Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Statistical Review

By almost any standard, 2011 was my best-ever cycling year.  I racked up 5,113 miles, a personal record that beat the old mark of 4,800 (set in 2009).  I needed 170 rides to reach that mark, a 30.08 miles per ride average.  My old record for rides in one year was 146, also set in 2009.  Here’s the month-by-month breakdown:

0000 January
0055 February (PR)
0286 March
0465 April
0450 May
0705 June
1020 July     (PR)
0756 August   (PR)
0678 September
0532 October  (PR, tie)
0121 November
0045 December (PR)

July’s total of 1,020 miles is not just a PR for July, but also for any month, crushing the old mark of 800 miles (September 2009).  Also this year, I surpassed 30,000 lifetime miles and 1,000 lifetime rides.  “Lifetime” is everything since the beginning of 2004, my first year as a serious cyclist.

I think it’s odd that in the course of riding so many miles I did just one standard century (100 miles) and six metric centuries (100 kilometers).  The consistency with which I banged out those 30-milers is what allowed me to surpass 5,000.

Only outdoor miles count toward my totals.  Inside I spent 34 hours on the trainer.  For cross-training I spent 17 hours on the treadmill, went hiking on eight occasions, went snowshoeing twice, and did 177 upper-body strength sessions in my home gym.

Perhaps most significantly, I raced far more in 2011 than ever before.  I did my first seven cyclocross races, my first two mountain bike races, and my first sanctioned time trial (plus three unsanctioned TTs) in 2011.  That’s more racing than I did in all previous seasons combined.

Expect even more racing in 2012, but fewer miles.  I won’t rule out a PR in a cold-weather month; that’s low-hanging fruit.  I won’t rule out a PR for a single day; anything more than 113 miles would do.  But I have no interest in pursuing 5,114.  At least, not now.  Maybe when I’m too old to go fast and I’m living in a warmer climate with nothing but time on my hands …

Monday, December 26, 2011

Better Than Any Treadmill

I really was tempted to ride outside today.  We don’t usually see green grass, brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the low 40s in Wisconsin on the day after Christmas.  But a strong, cold wind convinced me to leave the bike behind and go hiking instead.  I hadn’t gone hiking in Ridge Run County Park since February, so that was my destination this afternoon.  I gave myself a 1-hour limit and a challenge to see how many times I could complete the Blue Loop.  The answer: 5 times.  The loop is 0.8 miles so that’s a brisk 4 mph on rolling and sometimes rocky terrain.  Today’s weather brought out several other hikers and a few trail runners.  I’m jealous of the runners, but I don’t think my knees and ankles would hold up for long if I were to try running on any surface.  That limitation was a big reason I got into cycling in the first place.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Tis Expensive

Santa rocks a single-speed with an elliptical chaining.
Buying a good Christmas gift for a cyclist can be a challenge.  Even something as seemingly ordinary as a spare tube comes with perils.  Which type of valve, Presta or Schrader?  What size?  How long a valve stem?  Butyl rubber or latex?  The more I ride, the more specific my Wish List becomes.  In Monday’s mail I received a gift card for Performance Bike.  That’s eminently useful to me, easily converted into just the right bike part or article of clothing.

Several websites have published gift ideas for cyclists.  I like this one because its recommendations are so practical.  A bicycle can be your budget’s best friend, saving you thousands of dollars a year if you use it for transportation.  But if you ride for sport and/or competition, cycling can be massively expensive.  It’s not always the big ticket items that get you; little expenses really add up.  For example, this year I paid $410 just for permission to ride:

$285   race registration fees
$ 60   USA Cycling license
$ 25   state parks vehicle sticker
$ 20   state trail pass
$ 20   Washington County Bicycle Club dues


And I didn’t race as much as many of my teammates and friends.  Some of them spent more than $1,000 on registration fees.

I spent $465 this year on cycling-specific clothing, $220 on tires and tubes, $445 on other parts and bike shop services.  While riding more than 5,100 miles this year I wore out a few tires, punctured a few tubes, popped a couple of spokes and burned off a set of brake pads.  Cycling has consumables and I go through stuff.  But my budget-buster was the Diamondback Steilacoom RCX cyclocross bike—a great deal at $1,000 but still a financial stretch for me.  Add it all up and I spent more than $2,500 on cycling in 2011.

Many of this year’s purchases will continue to serve me in 2012, but I am planning for a few upgrades.  The road bike will get a new wheelset, cassette and saddle.  The cyclocross bike will get new tires before the racing season begins.  Licenses and race registrations will be a bigger expense next year as I compete more, and I will continue to upgrade my cycling wardrobe with additional Team Pedal Moraine kit from Voler.  Then there's the new mountain bike I want, a purchase decision I deferred this year.  There's always something.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And You're From ... ?

 
Today I was surprised to learn that my home state, Pennsylvania, has produced more Major League Baseball players than any other state except California.  Roy Campanella, Nellie Fox, Ken Griffey Sr., Ken Griffey Jr., Dick Groat, Reggie Jackson, Tommy Lasorda, Christy Mathewson, Stan Musial, Mike Piazza and Honus Wagner all were born in the Keystone State.  So was the 1982 AL Cy Young Award winner: Pete Vuckovich of the Milwaukee Brewers.  There are hundreds more that you wouldn't recognize.

My little hometown, West Newton, has produced just one Major Leaguer.  His career wasn’t nearly as illustrious as those of the men listed above.  Jimmy Uchrinscko played just 3 games for the 1926 Washington Senators, allowing 13 hits, 8 walks and 9 earned runs in 8 innings out of the bullpen.  He struck out no one, had an ERA of 10.13, and was 0-for-2 as a hitter.  On the upside, I suppose, was his fielding prowess: he cleanly handled all 3 balls that were hit back to him.

Jimmy was born in 1900 and died in 1995.  A lot of the Pennsylvania-born players came out of the 1800s: men who lived, played, and died before there were any teams west of St. Louis.  These days the Major Leagues are dominated by players born in California, Texas and Florida.  That dominance is the product of two factors: population trends and weather.  Baseball is a game that rewards skills as much as raw athleticism, and skills develop more fully when you can play outside all year.

So, what about cycling?  It doesn’t depend on fair weather to the extent baseball does, but is there a correlation between birthplace and professional success?  This season, 10 Americans appeared in the UCI WorldTour rankings.  Here are their names and places of birth:
  • Levi Leipheimer             Montana
  • Chris Horner                Oregon
  • Tyler Farrar                Washington
  • Taylor Phinney              Colorado
  • Tom Danielson               Connecticut
  • George Hincapie             New York
  • Andrew Talansky             Florida
  • Christian Vande Velde       Illinois
  • Dave Zabriskie              Utah
  • Tejay Van Garderen          Washington
You could say there’s a bias toward the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest.  But, of course, birthplace and residence aren’t the same thing.  Back in Jimmy Uchrinscko’s day, people didn’t move around much.  Jimmy died just 14 miles from his birthplace and was buried at West Newton Cemetery.  Leipheimer may have been born in Montana, but he has lived in California for years.  Danielson now calls Colorado home.  Hincapie is the big man on campus in Greenville SC.  And so on.

And none of that begins to account for the American riders’ overseas homes.  Their racing schedules—dominated by events in Europe—demand that the riders base themselves in Europe for much of the year.  The Australians do the same thing.  Is Cadel Evans now an Italian and Robbie McEwen a Belgian?  You could make that argument.

I’m inclined to think that success at the top level isn’t related to birthplace or to current residence.  At least, not yet.  But the domestic road racing scene in America now is dominated by riders from Colorado, Utah and California.  Will those states become to cycling what California, Texas and Florida have become to baseball?

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Importance Of Being Idle

Today is the end of a 14-day period without any saddle time.  I needed the break.  Physically I was OK—I wasn’t really bothered by some soreness in my left Achilles tendon—but mentally I checked out of the 2011 cycling season somewhere around Nov. 16.  At that point I had surpassed my 5,000-mile goal and I had caught a little cold that ended any realistic prospect of squeezing in another cyclocross race.

During the break I received emails and Facebook updates from friends and teammates who either were still racing or were coming back from their own breaks to begin winter training programs.  I’m planning on an indoor trainer session tomorrow but that doesn’t signal the start of my own program.  I simply want to knock off a little rust and see how I feel.  On Sunday I may venture outside at mid-afternoon, but I will require sunshine, light winds and temperatures close to 40.  I’ll go for a hike if the weather proves less appealing.  I’m still in the “want to” and not the “have to” part of the off-season.

