Saturday, June 30, 2012

Midway Through 2012

Today was a fantastic finish to the first half of the year.  It began with a well-attended Washington County Bicycle Club ride on which I met a couple of new people who rode really well and clearly enjoyed themselves.  Three cyclocross bikes were at the front of the pack today as Jeff Wren, Ian Prust and I turned the ride into a little bit of training for the season that will begin in just 10 weeks.  Smaller chainrings and wider tires made us work harder than our companions on the 40-mile route.

The 'cross bikes get a rest while their riders enjoy post-ride beers at Riverside Brewery & Restaurant in West Bend.
When I got home from the club ride I watched the early rebroadcast of today’s Tour de France prologue.  I had kept myself from learning the winner and was able to enjoy the coverage as if it were live.  Truly live racing came later: I visited Downer Avenue in Milwaukee for today’s stage of the Tour of America’s Dairyland.  It’s always a great time and a great opportunity to see my cycling friends … though some of them struggle to recognize me in street clothes!

The top women racers line up for the start of their 60-minute criterium at Downer Avenue.

In years past I presented you with a midyear statistical breakdown.  It’s kind of neat information, so I’ll share this year’s numbers with you, though the real story of 2012 has been mountain bike racing.  Through June 30 I have covered 2,474 miles in 97 rides for a 25.51 average.  That compares to 1,961 / 70 / 28.01 last year.  I set personal records in January, February and March, taking advantage of an uncommonly mild winter.  My per-ride average is down this year because of mountain biking, but who cares?  I’ve done more rides for more miles with more variety and more intensity.  I have more fitness and the season has been more fun.

We’re halfway through 2012 but I’m not even close to halfway through my racing season.  I will look for additional fitness gains during the first half of July, then apply them to WORS races on July 15 and 22.  August will be a transitional month as I consolidate my position in WORS while refining my cyclocross skills in anticipation of the season opener on September 8.  October, November and December probably will belong exclusively to ’cross.  And to begin 2013?  Well, maybe a little rest will be in order.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lumpy

If you read this blog regularly, then you should be aware of the 6 p.m. Thursday group ride that leaves from the high school parking lot at the corner of River & Decorah.  There’s a Facebook group devoted to it and you can join to keep up with news about the ride.  It’s not a big crowd, but it’s a good quality crowd.  And the ride itself is not a knock-down, drag-out affair on which the primary objective is to hurt everyone, but it’s good training.  Riders typically cover 30-40 miles at 17-19 mph average—the speed can be much higher at times—and there’s no predetermined route.  Sometimes the whole ride is flat, and sometimes the riders are challenged by a succession of hills.

Tonight’s ride was something between flat and hilly.  We’ll call it “lumpy.”  Here’s the route map (we traveled in a clockwise direction):


And here’s the elevation profile:


I’m sharing these details with you because I want to share the ride with you.  Spread the word and join us.  The ride will continue into mid-September, at which point waning daylight will force us to shut down until next spring.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

2012 Red Flint Firecracker

Credit where it's due: Brad Jorsch rode like a rock star. (Nathan Long photo)
Just like the Battle of CamRock one week ago, today’s WORS race left me with mixed emotions.  I’ll get the bad news out of the way first: I have dropped from second place to third place in the series standings.  But I think I can get that spot back, and I’m still looking for a way to be in first place at the end of the season … though the math is against me.

Lowes Creek County Park in Eau Claire was the site of today’s Red Flint Firecracker and the trail network was outstanding.  I thought the inclusion of whoop-de-doos in Lap 1 of the Citizens (Cat 3) race was a questionable choice but I had a strategy to deal with them: get there first, pick my own line and dictate the pace.  A couple of the riders in my 40-49 age group were, effectively, out of the running by the time we reached the whoop-de-doos, but the fast start didn’t shake the men that really matter in the series standings.  Points leader Jim Steig was right behind me, followed by Brad Jorsch, Ernie Huerta, Paul Baltus and Loren Beyer.  When I got a little ragged on the singletrack about halfway through the lap, they all passed me.  I went from first to sixth in the blink of an eye.

Our fast start pulled back many riders from the younger age groups, racers who had started in waves ahead of us.  Picking our way through slower traffic now became an important racing dynamic.  Though I was moving successfully through the field, I soon lost visual contact with my rivals.  That was a bit demoralizing but not completely unexpected on a course with so many tight corners and switchback climbs.  On a few occasions my rivals weren’t in front of me; they were above me.

The lap ended as the singletrack emptied the riders onto a gravel road that took them back to part of the starting chute.  On this section I shifted into the big ring again, pulled back a little time and gulped some badly-needed sports drink.  Lap 2 then deviated from the Lap 1 route by throwing us right back into some singletrack, but not technical singletrack.  I moved through it with a nice rhythm, then hammered on a mix of nordic ski trails and more flowy singletrack.  I knew I was going well but still I didn’t see any of my rivals until the final open hill climb.  There was Beyer, cresting the hill as I was reaching its base.  He had several seconds on me but his body language suggested a fatigue that I wasn’t feeling.  I charged up the hill and passed a pair of younger riders, then followed Beyer through the water station before ripping past him on the last section of open trail.  After a final section of singletrack I emerged on the short finishing straight but there was no reason to sprint.  The only man between me and the finish line was a 30-39 racer whose head start I had already erased.

