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.