Those friends and teammates who already are into a formal training plan have racing objectives as early as April.  Not me.  I have a few competition goals in mind but my “A” races come later in the season.  At least, I think they do.  Wisport has released only a fraction of its 2012 schedule.  The Tour of America’s Dairyland has released its dates but no specifics.  WEMS, ABR and the WCA have released nothing at all.  In the absence of these details it’s tempting to think of everything prior to September as merely a prelude to cyclocross, into which I want to immerse myself.  Realistically, new goals will come into focus as the various racing bodies publish their calendars.  And the WCA’s Wisconsin Cup series—usually interesting to me only from the perspective of a fan—could tempt me in 2012 with the inclusion of more road races.

Pursuing 5,000 miles sometimes turned cycling into a job, and just as I enjoy vacation days free from any responsibility to my employer, so too am I enjoying this time off the bike.  For the rest of the month I will continue with weightlifting, cross-training activities like hiking, and only occasional rides on the trainer or outdoors, weather-permitting.

In January I will recommit to the rigors of a formal plan.  I will be in Atlanta for three weeks on a special work assignment, and I will have my bike and my trainer with me.  I’m really counting on that time.  At the end of each workday I will be free from all other commitments and distractions.  My weeknights will be filled with trainer rides and trips to the company’s impressive fitness center; my weekends will be spent outdoors, building base miles in 50-degree weather.  Equally important, I will have complete control of my diet, which at home is too frequently compromised by a surfeit of irresistible junk food.  There’s no reason I shouldn’t come home in great shape.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Toy Story

When I was a kid, the weeks leading up to Christmas truly were the most wonderful time of the year.  I loved toys.  Hot Wheels were a big favorite during my elementary school days.  At less than $1 apiece they were the go-to toy for every boy in town, a more-than-suitable stocking stuffer or birthday present.  And like baseball cards, Hot Wheels were eminently portable and formed something of an unofficial currency.  I was more interested in racing my cars than in trading them, though, and that was a bit of a problem.  Drag racing was easy to simulate thanks to gravity, but approximating Formula 1 or NASCAR was nearly impossible.  There were a couple of race sets that attempted to solve the problem with hand-operated levers or battery-powered pinch wheels that would propel the cars around the circuit, but they didn’t work as well as their commercials would have had us believe.

For me, hope arrived in the incredible array of toys available from the Sears & Roebuck catalog: slot cars.  Once I knew they existed, there was no going back to Hot Wheels.  Sure, I dabbled briefly with the rechargeable Sizzlers line—I owed the Hot Wheels brand that much for the years of joy it had given me—but soon AFX slot cars dominated my Wish List.  I quickly moved on to the more expensive but faster G-Plus series and built a massive racetrack.  From the ages of 11-15, slot car racing was a big part of my life.  Then my family moved to a new house.  The racetrack had to be broken down and packed away.  A few years ago I fired up the cars once again—not just out of nostalgia, but also to see whether my son would like them.  His reaction was lukewarm.  Everything went back into storage.

It’s fun to reminisce, but I’m not tempted to set up the slot car track yet again.  Cycling is my sporting passion now.  So it was with surprise and then disappointment that I came across this unholy marriage of the two:


If the box hasn’t already convinced you of the complete absence of fun to be derived from the toy within, then check out the accompanying video.

Nice sidehacks.

I admit I don’t understand the many different flavors of velodrome racing.  Perhaps the Scalextric version provides for a reasonable pursuit, I don’t know.  Certainly, no one is going to model a miniature Graeme Obree and play with this thing for an entire hour.  And at £50—almost $80—this is an expensive toy!  With its 2012 London Olympics tie-in, maybe the idea was to create a toy for the British executive set: something whimsical and collectible but not really intended to be used.  If it had been up to me this toy never would have seen the light of day.  My idea?  Victoria Pendleton inflatable doll.  At just £16 the stores would be, uh, blowing them out.  But do mind our return policy, gov’nor, as there isn’t much of a used market.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Iron, Man!

Every year at about this time I fall in love with the home gym again.  I lift weights throughout the year but it’s different once winter arrives.  It’s better.  During the warm weather months—and especially during the softball season—I lift weights to maintain upper body strength and to prevent injury.  Necessary, but dull.  During the winter I mix new exercises into my strength training sessions and I periodically adjust resistance and repetitions.  It’s great to see the results as I add more weight to the bars.

This week I put pushups back into the routine for Mondays and Thursdays, plus I added deadlifts to my Tuesday and Friday program.  Deadlifts are new to me and I think they will be a great addition.  They work so many different muscles that they may be the single-best exercise for overall strength.  I needed something to work the legs, glutes, core and back, and deadlifts do all of that and more.

So, on Mondays and Thursdays I target the chest, biceps, triceps and lats, and on Tuesdays and Fridays I work the legs, glutes, core, back and shoulders.  I move quickly from one exercise to the next, so there’s an aerobic benefit too.  Each session takes about 30 minutes.  On most days, I lift before I eat during a 1-hour lunch break.  That leaves my evenings free for indoor bike trainer workouts … but I’m not ready to throw myself into those just yet.

Last November and December I was doing stair climbing workouts at my office.  I liked the idea of a workout with some impact to stimulate bone cell growth.  Hiking, snowshoeing and the occasional treadmill walk will have to fill that role this winter.

The overall plan is no different: add strength but don’t add bulk.  Here at the end of November I am 5 pounds lighter than I was last year.  That’s a good start.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Reader

Jason depicted with non-ANSI/Snell approved helmet
You know me as a cyclist whose love for the sport sometimes borders on monomania.  You may not know that I am also a reader.  I began a reading program, of sorts, at the beginning of 1997, so I’m nearing the end of my 15th year.  Initially I challenged myself to read at least one book per month.  To go from zero to 12 books a year sounded like a big commitment, but I enjoyed reading so much that I quickly got ahead of schedule.  Currently I’m reading the ancient Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts.  It will be the 323rd book I have read, and that works out to more than 21 books per year.

Now, I should note that in 1997 I was not yet a father and I didn’t own a home or a bicycle.  I was married, had a full-time job and played a little softball, but I had tons of time to fill and books were a great choice.  My reading pace has slowed in recent years as other responsibilities and interests have demanded more time.  In those early years I read a lot of science fiction and a lot of “English class” books that I had failed to appreciate or had entirely missed during my formal education.

The inevitable happened in April 2005: I read my first cycling book.  It was called Fitness Through Cycling and I honestly can’t remember anything from it.  I followed that with LeMond: The Incredible Comeback of an American Hero.  In 2006 I read my first piece of cycling-themed fiction: The Memory of Running, by Ron McLarty.  Then came French Revolutions and Lance Armstrong and the 1999 Tour de France, each of which—I feel sure—also contains a fair amount of fiction of a different sort.  For Christmas I received The Rider, by Tim Krabbe.  It’s an excellent look at the mindset of a road racer.  I also received Bob Roll’s Bobke II, which is a lot of fun.  Then I read Michael Barry’s Inside the Postal Bus, which came off as an attempt to capitalize on Armstrong’s fame.  In 2009 I read Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France, by Rick Yancey—entertaining stuff, and still my most-recent cycling book.

Since 2009 I have gone back to my old habit of filling in the holes of English classes past: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and so on.  But as Christmas approaches I’m counting on Santa to deliver Team 7-Eleven, by Geoff Drake.  Released earlier this year, it’s an in-depth look at the first American team to challenge the European cycling establishment.  That’s a piece of cycling history I don’t know very well.  Must get through Jason and the Argonauts soon to ensure I can unwrap my new book on Christmas and begin reading it immediately.

Jason, by the way, is on a quest for the Golden Fleece.  I suspect he’s going to find it hanging with the skinsuits in Mario Cipollini’s closet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ill-Timed

On Wednesday I could feel a cold coming on so I skipped my trainer workout.  Yesterday and earlier today I suffered from nasal congestion, a scratchy throat, dull body aches and a general malaise.  This evening I’m starting to feel better, but the timing of this setback was terrible.  I’m definitely not going to race in the state cyclocross championships on Sunday.  Since my last race on Nov. 5, I’ve ridden only 32 miles outdoors and only twice on the indoor trainer.  By Sunday I may have few remaining cold symptoms, but I wouldn’t be fit enough to race well and I believe I would risk a relapse into sickness, perhaps of longer duration and greater severity.

