and fallen branches.  In one or two spots I could feel the front tire lift off the ground and during a brief moment out of the saddle I almost spun in place as the unweighted rear tire lost its grip.  I made it … not with the panache of a real mountain biker, certainly, but I made it.  Getting back down from the top of the ridge was a different story, one that involved a little walking!  With no suspension, 700x35 tires at 75 psi, brakes that didn’t feel strong enough and a lack of experience, I wasn’t going to risk a crash.

Those few minutes in Glacial Blue Hills made me wonder what I could do with a proper mountain bike.  Despite a couple of holes in my technique, I showed a little talent negotiating the climb.  Next year, with the right equipment … who knows?  Even if used only for a change of pace, a little mountain biking would be great for my overall fitness and my bike handling skills.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cool Is Coming

And this time I’m not talking about the weather.  See the white triangle in the photo above?  If you have walked or ridden on the Eisenbahn State Trail lately, then you may have wondered whether downtown West Bend were about to host some kind of discus throwing championship.  But actually the lines represent the proposed location of the new and improved Museum of Wisconsin Art.  The museum has outgrown its current location next to the library and envisions an ultra-modern replacement.  The new building would be an important piece in the city’s effort to redevelop the corridor east of the Milwaukee River and would link to the Eisenbahn with a new pedestrian path.  Another important piece in the redevelopment of the corridor will be a new covered bridge—to replace the vestigial Fields Furniture bridge—linking the Eisenbahn to Main Street.  Both of these projects took a big step forward yesterday with the announcement of a $407,120 grant.  In the end the corridor will be a bike- and pedestrian-friendly place with the Eisenbahn serving as its main thoroughfare.  And it will have an interesting mix of old and new: the museum’s sleek lines will counterbalance the Victorian charm of the train station and the relocated, remodeled and now re-opened Binkery restaurant.  I don’t need any more incentive to travel the Eisenbahn, but I expect these new attractions will introduce the trail to a lot of people who haven’t yet experienced it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kicks Just Keep Getting Harder To Find

New Balance MX506 Cross-Trainers
I’m still sitting on 4,500 miles for the year.  The extraordinarily high winds of the last two days have kept me off the bike.  Tomorrow doesn’t look promising either.  My hopes for several days of good riding during this week of vacation are pretty well dashed.

But my mind is still very much on cycling and on the auxiliary activities that support my cycling objectives.  Having previewed the stair climbing routine that I expect to be a big part of winter cross-training, I knew I needed different shoes and today I got them.  Tomorrow I might break out my hiking boots and explore the Ice Age Trail.  I’m hungry for fresh air and exercise; I refuse to touch my treadmill or bike trainer this early in the off-season.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mid-Fall Crisis

"You looking for a date ... in 2011?"
For me, autumn is a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful struggle against the inevitability of winter.  And if winter is a time of death, at least it’s a dignified and sterile season that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.  Fall is an old whore, at first glance pretty enough to tease you into believing that winter is still far away, then decrepit and repulsive in its nakedness.

Is that too dark, too bleak?  I did ride today, after all.  The morning was rainy and miserable looking and not at all fit for the Washington County Bicycle Club’s season finale, so I waited until late afternoon when it was only miserable looking.  My 29-mile effort got me to 4,450 so far this year.  I think tomorrow will be a washout, but Monday should be gorgeous and reaching 4,500 should be a joy.  I’ll be off work all next week, looking for opportunities to ride in the afternoons.  At the moment, save Monday, the weather forecast is unfavorable.

While I waited out today’s rain I had plenty of time to think.  And to what did my mind turn?  Racing … that thing in which I dabble, one or two times a year at best.  I have no reason to expect that I would be any good at it.  My greatest effort as a road bike racer yielded 73rd place out of 113 finishers in the 2008 Omro Classic.  But success in racing need not be measured against other competitors; adding more races to my plans would make me fitter, and that’s good enough by itself.  Oh, and it’s fun.

Several races and other timed events have already been announced for 2011 and I think I’d like to pick from a variety of cycling disciplines.  I can imagine myself doing a couple of road races and time trials, a gravel grinder or two, a gran fondo and maybe even an endurance mountain bike race and/or cyclocross.  Over the winter I plan to make some refinements to my Raleigh Competition and my Giant FCR3, but I’m also thinking about picking up a mountain bike.