Steig won the day, but Jorsch was just 0.7 seconds behind!  Then came Huerta at 5.1 seconds, Baltus at 22.5 and me at 29.1.  Yep, the five podium spots were separated by less than half a minute!  Beyer came in 17 seconds later, but almost 2 minutes ahead of Ray Iesalnieks of Eau Claire.  On trails with so many technical features, I thought the Top 10 might be dominated by local riders in the same manner as CamRock last weekend.  But today the top guys in the series were really strong.

With 964 points, Steig continues to lead the series.  Jorsch moved into second place today with 904 points, while I dropped into third with 897.  For me, the season probably comes down to my next three races.  I need to place well in July’s ski hill races—the Alterra Coffee Bean Classic at Crystal Ridge in Franklin, and the Sunburst Showdown in Kewaskum—and I need to dominate the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico on Aug. 26th, a race that I hope to use to replace my 9th Place finish at CamRock.  (Not sure if I'm going to race at the Subaru Cup on Aug. 19 ... we'll see.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Eisen-bombing

Almost exactly a year ago, I set a personal record on my Eisenbahn State Trail time trial route that I thought might stand forever.  I covered the 14.4 miles from 2nd Street in Kewaskum to the Eden town line sign on County Highway V in 46:27.  That was such an improvement over my previous best, 49:44, that I figured it might just be a freak performance.  But today I beat it, finishing in 45:18.  That’s an average of 19.07 mph, on a gravel rec trail, on a cyclocross bike with a 46-tooth chainring and balding 700x30 tires.  Not bad.

My total time from home to Eden was just 1:18:21, and the entire ride—which included a little loop through my neighborhood to get me to an even 50 miles—took just 2:49:35 (17.69 mph).  That’s a good effort for an after-work ride on which I had no real ambitions until I got to Kewaskum and realized I had great legs.

It was only my second timed effort on the route this year.  The first one was back on March 21, and it wasn’t a sincere attempt at a personal best.  I finished in 51:30.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ToAD Begins

Riders storm past SRAM neutral service near the end of the Shorewood Criterium.
There were good times and good racing this evening in Shorewood as the Tour of America's Dairyland got underway.  It didn't take me long to find familiar faces in the crowd.  I'll also try to attend the Schlitz Park Criterium in Milwaukee next Tuesday, but the can't miss event on the schedule is at Downer Avenue on June 30.  Belgian beer and frites at Café Hollander ... oh, my!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sharpening The Focus

Back on May 8 I dropped several events that had been on my cycling calendar.  Today I am dropping two more.

The WEMS race at Suamico on July 7 is out.  Instead of traveling to a 3-hour endurance mountain bike race north of Green Bay, I would be better served by spending the afternoon at Crystal Ridge in Franklin, site of the Alterra Coffee Bean Classic.  Sure, I will have an opportunity to pre-ride Crystal Ridge on July 14 before the WORS race there on July 15, but the additional practice time would be very helpful.  A good result in that race would keep me in the hunt for the overall series title in the Cat 3 (Citizens) 40-49 age group.

Wisport’s Kirke Vei Time Trial in Cottage Grove is out too.  Last year it added a burst of intensity in my preparations for cyclocross, but this year WORS is serving that function.  The Subaru Cup begins on the same day as the time trial—August 18—and I would rather be at Nordic Mountain watching the pros, helping friends and teammates, and getting familiar with that course before my own race there on August 19.

My energies and my cycling budget have to stay focused on WORS through the end of July.  In August I will juggle my remaining mountain biking ambitions with my need to train specifically for the cyclocross season that will begin on Sep. 8.  This evening I participated in the last of this year’s practice crits at Stocky’s, which may have been road bike workouts but certainly did nothing to hurt my anaerobic conditioning.  That aspect of my fitness still needs a lot of work before ’cross begins, so maybe I’ll turn Tuesdays into time trial days.

By removing two races that didn’t fit any competition or training needs, the run-up to cyclocross season now looks like this:

06/24 Red Flint Firecracker (WORS) @ Eau Claire
07/15 Alterra Coffee Bean Classic (WORS) @ Franklin
07/22 Sunburst Showdown (WORS) @ Kewaskum
08/19 Subaru Cup (WORS) @ Mt. Morris
08/26 Reforestation Ramble (WORS) @ Suamico
09/08 Sheboygan Bicycle Company Classic (WCA Cyclocross)

The newly-created gaps in my race schedule give me an opportunity to fine-tune my training and to ensure I’m getting adequate rest.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

2012 Battle of CamRock

I am wrestling with the question of whether today’s Battle of CamRock were my worst race of the year.  It is the only one of the four WORS races to date in which I crashed, and on the finish line I was just 9th out of 31 in my age group, my lowest placing.  On the other hand, this race threw much more—and much more technically challenging—singletrack at me, and I survived it without any real damage to my body, my bike, or my place in the overall series standings.