Racing in the state championships would have been a fitting end to my cycling season, regardless of the outcome, if I had been healthy.  As things stand, I feel like there’s unfinished business.  Is that silly?  I went into the cyclocross season with no expectation of doing so many races or of competing this late in the year.  Now I’m looking at Wizard Cross in Madison on Dec. 4 and I’m thinking, Maybe if the weather isn’t too bad …

I’m also thinking about the 2012 edition of Cheesehead Roubaix.  Today I mapped out the first of many possibilities for the route, using Lakeland School in the Town of Saukville as the start/finish.  We nearly ran out of parking this year at Goeden County Park, so for 2012 the start/finish likely will change even if most of the route stays the same.  The unpaved roads are the attraction, and there are only so many ways to connect them in a sensible route that doesn’t double back onto itself.  Don’t expect a final route announcement for a couple of months at least.  I have more possibilities to explore.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Lady’s Malady And Me

My wife Maria caught a nasty little cold last weekend and stayed home from work on Monday and Tuesday.  Today she went back to work and she seems to be getting better.  But now I’m worried about myself.  For me, a “sick” day is when I feel too crappy to work out.  I haven’t had one since October 2009.  A cold would take me out of the state cyclocross championships on Sunday.  I’m definitely fighting something at the moment.  I’m not yet in its grip and I may stay ahead of it.  Yesterday it was great to ride in the sunshine for an hour on my lunch break.  Today I planned to spend an hour on the indoor trainer, but now I’m going to rest instead.  One thing is certain: I won’t preregister for the race.  The deadline is tomorrow and even if I’m feeling OK there’s no guarantee that I won’t be a mess by Sunday.  Wait and see.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Memory Lane

I’m working my way through a big stack of cycling magazines that I acquired second-hand last Friday.  (Thanks, Jim!)  The oldest is from 2003 and it’s interesting to see where the sport was then.  In 2003 I bought a mountain bike just to ride around town a couple of times a week to keep my legs in shape for the softball season.  I wouldn’t think of myself as a cyclist until 2004, but by the summer of 2003 I was starting to peek at cycling magazines, websites and TV coverage.  I didn’t yet understand the sport’s terminology and tactics, its history and traditions, or the extent to which doping brought into question the results of almost every major race.

I have made it through all of the issues up to and including December 2006.  In my own development as a cyclist, 2006 was the year of my first road race.  But in the pro peloton, Operación Puerto and the Floyd Landis debacle at the Tour de France made 2006 a disastrous year.  Flipping through these old magazines is a little depressing.  On the other hand, it’s great to see the Fassa Bortolo kit again, and Paolo Bettini, and Mario Cipollini …

There are better days ahead.  Tomorrow I dive into the stack from 2007, knowing that a brilliant Tour de France awaits.  I also climb back on the bike after resting today.  I have workouts scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (a light one) in preparation for Sunday’s state cyclocross championships.  I confess that I’m not 100 percent committed to the race, but as the weather forecast improves so too does my outlook.  I suppose I can live with 30 minutes of cold, but I can’t live with cold and wet.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ah, Dreams ...

This morning I had one eye on work and one eye on the pro cyclocross race from Niel, Belgium.  Cyclingfans.com is a great resource for links to streaming cyclocross races, much in the same way Steephill.tv keeps me linked to road events.  Today’s winner, Sven Nys, has been one of the sport’s dominant riders.  Nys won the world championship in 2005 and has reached the podium of the world championships on six other occasions.  I grabbed a screen shot as Nys neared the end of the last lap:


Niel is a small town with one big industrial site for concrete and landscaping products.  Each lap took the riders through the site, where the course was lined with stacked bags of the company’s wares.  The course also included grassy fields, cobblestone streets and other features you would expect, but what a cool way to bring attention to a local business!

Someday we’re going to develop Park Site O—which today is an unknown and unused city property tucked between US 45, the Kettle Moraine Ice Center and Northfield (Bend Industries)—into a permanent cycling park like this one.  At about 80 acres it’s big enough for an outdoor velodrome, mountain bike trails, a pump track and a cyclocross course.  And when we host our annual cyclocross race we'll team up with Northfield and run part of the course through its yard.  The race will finish with a mad dash around the apron of the velodrome.  Someday.

Can you imagine?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Preparing For Season's End

Did you miss me?
I have decided to skip both of this weekend’s cyclocross races.  The combination of travel plus expense plus uncertain weather makes me inclined to stay close to home.  But I still want to race at the state championships on November 20 and I will continue to train with that goal in mind.  Yesterday was a scheduled rest day.  Today was chilly and wet, so I did an indoor trainer ride for the first time since April 15.  And while I would prefer to ride outside, using the trainer actually makes me more likely to follow the plan that I hope will sharpen my fitness over the next week and a half.  Riding outside makes it hard to think about 3 minutes of this interval followed by 4 minutes of that interval.  Inside, intervals break up the monotony and make the sessions go faster.

I will hope for opportunities to ride outside this weekend, of course, but I may have to be patient and wait out more chilly, wet weather.  That’s not exactly the way to harden myself against what could be a very cold morning at the state championships, but it won’t do me any good to get sick in the meantime.

I avoided the indoor trainer completely in November 2010.  But having competition goals this late in the year has changed the equation.  With sundown at around 4:30 p.m. and deteriorating weather conditions, riding inside is a necessary evil.  When the state championships are behind me I will be happy to ignore the trainer again, perhaps until January.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Disappointed At Estabrook

A bad start proved too much to overcome today at Estabrook Park.  I felt well-prepared for my seventh cyclocross race of the year—not over-confident, but I’ve done it enough now to know what to expect.  I had a decent spot on the starting line but, for whatever reason, as we sprinted away I took forever to clip into my left pedal.  It just wouldn’t engage, and in about 30 seconds of chaos my chances for a high finish were already gone.

Estabrook was not a very technical course, so every mistake was magnified by the speed with which the other racers continued.  Having lost time at the start there were few opportunities for me to regain positions.  I was fairly smooth through the trees at the north end of the park, through the barriers and the corkscrew.  I was fast on the singletrack that led to the run-up and fast enough on the run-up itself.  But just about everyone was fast: unlike last Sunday’s race in Sheboygan, today’s race brought out all of the top riders in Masters 45+ Cat 4.  In this field I would have been happy to crack the Top 10.  But what I have to live with is 15th out of 26.

It’s now looking pretty unlikely that I will finish the season in the Top 10 on series points, and that’s OK.  I expect to skip next Saturday’s race at Cam-Rock, but I may give the Silver Lake Border Battle a try next Sunday.  I would like to compete in the state championship race at Hales Corners on Nov. 20 and Silver Lake would be a final tuneup.  But the series continues after the state championship and into December with three days of racing in Dane County.  I can’t commit to that.  The weather, the travel, the expense … I just don’t see it.

My hiking boots are already paid for, and they’re calling to me.

Friday, November 4, 2011

5,000 Miles

I have reached 5,000 miles of cycling, year-to-date.  It’s a big deal for me and I’m glad it’s done.  I needed 164 rides to reach the milestone, an average of 30.49 miles per ride.  That per-ride average is actually my lowest since 2005, but 164 rides is the most I’ve ever done in one year.  Working from home has helped.  This year I have been able to ride on days that would have been closed to me if I were still commuting to and from the office in Brookfield.  In early spring I sometimes rode on my lunch break, taking advantage of the warm afternoon sun.  Here in autumn, I still can ride after work instead of wasting the remaining daylight on the drive home.

Getting to 5,000 has satisfied my desire for a big milestone and I will go into 2012 with no desire to keep pushing out the personal best.  I think next year will include more competitive events and my focus will shift to shorter, more intense workouts.  That’s not to say there won’t be some long days in the saddle.  I keep thinking about the Ride Across Indiana, Race the Lake, and my three-day rail-trail excursion from Pittsburgh to Washington DC.

I’ve also got Georgia on my mind.  On Sunday I mentioned an impending business trip.  I thought it would take place this month but it was postponed until January.  At that time I will be looking at up to three full weeks in Atlanta, and I just might have to take the bike.  By then I will be itching to ride outside again.  Atlanta’s weather in January is a lot like ours in April, so there should be opportunities.

Tomorrow I’ll be at Estabrook Park for the next installment of the WCA Crank Daddy’s Cyclocross Series.  If I’ve done the math correctly, then I’m currently 8th in Masters 45+ Cat 4.  In the most optimistic scenario I could finish as high as 4th but realistically I’m very unlikely to compete in all of the remaining events.  Riders I usually beat in competition will pass me in the standings by picking up points in races I skip.