I ride between 120 and 150 days each year.  A lot of those rides look exactly the same.  By its nature, training requires repetition and there will always be standard routes that I do again and again.  But I also want to be free to sample different things and to punctuate my calendar with special events.

It’s autumn in Wisconsin and a long layoff from outdoor rides is coming.  It’s not too early to think about 2011.  And if a couple of my plans for next year sound like plans for 2010 that didn't come to fruition, that's all the more reason to take another crack at them.  Hope springs eternal.

Hope next summer's eternal, too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Distant Second

Each year, my friend Brian and I try to predict the winners in the major races of the international cycling calendar.  It’s a friendly competition for bragging rights only, and this year it’s Brian who gets to brag.  He amassed 940 points to my 788 and clinched overall victory before the end of the Vuelta a España.

We take turns predicting the winners, then each of us picks a wildcard.  This year we added a rule to prevent us from picking the same riders.  Even when there are prohibitive favorites, for each race we pick four different riders (or teams, in the case of team time trials).  When your pick to win actually does win, that’s worth 10 points.  If he takes second, that’s worth 9 points, and so on through the top 10 places.  Wildcards are worth half the points: if your wildcard actually wins, that’s 5.  And there are no shutouts: if all four picks finish outside of the top 10, then 1 point is awarded to the “Lucky Dog” who finishes highest.

I got off to a great start in January, winning the Tour Down Under 63-41 on the strength of three stage wins from Andre Greipel.  Things were still looking good through February, but in March I had a bad Paris-Nice (lost 50-27) and Criterium International (lost 22-10).  The one-day Spring Classics were a toss-up.

I lost the Giro d’Italia 141-119.  The overall competition was still close, but June was a disaster.  Brian won the Dauphine 50-8 and the Tour de Suisse 36-12.  Things looked bad for me but with a good Tour de France I would be back in the fight.

I won the Tour 134-117 largely through the luck of the draw: I was fortunate to have the first pick for two time trial stages won by Fabian Cancellara and two sprint stages won by Mark Cavendish.  But taking back only 17 points still left a considerable deficit.

I needed a big Vuelta, but my 122-108 victory did little to change the overall.  The remaining races—the US championships, the world championships, Paris-Tours and the Giro di Lombardia—were an anticlimax.

In 152 races, Brian picked the correct winner 23 times.  I did it 18 times.  Each of us got 17 wins from our wildcard picks.  So that’s almost a 50 percent success rate (75-for-152) in getting a winner from one of our choices.  Not bad.  For what it’s worth, Brian picked up 14 “Lucky Dog” points to my 12.

Losing by 152 points is humbling, but I stand by my picks.  During that awful stretch in June when Brian jumped out to a big lead, I had nine consecutive races in which my “winner” failed to yield even a single point.  And just who were the guys who let me down?  Alberto Contador, Denis Menchov, Samuel Sanchez, Levi Leipheimer, Philippe Gilbert, Roman Kreuziger, Andy Schleck, and Mark Cavendish … twice!  It’s not like I picked a bunch of guys who don’t know how to win bike races.  Oh, well.  There’s always next season.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Record-Setting Ride

Today I did the longest bicycle ride I have ever done: 113 miles.  That breaks my previous mark of 109 set in May 2009.  With today’s ride I also set a new personal record for miles in October (413, and counting) and I brought my mileage total for the year to 4,421, now my second-highest mileage total behind last year’s 4,800.

But today was much more than merely an accumulation of statistics.  I spent most of my day with 15 other riders on the Loberg Century.  Now in its fourth year, the event attracts some of the best racers in the area.  For them it is a casually-paced ride at the end of a long season.  For me it was sometimes a challenge to hang on.  I was doing well until we restarted after a lunch break in Elkhart Lake.  That was roughly halfway for the other guys, but for me it was a little more than halfway: the Loberg Century started in Cedarburg but I rode from West Bend to the start.  Restarting after a break is always a challenge for me and my legs didn’t really come around after lunch.  In fact, they started to cramp on the hills, causing me to climb slowly and then work too hard to rejoin the others after the summit.  By the time I reached Mile 88—my Mile 88—I was pretty well cooked.  Then I got my chain stuck between my smallest cog and the frame and had to stop to fix it, and I figured I wouldn’t see the others again.