And I am ready to do something else for a little while.  Cyclocross has been a blast, but the weather may soon get too cold for me and my asthma.  I haven’t gone hiking since April and I would like to do some of that before the snow comes.  Let me relax and recharge a little before winter training begins for the 2012 cycling season.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Presenting: Winter Bike Day


Keep this event in mind; by the time Feb. 11 rolls around, you'll be anxious for the new cycling season to begin.  There won't be a trainer party series at Mutual Mall this winter, so take advantage of this 1-day offering.  The activities at Mutual Mall are open to everyone.  The meeting at Riverside Brewery & Restaurant is for members and prospective members of the Washington County Bicycle Club.  If you'd like to add a cycling-related activity to the schedule of events, please let me know.  There's still time to change the itinerary and we have plenty of floor space at Mutual Mall.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Told Ya

On paper, my result in yesterday’s cyclocross race was unimpressive.  But there was more to the story.  In today’s race at Sheboygan, I got the Top 5 result that I knew I had in me.  This morning was cold, windy and damp and turnout was much smaller than on Saturday, but by taking 5th place in the 11-man Masters 45+ Cat 4 field I added 14 more points to my series total.

I would love to tell you exactly where I am in the series standings, but the WCA has been slow to update its website.  I believe I’m still firmly in the Top 10.  Timm Jacobson took an easy victory today.  A couple of his main rivals for the season title didn’t line up with us.  One or two guys may be looking at category upgrades and that would clear them out of my way, but I would rather move up the standings by competition than by administration.

Today’s race followed some of the WORS mountain bike course, including the infamous “Equalizer,” an imposing climb that I was content to run up on all three laps.  In my race, I didn’t see anybody ride it and it didn’t appear to be a big factor in the final standings.  I didn’t use it to catch people and nobody used it to catch me.  I was very good on the gravel descent on the east end of the quarry lake, and on the gravel two-track that led into the woods.  The Equalizer was our exit from the short section of wooded singletrack.  Each lap began and ended with several hundred meters of bumpy, open fields.  It was hard to pedal with power over the matted grass.  There wasn’t much passing after the first lap, and I spent all of Lap 3 merely preserving my position.

So, what’s next?  Tomorrow I will be back on the job after a week of vacation.  My email inbox is ready to burst and this week could be very busy.  I should know soon when I am expected in Atlanta for a special project.  That could be a week-long commitment with weekend travel days, and obviously that would keep me from racing.  I’m probably OK for next Saturday’s cyclocross race at Estabrook Park, but anything thereafter is a big question mark.  Must keep the company happy to keep drawing the salary to pay for the cycling stuff I’ve already bought!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Making The Most Of It

There's still some joy in Mudville ...
In baseball, sometimes a hitter takes a mighty swing but makes poor contact, sending the ball dribbling into the field of play.  If he hustles and beats the throw to first base, then someone is sure to say, “It’ll look like a line drive in the box score.”  A hit is a hit, statistically speaking, whether it be a slow roller or a blistering line drive.

In today’s cyclocross race at Washington Park in Milwaukee, I placed 13th out of 21 in the Masters 45+ Cat 4 field.  That’s a statistical fact.  But just as a baseball box score can obscure the circumstances when a hitter succeeds in spite of himself, so too can race results give a false impression of one’s performance.  Today I was much better than the final result indicates.

I got off to a very good start and within a couple of minutes was starting to pull away with a lead group of about 10 riders, including the top guys in the series.  A crash put Timm Jacobson on the ground … and behind me for the first time all year.  I felt I was working my way toward a Top 5 finish and perhaps even a podium spot.  I bunny-hopped the second barrier section: a “coffin.”  This was the Halloween ’cross race after all, and a lot of the riders and spectators were in costume.  Bunny-hopping was the shorter, faster way through that part of the course; some riders chose the detour and my decision to hop the barrier allowed me to move up a couple of spots.  But advantage soon turned to disadvantage: by the halfway point in Lap 1 it was clear I had pinch-flatted, almost certainly a result of landing the bunny-hop on half-filled tires.  Now down to zero PSI in my rear tire, I couldn’t corner and I began to lose positions.  But I held the bike upright and made it back to the SRAM pit area just short of the finish line.

The SRAM mechanic set me up with a loaner wheel, but by the time I got rolling again I was almost certainly dead last in my category.  I began Lap 2 knowing it would be just a 3-lap race.  The leaders were gone and so was any prospect of a high finish, but I was determined to reclaim as many positions as possible.  Finishing 21st would have meant 0 series points and that prospect just wasn’t acceptable; I want to finish the series in the Top 10.  Every time I passed someone I said to myself, “That’s another point.”  It was motivating.  I earned 6 series points for my 13th-place finish, and that’s a whole lot better than nothing.

So, I did what I could under less-than-ideal circumstances.  It would be easy to be disappointed by the missed opportunity, but I fought to the end.  Hard work paid off today despite misfortune, and that gives me confidence for tomorrow’s race at Sheboygan.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Round And Round, Round 2

Back in September I thought I had figured out my optimal configuration of bikes and wheelsets.  Unfortunately I didn’t figure on the Equation wheels—stock on the Diamondback Steilacoom—being compatible only with Shimano/SRAM 10-speed cassettes.  So much for using them on the 9-speed Giant OCR1, which I had devoted to indoor training.  Here’s the new plan:

I mounted my Mavic Aksium Race wheels on the Steilacoom and have used them with much satisfaction in cyclocross races and for training rides on the Eisenbahn State Trail.  I mounted the Equation wheels on the Raleigh Competition, now that my road bike season is over.  I will use the Competition for indoor training.  The Equation wheelset—unimpressive though it otherwise may be—has the advantage of being fully-compatible with the road bike and the ’cross bike: no cassette change required.  Over the winter I intend to acquire a new wheelset for the Competition.  I will use the Equations only indoors unless a broken spoke or some other failure demands a quick change to keep the Competition or the Steilacoom rolling outside.

I have decided to sell the Giant OCR1 with the Easton EA70 wheelset, a nice deal for somebody.  Selling the OCR1 and my Giant FCR3 will cut my fleet in half, but that’s OK because the Competition and the Steilacoom complement each other so well.  And I still would like to add a mountain bike for the occasional WORS/WEMS race.  Selling my backup bikes will free up some space and generate some much-needed cash, perhaps enough to fund the mountain bike completely.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spectacular Saturday

Great weather greeted me this morning at Doyne Park in Milwaukee as I lined up for the sixth race in the WCA Crank Daddy’s Cyclocross Series.  It was my fourth race of the year and my first since Oct. 8.  During the last two weekends I felt a little guilty for not racing, but before today’s juniors race I had a good pre-ride and I knew I was ready to compete.  The start of the race was fast but didn’t put me in the red.  I was in control of myself and my bike, ready to work my way steadily through the field for four laps.

Nice plan.  Didn’t work.  On consecutive laps, riders crashed right in front of me and left me nowhere to go.  These breaks in my momentum were costly.  I followed a Masters 35+ guy for the first half of the final lap, then passed him and bridged up to three riders in my category.  Team Extreme’s John Senkerik pulled us around for a while and it was clear that the other two were happy to follow.  I passed those two near the pits and hoped I would have enough left to overtake John before the finish line.  I was right on his wheel as we reached the barriers but he got back into his pedals quicker than I did and I simply ran out of time.  He was about 50 feet ahead of me going into the last turn, started his sprint earlier and beat me by a second or two at the line.  I finished 7th out of 20 racers in Masters 45+ Cat 4.  My first Top 5 finish would have been a possibility if not for the crashes that detained me.  The podium still seems out of reach, though, as there are three or four guys who are just dominating the category each week.

Props to the My Wife Inc. guys for today’s course and all the hard work that goes into hosting a race.  Today’s event originally was scheduled for Kletzsch Park but had to change venues due to a scheduling conflict.  Race organizers had only a few days to lay out the new course.  What we got was a very fast course—not too technically demanding, but more than serviceable.  I spent at least half the race in the big chainring.

I realized today that mine is not the only Diamondback Steilacoom on the WCA circuit.  Daniel Dolney, a Cat 4 from ISCorp, has one too.  You see all sorts of bikes at cyclocross races.  One guy raced today on an old Trek 820 with skinny tires.

So, today helped to solidify my position in the Top 10 on series points.  I expect to be back in action next weekend for Halloween Cross at Washington Park in Milwaukee and for the Sheboygan Bicycle Company Classic.  I don’t expect the weather to be as nice as it was today, but as long as it’s dry I think I’ll be OK.