Disappointed but knowing that I had enough in the tank to get home with a personal record and my only century of 2010, I said goodbye to the SAG vehicle and rode solo to West Bend.  Without the pressure of keeping up with the others, and now able to pick my own route, I started to feel better.  Dropping back into Washington County, I chose the flatter Kettle Moraine Drive instead of the hillier Forest View Road that the others followed.  The distance is roughly equivalent—my route was a bit longer—but without hills to climb I kept the cramps at bay and reclaimed some time.  When the other riders restarted after a rest stop on the north side of West Bend, I caught them.  It was a pleasure to ride with them for a few more miles before we reached my neighborhood and I said goodbye as planned.  My century was done; they still had to return to Cedarburg.

Obviously I would have liked to ride without cramps, but overall I’m very satisfied with the effort.  And it was a day of neat coincidences.  As we arrived at the Elkhart Lake lunch stop, Jimmy Scharrer and Denny Bolinger were just about to depart and continue their own ride.  As I neared West Bend on my improvised solo route, I met Jim Saueressig riding in the opposite direction.  I was happy to see you guys enjoying another gorgeous autumn day.  I hope to see you on Saturday for the Washington County Bicycle Club’s season finale … and I hope that by then I will have recovered from today’s exertions!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gast From The Past

Prairie Hawks are everywhere.
Today it was my pleasure to ride with the Bay View Bicycle Club on a beautiful 44-mile route from the Hamburger Haus in Dundee through the northern Kettle Moraine State Forest.  Fall colors are past their peak now, and at times the wind was too brisk for my taste, but it was a great ride nonetheless.  I spent most of the ride with BVBC members Ted Gast and Scott Siebers, who proved to be good riders and good company.  Scott was a nice surprise.  Ted was more of a known quantity: he and I graduated from high school together.  But despite our history we had never ridden together prior to today.  Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity … even if only for a couple of hours.  Hopefully I’ll have more chances to ride with Ted and Scott next year, perhaps at BVBC’s Lake Country Classic if they’re not too busy staffing the rest stops.

There’s no rest for me this weekend: tomorrow I’m doing this.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Great Weekend Of Cycling

The northern Kettle Moraine has its share of tough little hills.
Thanks in no small part to unseasonably warm weather, it was a great weekend of cycling!  This morning I rode up to New Fane for the Cream City Cycle Club ride.  I was one of 14 riders on a really nice route with a few tough hills.  The route itself was about 45 miles, but riding to/from New Fane brought my total for today to 70 miles.

Back at home, I had lunch and did some channel surfing until the 4 p.m. broadcast of Paris-Tours on Versus.  Unfortunately, that’s the end of racing coverage until next year; Versus won’t broadcast next weekend’s Giro di Lombardia.

Next weekend could be my last big cycling weekend in 2010, and I’m hoping for decent weather but I won’t expect anything like these last two days.  On Saturday the 16th there’s a Bay View Bicycle Club ride at Dundee—probably over many of the roads I traveled today, but that’s OK—and on Sunday the 17th I’d like to do the Loberg Century out of Cedarburg.  I’ve done 13 metric centuries in 2010 but not a single 100-mile ride.

Whatever next weekend brings, I should be rested for it: I don’t expect to ride at all between now and then.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy To Get 'Cross

Today’s Washington County Bicycle Club ride took us from the county fairgrounds to Grafton for PumpkinCross, part of the Wisconsin Cycling Association’s cyclocross series.  Watching from the sidelines, I explained some of the techniques to a couple of fellow club members who hadn’t seen cyclocross before.  It was a good time, and there were lots of familiar faces among the racers and in the crowd.

I think it’s a good thing for the club to show its support for other cycling events in the area, even if they are not road events.  Today it was cyclocross; back in May it was a mountain bike race in Greenbush.  Making such events “rest stops” on our club rides is an easy way to build a closer cycling community and to raise the club’s profile.  It’s not unthinkable that someone might notice us in our club jerseys and decide that it would be fun to be part of a club that takes an interest in different aspects of cycling and cheers for its friends even when they swap their skinny tires for fat ones.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Taking The First Step

"Your results may vary."
Today I tried stair climbing for exercise.  There are three floors to the office building in which I work, and 48 stairs divided (unevenly) among four flights.  After work I changed clothes, put on my heart rate monitor and got moving.  In 30 minutes I burned 228 calories and got my heart rate as high as 125—68 percent of maximum—just by walking the stairs.  My average heart rate was 109—59 percent of maximum—and that’s not super impressive but today wasn’t about intensity.  I wanted only to see what kind of workout the stairs could offer.  At the end of the workout my legs were trembling a little and it was clear that I had asked them to do something unfamiliar.  That’s good.  I’ve found something in my legs that cycling doesn’t hit, and as these workouts progress I will add new strength.  Other lessons learned: get a pair of cross-training shoes and keep a towel handy.  My running shoes seemed a little light duty for stair climbing, especially rounding the corners for each flight.  That will only get worse as I increase the tempo.  And a towel is a must.  There’s very little air moving in the stairwell and today I was sweating pretty heavily after about 15 minutes.  But overall today’s experiment was a success.  With a few little adjustments, stair climbing could be a good cross-training activity this fall and winter.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Marvelous Garmin-Cervélo

The Mighty Thor joins Captain America and a cast of other heroes for 2011.

Do you know how absolutely stacked Team Garmin-Cervélo will be in 2011?  I can’t wait to see this group in action.  And while I’m not convinced that it’s a team for the grand tours, I’m sure it’s going to be massively successful in the spring classics and in shorter stage races like the Tour of California.

This year’s Garmin team already features the great sprinter Tyler Farrar, world-class time trialists David Millar and Dave Zabriskie, experienced and successful GC contenders Christian VandeVelde and Tom Danielson, up-and-coming talents Dan Martin, Peter Stetina, Ryder Hesjedal and Martijn Maaskant, and workhorses Julian Dean and Johan Van Summeren.

Now, add to that group these riders from the soon-to-be-defunct Cervélo Test Team: newly-crowned road race world champion Thor Hushovd, another top sprinter in Heinrich Haussler, and classics specialists Roger Hammond and Andreas Klier.  Brett Lancaster, Daniel Lloyd and Gabriel Rasch will have their roles to play as well.

Obviously, things don’t always work out on the road the way you think they will when you’re making the plans.  Last winter when I saw what Team Sky was doing I thought it would be far more successful than it proved to be.  But I don’t think I’ll have to eat my words about Garmin-Cervélo.  This will be a great team.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Man-Cave Refinements

This will be a familiar view in the months ahead.

Today is the end of Week 2 in my return to weightlifting.  I’m doing upper body exercises on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, alternating muscle groups to allow for adequate recovery.  Mondays and Thursdays are for the pectorals, biceps and triceps, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are all about the deltoids and trapezius.  (The latissimus dorsi will get some love this winter when I return to the fitness room at work.  I don’t have an effective way to exercise them at home.)  I do ab crunches every day and those muscles are pretty strong, but with my diet you’ll never mistake me for The Situation.  I digress … the important thing is that I’m already seeing progress toward the level I was maintaining this summer before I got sidetracked by a shoulder injury on Aug. 6.

I had some extra incentives in the home gym tonight …

My son worked out with me and it was the first night of his new program.  In the last year I had him on a program of very light weights.  His goal was not to gain muscle mass, but rather to learn proper technique and develop muscle memory.  He’s 12 now and his technique is solid.  I’m convinced he can add a little weight without risking injury, but the cornerstone of his program will be pushups.  Lots of pushups.

My other incentive was a new TV, a gift from my employer for 15 years of service.  It’s not a big TV but it fits neatly on the shelf in my home gym, easily visible from my weight bench, treadmill and bike trainer.  You know what I’m really going to like?  Being able to read the sports scores that scroll across the bottom of the ESPN channels!  My old TV had the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio, and in today’s world of 16:9 HD broadcasting the scroll was off the bottom of the screen.  It doesn’t take much to make me happy, and every little bit will help when I’m trying to stay motivated to train through another long winter.