Late this afternoon I did an easy ride around town to soak up what remained of the sunshine.  While I was at it I also established a new personal record for mileage in a single calendar year.  I have reached 4,813 miles in 2011, beating the old mark of 4,800 that I set in 2009.  Nice, but now anything short of 5,000 will be a disappointment.  On to Sunday, then a week of vacation …

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Luxury Of Time

In the quest for my first 5,000-mile year I still have 250 miles to go.  That’s not much, but it is 21 miles more than I rode last year between October 19 and December 31.  And the clock is ticking on Daylight Saving Time, which expires in less than three weeks.  Weekday rides are about to become a near-impossibility.

But I’m not worried.  Unused vacation time is my trump card.  I will be on vacation all of next week, I have a four-day weekend planned for Thanksgiving, and I still have two weeks to schedule.  If push really comes to shove, I’ll drive myself to a place with warmer weather and reach my goal there.

For financial reasons I would prefer to reach my goal closer to home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the familiar roads and trails of Washington County.  I don’t feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth from my state trail pass, so next week may include a long rec trail adventure.

The remainder of this week looks dreadful.  Tomorrow and Thursday are probably off days due to rain and high winds.  That leaves Friday for a final pre-race workout … hopefully.  The current forecast is favorable for Saturday’s cyclocross race at Doyne Park in Milwaukee.  Originally the race was to be held at Kletzsch Park in Glendale, but a scheduling conflict within the county parks department forced the race to relocate.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Downtime

Sometimes real life intrudes on the cycling fantasy in which I like to spend most of my time.  Earlier this week I was burning out from too many consecutive days on the bike.  Now I’m dying to get back on the bike because I have been away too long.  Thursday was my daughter’s birthday and we got some rain, so instead of a ride I had a big restaurant meal.  Friday evening was all about yard work.  My son and I raced against the setting sun, ridding the front yard of leaves and mowing the lawn just before dark.  Today we welcomed family and friends to the house for a birthday party, preparations for which dominated my day.  But honestly, I might have taken a pass on today anyway.  High winds would have made for frustrating riding.  And tomorrow doesn’t look much better, but tomorrow must be different.  I’m a week away from my next cyclocross race, and I should be building fitness rather than allowing it to leak away.

Early this morning I watched a webcast of the Giro di Lombardia, the last major road event of the professional calendar.  It’s a shame Versus no longer broadcasts this event, because it runs on some of the most scenic roads in Europe.  But throughout the year I recorded approximately 40 hours of televised coverage, starting with Paris-Nice and continuing through Paris-Tours.  Reliving the 2011 season on DVR will help me through the indoor trainer season that will be here soon enough.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

30,000 Career Miles

Early in today’s ride I surpassed 30,000 career miles.  As I have been a cyclist only since 2004, I think that’s noteworthy.  Sure, there are several hundred undocumented miles in my past.  But that wasn’t cycling; that was just being a kid on a bike.

By the end of today’s ride I had surpassed 4,700 miles year-to-date, putting me less than 100 miles away from the personal record I set in 2009.  But, of course, I won’t be content to stop at 4,801.  This year I must reach 5,000.  That’s the magic number because I won’t feel compelled to better it.  The next plateau, 6,000 miles, is neither realistic nor attractive.

The relentless pursuit of miles can be counterproductive.  Sometimes I should be doing shorter, harder efforts.  Sometimes I should be taking more rest.  Today was my 12th straight day on the bike.  I’m OK physically but I’m not totally into it mentally.  I need a break but I won’t take one.  I’m still short of my mileage goal and the weather is still good.  But the weather will turn soon, so I want to wrap this up before the end of October.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

At The Crossroads

This morning I went into the Grafton PumpkinCross race with plenty of confidence.  I had seen the race as a spectator in 2009 and 2010, so I knew the course wouldn’t be as technically challenging as last weekend’s courses.  Taking two practice laps before the start of the juniors race only served as further confirmation.  The outstanding feature of the course is one steep grinder of a hill at mid-lap, a real problem for many riders but not for me.

Just like last Sunday, I lined up with the series numbers of my main rivals taped to my stem.  But despite a decent start, I would not stay with them for long.  Lap 1 was congested as the fast men of my category caught the slower riders from Master 35+ Cat 4 who had started in the wave before us.  Several crashes slowed the overall progress of the race, allowing a handful of riders to break away.  As I reached the sand pit I dismounted and ran with the bike—I had ridden the sand pit in practice and would ride it cleanly on the remaining laps, but on Lap 1 there were too many riders stalling ahead of me.  At the big hill I climbed past a couple of slower riders and by the end of the lap I had moved up nicely.

Positions stabilized as riders settled in on Lap 2, now knowing that it would be a 4-lap race.  I had stayed close to George Brophy for much of the lap, but he was faster through the last barrier section.  In my haste to get back to his wheel before the end of the lap I took too much speed into a slightly-wet, off-camber, 180-degree corner and down I went.  Fortunately it was a tall grass surface so the bike and I escaped any real damage.  I remounted, but not before Jeff Wren and John Norman slipped by.

Very early in Lap 3 I retook my position from John, then I passed Jeff before we got to the sand pit.  By the top of the big hill I had firmly reestablished myself but Brophy was gone.  For the remainder of the race I followed a Masters 35+ guy, but there was little incentive to pass him as no other Masters 45+ guy appeared to be within my reach.  So, I finished 7th out of 18 in my category, one spot behind Brophy, one spot ahead of Jeff Wren, and two spots ahead of West Bend’s Troy Sable, who had finished just ahead of me last Saturday at Mitchell Park.

My approach to the big hill—into which only a little momentum could be taken—was different from that of most riders.  I remained seated on all four trips to the top, while most riders got out of the saddle.  Plenty of riders got off the bike altogether.  I didn’t lose any positions on the hill, but I gained a few.  And I was strong on the asphalt section, shifting into the big chainring and hammering a part of the course that some riders used to catch their breath.

But, it is what it is: 7th place today is a third-consecutive mid-pack finish.  I’m racing well enough to have fun, hard enough to put a little edge on my fitness that otherwise might not be there this late in the year.  I’m not racing well enough to contemplate a Top 3 overall finish in the series.  Tomorrow I will not be racing at Cam-Rock.  In fact, I probably will pass on all of the Madison-area races and concentrate only on the events that are close to home.  That still makes for a nice schedule, and with a mix of cyclocross, mountain biking and road bike time trials I have already done more racing this year than ever before.  It’s OK if I don’t race again until Kletzsch Park on Oct. 22.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Need More Cowbell

Don't fear the off-camber sweeper!
Cross The Domes

On Saturday I did my first-ever cyclocross race, Cross the Domes, at Mitchell Park in Milwaukee.  I got there early to warm up and to get familiar with the course.  Pre-riding provided me with valuable intelligence: watch out for the off-camber turns, take the run-up two steps at a time, don’t try to ride the sand pit, drop people on the biggest hill.  Unfortunately I didn’t position myself well at the starting line, so I spent much of Lap 1 getting around slower traffic.  Passing people is motivating, though, and I began to believe that I could have modest success.  Near the end of the first lap I saw Patrick Brock cheering for me from the sidelines.  At that moment I had just one word for him, “Hurts.”  And it didn’t stop hurting: I was fighting for breath almost the entire race.  But I kept moving up through the field, and I owned my pain.  If the race was hurting me, then it was positively killing a lot of the other guys.  I thought back to the Reforestation Ramble mountain bike race, when I trusted in my fitness to sustain me at an uncomfortable level of exertion for almost an hour.  Surely I could suffer for a mere 30 minutes on Saturday!

At the end I was 9th out of 18 in Masters 45+ Cat 4 and that was the result I deserved.  It was the product of a willingness to suffer, a reasonable amount of bike handling skill (the rear tire broke loose a few times, but I never went down), better-than-average performance going uphill and, on the negative side, a couple of slow transitions and a poor starting position.  My group raced at the same time as Masters 35+ Cat 4 and Masters 55+ Cat 4.  I picked off a lot of those guys along the way and I wish I knew my overall place within the combined field.  It was a very respectable first effort.

River Hill Park CX

I went into today’s race with considerably more confidence than I had at the start of yesterday’s.  I even had the race numbers of Saturday’s top five written on a piece of masking tape on my stem, as I was determined to start near them and to hang with them during the race.  Then Jeff Wren said, “You’re not going to like this course.”  I took off for a practice lap and immediately saw what he meant: lots of elevation change, lots of tricky off-camber stuff.  There also were two obstacles that clearly I wasn’t going to ride: a steep hill into which I would take little momentum, and a big sand pile—not a sand pit.  I had a marginally better start than yesterday’s but it wasn’t long before the top contenders—including Michael Meteyer, yesterday’s winner—were comfortably ahead.  I spent the first two laps moving up through the field, hot on the heels of Mr. Wren and his teammate John Senkerik.  As the third lap began, we were a somewhat isolated trio.  I was content to follow wheels until Jeff came to grief on the sand pile.  Early in the fourth and final lap, John crashed into the front barrier while I got away cleanly and Jeff moved up one spot.  The remainder of the lap was anticlimactic as the three of us preserved our positions all the way to the finish line: I took 8th in the 19-man Masters 45+ Cat 4 field, while Jeff and John finished 9th and 10th, respectively.  Meteyer won again.  Chris Tamborino of Hubertus took 2nd, so we had three Washington County residents in the top nine.

After the first two races of the WCA Crank Daddy’s Cyclocross Series, I’m in 7th place on points in my category and I’m feeling pretty good about things.  Grafton PumpkinCross is up next.  In the week ahead I need to keep training with intensity and continue to work on cyclocross-specific skills.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crossed Paths

This evening I went down to Kletzsch Park in Glendale to join a group of about 25 cyclocross racers for a practice session that I badly needed.  The group included riders of widely-varying ages and abilities.  Because I’m still so new to the discipline, I spent most of my time with a group of about 7-8 others practicing on a dedicated barrier section: dismount, hurdle barriers, remount, repeat.

The rest of the riders took to the course—Kletzsch Park will be the site of a WCA Crank Brothers Cyclocross Series race on Oct. 22.  Unfortunately, two of those riders collided violently, resulting in facial injuries that needed First Aid from paramedics and then stitches at the emergency room.  The guys will be OK but the accident really sucked the enthusiasm out of the group.

In addition to the barrier section, I practiced my start (don’t expect me to win any holeshots) and my run-up technique: dismount, shoulder the bike, reach around the downtube and grab the handlebar, run, remount.  For me it was a good practice with several valuable tips and demonstrations from experienced racers.  I’ll try to attend more practices at Kletzsch in the future.

Today I didn’t literally “run into” anyone at practice, but figuratively I “ran into” Kyle Jacobson, one of the finest bike racers West Bend has ever produced.  It was cool to meet him, finally.  He’s a far more talented rider than I, but we do know many of the same people and it’s remarkable that we had never met before.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

'Cross Purposes

From the home office in West Bend, Wisconsin ...
My cyclocross racing season starts next weekend and my goals for it are pretty modest.  I’ve never done a cyclocross race before and I have had very little practice, so I don’t have anything like mastery of the techniques that the good riders show off with such apparent ease.  What I hope to get out of the season is fun, fitness and racing experience on which I can build next year and beyond.  I don’t expect Results.  I don’t expect to challenge for the series championship in Masters 45+ Cat 4.  I don’t even know how many of the races I will enter.

Yesterday I joined USA Cycling, so I’m now a licensed bicycle racer.  That distinction doesn’t make me a better bicycle racer, but it does make me more likely to enter at least six races in the WCA Crank Daddy’s Cyclocross Series.  With six races I would recoup the cost of the license; anything less and I would have been better off buying the one-day license for each event.  Next year I should get my license early and use it for mountain bike and cyclocross races.

Today turned out to be the complete washout I feared.  Fortunately I was able to watch the UCI world championship road race from Denmark early in the morning and the USGP of Cyclocross from Sun Prairie in the afternoon.  That kept me entertained for a few hours but it was a poor substitute for my own ride.  Monday and Tuesday look bad too—we’re just in an awful weather pattern right now—and I might have to dust off the indoor trainer.  I haven’t used it since April 15 and would prefer to avoid it for a little longer, but I don’t want my fitness to slip from too much time off.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sweet 16

Today I rode only 16 miles but they were 16 very important miles.  What made them important was the commitment it took to do them on such a dark, rainy, miserable day.  All day long I looked for an opportunity to ride and it didn’t come until almost 6 p.m., by which time I had only about an hour of daylight with which to work.  But I rode.  And these weren't garbage miles; after working myself up to the task mentally, I made a good effort physically.

In pursuit of my first 5,000-mile year, a 0-mile Saturday would have hurt.  The miles are getting harder to find and the expression 16 > 0 is both obvious and an understatement.  Shorter days are taking a toll.  So is cyclocross practice, but I need to work on those skills.  Tomorrow looks like another day of bad weather, and again I will need patience and the willingness to accept a shorter ride than my heart desires.  Just 19 miles tomorrow would get me to 600 for September, which was my target for the month.  Of course, that target assumed a 4,000-mile year.  Since 2007 I have averaged just 337 miles in October, and as of today I’m still 682 miles from 5,000, so there’s still work to be done.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Looking Ahead ... Way Ahead

Bite my shiny metal bike!
This week the UCI awarded the 2015 road racing world championships to Richmond VA.  The only other time the US hosted the world championships was back in 1986 at Colorado Springs, so this is a big deal for American cycling.  It’s still four years away but I’m already thinking about making the trip to watch the races—especially the time trials.

In February 2013 the cyclocross world championships will be in Louisville KY and I’m hoping to be there too.

I can contemplate such trips because (1) I travel on the cheap and (2) I have tons of vacation.  During each of these events my kids will be in school and my wife, employed by the school district, will have to work.  They won’t miss me for a few days … or a week.  And when I’m not watching the races I can be riding.  Richmond’s late-September weather should be sublime.  Louisville in early February should be, well, better than West Bend at any rate.  Daytime highs in the 40s would be normal, and that would be good enough for me.  A lot could happen in the months and years before these events, but my desire to see them is sincere.

The immediate future has its own ambiguity, as there is a significant chance of rain for each of the next five days.  That could wipe out the Washington County Bicycle Club ride in Hartford on Saturday.  Things look much better next week and that’s important: I intend to hit Kletzsch Park in Glendale for cyclocross practice next Wednesday.  The WCA cyclocross season begins next Saturday and Sunday with races in Milwaukee and Kewaskum.  I’m still unsure about my participation at the Mitchell Park race in Milwaukee, but Kewaskum is a must.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Expectations

This weekend was neither the best of times nor the worst of times.  I rode for two hours on Saturday but for only one hour today.  I intended today’s ride to be 2-3 hours but I was demoralized by the weather and simply unwilling to continue in the drizzle.  So, I’m calling today a rest day—I don’t need to recover from such a small effort—and tomorrow I will be back in the saddle.

It’s going to be a difficult week at work.  I will be busy tomorrow with an audit of some of my company’s business processes, then Tuesday through Friday I will attend online training for a complicated new software package.  The good news is that these duties begin early each morning and when they finish I will be free to ride.  So, I’m hoping for relatively high mileage on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.  On Wednesday evening I will attend another group cyclocross practice.  Friday may turn into a rest day … we’ll see.  There’s a Washington County Bicycle Club ride in Hartford on Saturday but I haven’t decided whether I will go.  Sunday’s plans are also unconfirmed but I expect next weekend to be my last high-mileage weekend this year.

The UCI World Championships start in Denmark tomorrow and I’m hoping to find streaming video on the Internet.  On Saturday and Sunday the USGP of Cyclocross Planet Bike Cup will be in Sun Prairie and I’m tempted to attend as a spectator but probably will stay closer to home to do some riding of my own.  Last year the Planet Bike Cup streamed at CyclingDirt and hopefully it will again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Round And Round

In yesterday’s post I said I wouldn’t upgrade the cyclocross bike’s wheelset this year.  Today I thought more about how the rest of 2011 is going to play out and I came up with this solution:
  • Take the “For Sale” sign off the Easton EA70 wheels and put them back on the Raleigh Competition.  I don’t expect to do a lot of road riding between now and the end of the year, so hopefully I can get through it without any more broken spokes.
  • Take the Mavic Aksium Race wheels that had been mounted on the Raleigh, mount them on the Steilacoom and leave them there.  Upgrade: done.
  • Take the Equation wheels that came with the Steilacoom and mount them on the Giant OCR1, now a dedicated indoor trainer bike.  I was going to need a new rear wheel anyway.
In the short term these moves make the road bike lighter, the ’cross bike stronger, and the trainer bike functional.  Best of all, they don’t cost me any more money.  Over the winter I can upgrade the road bike wheels and put the Easton EA70s back on the market.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My ’Cross To Bear

On Wednesday evening I got my first real taste of cyclocross from a rider’s perspective.  Sure, I’ve ridden bikes on grass before, and I’ve even practiced dismounting and then carrying my bike over barriers.  And I’ve been a spectator in person and online when I can find a webcast (there wasn’t one for Cross Vegas on Wednesday night and I was pissed).  But Wednesday’s practice was the genuine article, right down to a multi-lap race simulation against experienced riders who dropped me with ease.  Cyclocross has a skill set that is completely different from the other cycling disciplines I have enjoyed.  But that’s why there’s a Masters Cat 4.  I will need to practice a lot to be ready for the beginning of the WCA Crank Daddy’s season, now just two weeks away.

Having the right equipment will help, and to that end I picked up a 2011 Diamondback Steilacoom RCX, which I consider to be nicely-equipped for someone of my abilities and ambitions.  It has an aluminum frame with an Easton EC70X carbon fork (alloy steerer), FSA headset and crank (36/46T), Shimano 105 shifters, derailleurs, chain and cassette (12-27T, 10-speed), SRAM Avid Shorty 4 cantilever brakes, a BB30-standard bottom bracket (crazy stiff!), a WTB Valcon Pro saddle (so nice I might get one for my road bike), and Equation CX20 (house-brand) wheels with Michelin Cyclocross Mud 2 700x30 tires.  The bike came without pedals so I installed a pair of double-sided Shimano M520 SPDs that I already had.

Cleaner than it ever will be again!

The Steilacoom will serve as my cyclocross / gravel grinder / rec trail bike … hopefully for years to come.  The Giant FCR3 was good to me but it really is a flatbar road bike and not ideally suited for what I asked it to do.  Its future includes a thorough cleaning, re-lubrication, and then new ownership.  I intend to sell my Easton EA70 wheelset, too, and the proceeds from these sales will offset much of the cost of the new bike.  Eventually the Steilacoom’s stock wheels will have to be upgraded, but it won’t be this year.  I still have to pay for a USA Cycling license and some race entries!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Last Day Of Summer?

We hit 86 degrees today in West Bend and you had better believe I hopped on the bike after work.  Today should have been a rest day but I couldn’t say no to the warmth and sunshine.  I could lament the high winds, but without them bringing heat from the southwest this would have been a very different day.  Tomorrow will be a very different day: the wind will shift to the northwest and we probably won’t hit 70.  On Wednesday and Thursday we will be lucky to hit 60!

Autumn is cyclocross season and if I am going to race then I had better learn how to dismount and remount quickly for barriers and run-ups.  Today when the high winds started to frustrate me, I ducked into Sandy Knoll County Park and practiced my dismount/remount technique.  I worried that I wouldn’t be able to unclip on the left side after swinging my right leg around the back of the bike, but the dismount really wasn’t too hard.  My remount, however, needs some work!  I didn’t expect to look graceful, so today I found a grassy field at the northern end of the park where I would not be observed.  I never fell over, and that’s about the extent of the good news.  I think I need to slow it down—to walk before I try to run, literally.

Autumn is also football season but with each passing year I care less about that.  I can’t tell you the last time I watched a football game—college or pro—in its entirety.  Later in the season when I get back on the bike trainer I will watch a little football while I spin, but it will be no different than hockey, boxing or college basketball: just a distraction.  I have given my soul to cycling and that was never more obvious than on Sunday, when I frittered away the early part of the day until the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal webcast began.  Then I watched with rapt attention one of the least important and least interesting races of the pro calendar.  That’s how sick I am.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ahead Of Schedule

On Monday I predicted that I would reach 4,000 miles, year-to-date, on tomorrow’s Washington County Bicycle Club ride.  I reached the milestone today, making 2011 my third consecutive season of 4,000 miles or more.  I also reached the mark in 2007 and would have reached it in 2008 if not for time lost to a broken collarbone.

This is the earliest date on which I have reached 4,000.

The final push for my first 5,000-mile season begins tomorrow.  With a few solo miles on each side of the WCBC ride, I’ll have a metric century.  The weekend weather forecast looks fantastic, so I plan to go long on Sunday too.  I want to be somewhere around 4,500 by the end of the month so that I’m not putting too much pressure on myself in October.  By then the weather will be less certain, the days will be considerably shorter, and I will be devoting some time—perhaps quite a lot of time—to cyclocross and mountain biking.

Getting to 5,000 miles is a goal that I simply must reach.  Once I do, I won’t be interested in going for 6,000 … at least, not as long as I’m living in such a cold climate.

Someday …

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Those Crazy Coloradans

Tell me something like this wouldn't be a great addition to the Independence Day festivities at Regner Park.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Was Old Is New Again

What began this afternoon as, frankly, an aimless road ride turned into a very solid 37-mile effort that included 6 miles of the Cheesehead Roubaix route.  I don’t often visit the gravel sections of St. Augustine and Blue Goose—1.5 miles total—and today I was happy to find them in much better condition than they were in April.  Before today’s ride I switched back to my 700x25 Continental Gatorskins, very tough tires that give me a lot of confidence on gravel.  The Gatorskins were my tires for Cheesehead Roubaix and for most of my road bike miles this year.  I switched to lighter, narrower Bontrager R3 tires prior to the Kirke Vei Time Trial and I liked them a lot … so much so that I now will preserve them for racing in 2012.  The Gatorskins will take me through the remainder of 2011 and the early miles of 2012 when there’s still a lot of winter debris on the roads.

For me, it’s never too early to think about next year.  You might be surprised by the number of races and rides that have set their 2012 dates.  Yesterday evening WORS announced its race schedule to mixed reviews.  I think it’s good news for Washington County mountain bikers that the Sunburst Showdown is back on the schedule after a one-year absence.  I expect to be in Kewaskum on Aug. 12, at least as a spectator but perhaps to race the Sunburst Showdown as a tune-up for the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico on Aug. 26.  Many WORS racers have reacted negatively on Facebook, citing dissatisfaction with the Sunburst course.  The fact that it’s not an endless ribbon of technical singletrack is exactly what might make it a good fit for me.

The Tour of America’s Dairyland (June 21-July 1) and the International Cycling Classic (July 6-22) will be back for 2012 and I expect to enjoy both as a spectator; we’ll see what the ToAD road race and TT breakdown looks like.  I’m definitely not a criterium racer.  WEMS, Wisport and the WCA have not yet announced dates for 2012 and it could be months before they do.  Cheesehead Roubaix will return but the date is somewhat dependent on those schedules.

There are exciting possibilities in 2012 but let’s enjoy what remains of 2011.  I’m working on some cool stuff that I will share with you soon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Crossing The Bar

I'm strangely inspired by Dr. Frank-N-Furter's sweet transition.
Mondays, more often than not, are rest days in my cycling plans.  Coming out of the weekend I’m usually a little burned out and the grass in my yard is usually a little too tall to neglect further.  But today wasn’t an ordinary Monday; it was Labor Day.  I didn’t have to work, so I made up for a rainout on Saturday and for an uninspired 25-mile effort on Sunday.  Today I rode 80 miles—mostly with six other riders on the roads of the northern Kettle Moraine State Forest—to push past the 3,900-mile mark for the year.  I expect to reach 4,000 this Saturday on the Washington County Bicycle Club ride.  Tomorrow will be a rest day.

I’m struck today by an overwhelming sense of transition from one part of the cycling season to another.  Putting on knee warmers and a long-sleeved jersey to ride this morning in 50-something-degree weather only reinforced that feeling, but I think I would have felt it even if today had been a warm and sunny masterpiece.  The end is in sight for the state road racing and club ride calendars, waning daylight has already started to limit after-work rides, and the last Grand Tour of the year, the Vuelta a España, is down to its last six stages.  After the Vuelta we can look forward to the world championships, then Paris-Tours, then the Giro di Lombardia, and then three months of waiting for the Tour Down Under to begin the 2012 season.

At this point in the 2010 season I was already thinking about cross-training, changes to my weightlifting routine and other things that contribute to cycling but by themselves aren’t cycling.  This year I’m thinking only of cycling, and in the spirit of looking forward to something new instead of desperately clinging to a road riding season that surely must end, cyclocross dominates my thoughts.  I’ve been a fan, but now it’s time to become a participant.  September will provide several opportunities for me to practice and in early October I intend to race for the first time.  At first glance, cyclocross doesn’t appear to be a discipline for which I am perfectly suited.  But it does look like fun and, if nothing else, will inject some intensity into my workouts.  Without it, the remainder of my 2011 season could be an unspectacular march toward 5,000 miles—a worthy accomplishment, but perhaps no longer enough by itself.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August In Review

My softball team lost in the league championship game last night and finished the season with a 12-5 record.  We were a really good team that just couldn't clear the last hurdle.  I batted .520 (26-for-50) with 14 runs scored and 12 RBI in 15 games.  The end of the season means two things: it’s time to re-do my upper body strength training program after four months in “maintenance” mode, and it’s time to put Wednesdays back on the cycling calendar.

Year-to-date I have amassed 3,737 miles, putting me 189 miles ahead of my 2010 pace.  If I stay healthy and have a “normal” September and October, then this should be my first 5,000-mile year.  Even my non-cycling family members and friends will recognize that 5,000 miles—the equivalent of a round-trip between Pittsburgh PA and Seattle WA—is a long, long way to ride a bike.

August was a weird and wonderful month.  I rode 756 miles, a personal record surpassing the 714 miles I rode in August 2007.  But achieving that PR was incidental, something that just happened while I was busy accomplishing other things.  On Aug. 6th I rode my first century of 2011.  On the 20th I raced against the clock at the Kirke Vei Time Trial.  On the 27th I did a road bike metric century, then followed it on the 28th with a strong performance in the Reforestation Ramble mountain bike race.  Of the 756 total miles, 522 were on the Raleigh Competition, 209 were on the Giant FCR3 (Eisenbahn State Trail miles, mostly) and 25 were on a borrowed Trek Fuel.  August was a month of being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, but it sure was a good time.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Call It The Redemption Ramble

Can't see the race from the observation tower.  Reforestation is working!
After a bad mountain bike racing debut at Greenbush in May, I knew two things: first, I didn’t want to get back on the mountain bike for a while, and second, I did want to try another race at some point.  Today proved to be the right time and Suamico proved to be the right place as I competed in the Reforestation Ramble.

The venue lived up to its reputation: a mix of wide nordic ski trails and smooth flowing singletrack with only modest changes in elevation.  Back at Greenbush I don’t think I was comfortable for a single moment, but at Suamico I was comfortable almost immediately.  The start seemed almost leisurely, but I figured I should go along to get along—I’m still a roadie masquerading as a mountain biker.  I wasn’t going anything like full speed but I passed a couple of guys in the few minutes before we reached the first section of singletrack.

What came next was the pattern that my entire race would follow: limit my losses on the singletrack and then just destroy people on the ski trails.  I was good on the hills but otherwise fell back a little on the singletrack due to poor technique.  Invariably I would carry too much speed into a corner, then brake hard, then accelerate hard on the exit.  For what it’s worth, I never crashed, but I used gobs of energy that the more experienced, more fluid riders conserved.  That might have become an issue in a longer race, but as a Cat 3 (Citizen) competitor I needed to complete just one 12-mile lap.  I trusted in my fitness and pressed on.

By the halfway point I was convinced that I had seen everything Suamico could throw at me.  I had been passed only once but soon retook that position by outdistancing my rival on a sandy climb up a section of ski trail.  There were two hills I failed to climb cleanly.  The first was on a singletrack section where a rider stalled just in front of me, leaving me nowhere to go.  The second was on a very sandy ski trail.  I later learned that the only good line was on the far left; I had no chance trying to charge up the center.  I didn’t lose much time there, but pre-riding the course would have allowed me to avoid the problem.  And pre-riding would have helped with the finish.  I flew through the aid zone at mile 9 without taking a water hand-up, so I knew I was getting close.  But a short time later when I saw the number 24 flashing at me I assumed I was coming to the line in 24th place.  That would have been a great result, but actually the sign was indicating my current speed as I tried to finish in style.  Yeah, 24 mph.  Those ski trails were fast.  But the true finish line was still one gentle corner and a short sprint away.

In the end I took 41st out of 123 in men's Cat 3.  In the 40-49 age group, I was 13th out of 32.  With a time of 58:44.2, I was less than 5 minutes behind age group winner Chris Harold of Lindenhurst IL (53:57.7).  Mitch Otto of Appleton posted the fastest overall time in Cat 3 with a 52:01.0.

So, just like last weekend’s Kirke Vei Time Trial, the Reforestation Ramble was an honest representation of where I am right now as a cyclist.  Where I will go next is uncertain.  A good August will go out with a whimper: tomorrow is a planned rest day, Tuesday will be a fairly easy effort and Wednesday will be the final night of my 2011 softball season.  My only special events scheduled for September are the Washington County Bicycle Club rides on the 10th and 24th … but that could change.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flying From Frustration

No, not really.  But it wouldn't have surprised me.
Today was not a good day at work.  Most of my regular duties were on hold this week as I completed five days of online, instructor-led training for a complex software package my company is going to deploy.  Things went pretty well for me Monday through Thursday.  But today I was lost, muting my microphone and swearing up a storm.  When the class finally ended I needed to get on the bike and let off some steam.

With a long road ride planned for tomorrow, this evening I rode the Giant FCR3 up the Eisenbahn State Trail to Eden.  I wasn’t there to visit all the touristy hot spots; as soon as I reached the end of the trail I turned around and rode back home.  I covered the 47 miles in 2:44, a 17.2 mph average.  Outside of West Bend I saw very few people and the solitude was therapeutic.

Tomorrow morning I will ride with the Washington County Bicycle Club, then I might do a little mountain biking.  On Wednesday I rode with my Team Pedal Moraine friends at New Fane.  It was my first time on the mountain bike since the WEMS race at Greenbush in May, so I was pretty rusty on my first lap at New Fane but the second one was better.  There’s still a chance I will do the WORS race at Suamico on Sunday and one more practice session would help.  Suamico is probably the least technically-demanding course for WORS and WEMS, so maybe I could race it without the fear of imminent death that dogged me at Greenbush.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 Kirke Vei Time Trial

MadCity Velo’s website describes the Kirke Vei Time Trial as a “technically challenging and hilly course that will test your management of power output over the entire 20K distance.”  Except for the slightly exaggerated length of the route—it wasn’t quite 20 kilometers—the race lived up to its billing on Saturday.

I rode as well as I was able, finishing the 12.2-mile course in 36:06.99, a 20.27 mph average.  Overall I placed 73rd out of 99 finishers, and 9th out of 13 in the non-aero “stock bike” category, won by Dean Lazenby in 31:46.79.

My day began inauspiciously, as I had slept poorly and just felt not quite right.  And the weather turned rainy by the time I reached the halfway point of my drive to Dane County.  Once I got to Madison, however, the rain was ending and the clouds were breaking up.  I still had almost two hours before my start time and hoped that the roads would dry out.  And they did, but not before the weather conditions forced a delay in starting the event.  No one seemed to mind the delay, as wet roads on this already technical course would have made for more dangerous racing.

Last Sunday when I pre-rode the course I identified the first three miles as a potential trap.  The downhill start begs you to go fast but then there are three little hills just waiting to put you in the red.  I rode this section faster than I thought I would, spurred on by race-day adrenaline.  The morning rain may have helped here by smoothing out the loose gravel from a recent chip-and-seal resurfacing.

At about 15 minutes elapsed, Travis Goodlund caught me for 3 minutes and rode away easily in his aerodynamic tuck.  Goodlund finished 3rd in this year’s WCA state time trial championship, Masters 40-44, behind winner Jeff Otto and West Bend’s own Jeff Melcher.  He was the only rider to pass me.  Otto was the overall winner in a course-record 26:31.55 on Saturday as the Kirke Vei TT returned to its traditional route after a couple of years on a shorter route dictated by road construction.  Goodlund was 7th overall at 29:24.03.  My minute man, Chris Mueller, is a frequent 35-39 age group winner in the Wisport series and I wasn’t surprised not to see him again after the starting line.

In the middle of the course, where I knew I had to be good, I was good.  At about the 9-mile mark I spotted a Team Wheel & Sprocket rider.  Finally, someone to chase down!  It’s a great incentive to see the gap close as you pursue the rider ahead of you.  Roughly a mile later we turned onto County Highway W for a gradual ½-mile climb up to Drotning Road.  Here the gap fell dramatically, giving me confidence that I could make the catch on the tough hill at the end of Drotning, still about 1.5 miles away.  Not until the bottom of that last climb did I recognize the rider as Melissa Putzer, who had started 2 minutes ahead of me.  Knowing I had taken 2 minutes out of her propelled me past her on the hill, around the last two corners and across the finish line.

My average heart rate during the TT was 157 (85%) and my maximum was 170 (92%).  It was a very solid effort and a lot of fun.  I also enjoyed hanging out with the other racers once my ride was done.  This event had been on my To Do list for the last few years, but always got bumped off for one reason or another.  Now that I’ve done it, I hope to do it again.