The race began up a grassy hill, leveled out only briefly and then went uphill some more.  Jim Steig, who leads my classification on points, crashed on the loose rocks of that second hill.  With him behind me, I thought I might beat him for the first time to narrow or perhaps even to eliminate the 19-point gap between us.  But Jim recovered quickly and caught me later in the first lap.  He was going well and I was just hacking my way through the singletrack, so I let him pass and it wasn’t long before he was out of sight.  His eventual third-place finish extended his series lead to 44 points.

I had gone into the race without a water bottle; the damned thing must have rattled out of my cage as I was riding from the parking lot to the starting line.  Fortunately I got a hand-up of my other bottle near the end of the first lap.

As the second lap began I knew I had little chance of catching the leaders in my age group.  I rode alone for long intervals, but near the end of the lap I knew I had age group rival Kevin Apodaca just behind.  When my rear tire washed out on a fast corner, Kevin slipped past before I could resume.  Within moments I was hot on his heels, but content to follow through the last section of technical singletrack.  With just one more tough turn to negotiate, I narrowly avoided a second crash that likely would have allowed Kevin to slip away.  A 16-year-old rider who never announced his presence slammed into my left side as I began the turn.  He went down in a heap.  I was thrown a little off-balance but was able to continue.  I had debated letting Kevin go until the long set of switchbacks that climbed to the finishing straight—I was confident I could outclimb him again as I had done in Wausau—but after my near-miss I wasn’t going to fool around.  The singletrack ended at a wide gravel trail and I dropped the hammer.  Finishing 9th was worth 4 points more than finishing 10th, and I will need all the points I can get to overtake Jim Steig.

Brad Jorsch rode to a strong 6th place in Cat 3 (Citizens) 40-49 today, solidifying his position at No. 3 in the series and pulling within 8 points of me.  Overall, I was 20th out of 157 today.  But it was a good day to be a local: many of the top finishes across all categories went to racers who live close to CamRock.  And the race proved popular with riders from Illinois, so there were lots of unfamiliar names in the results.

During the pre-ride on Saturday it was clear to me that the Battle of CamRock was a race I needed to get through rather than one in which I should expect a top finish.  I have higher hopes for next Sunday’s Red Flint Firecracker in Eau Claire, where the course should be a better fit for me.

Friday, June 15, 2012

2012 WCA Crank Daddy’s Cyclocross Schedule

09/08 Sheboygan Bicycle Company Classic
09/16 Lake Geneva Cross
09/29 East Troy Twilight Cross
10/06 Cross the Domes @ Mitchell Park, Milwaukee
10/07 River Hill Park CX @ Kewaskum
10/13 Grafton PumpkinCross
10/14 FurtherCross @ Badger Prairie, Verona
10/20 mwi Classic @ Milwaukee
10/21 Sun Prairie Cup
10/27 Halloween Cross @ Washington Park, Milwaukee
11/03 Estabrook Park, Milwaukee
11/10 UW Cyclocross @ CamRock, Rockdale
11/18 Hales Corners Cross
12/02 Booty Cross @ Madison
12/08 State Championships @ Badger Prairie, Verona

Two of these weekends present conflicts for me as I attempt to win my age group in the statewide mountain bike series.  Hopefully, my position in the WORS standings will be secure by the end of August and I won’t have to worry about the Bear Paw Rock & Roll in White Lake on Sep. 30 or the Wigwam MTB Challenge in Sheboygan on Oct. 14.  If push really comes to shove, I could race at White Lake on the morning after the evening ’cross race in East Troy.  But cyclocross in Verona versus mountain biking in Sheboygan on Oct. 14 is an either/or proposition.

The 2012 cyclocross schedule has a great mix of familiar venues and new opportunities.  And it was a stroke of genius to move the state championships out of Hales Corners and into Badger Prairie, site of the Midwest Regional Championships on Dec. 9 and of the US National Championships in January 2013.  Wisconsin racers will have three chances to race at Badger Prairie before nationals, and “home field advantage” could pay huge dividends.

On Nov. 24 there will be a non-series race called Dirty Monkey Cyclocross at Camp Whitcomb-Mason near Hartland.  It’s just 25 miles from home, so I might add it to my calendar.  If I don’t need the series points I could skip Booty Cross and use the Dirty Monkey as my tuneup for the state championships.  We’ll see; things that sound OK on a nice June day take on a very different aspect when the weather turns cold!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Charity Begins At Home

In Wisconsin and across the country, some of the most popular events on the cycling calendar are charity rides.  We have the UPAF Ride for the Arts, the Trek 100 for childhood cancer, the Tour de Cure for diabetes, the Scenic Shore 150 for leukemia & lymphoma, and the MS 150 for multiple sclerosis, among others.  Charity rides draw a lot of participants, raise a lot of money, and can be a lot of fun.  I’ve done the MS 150 twice—in 2006 and 2007—and had a blast.

But charity tours have their drawbacks.  The late, great Sheldon Brown argued that they perpetuate the myth that riding a bicycle is necessarily difficult and painful, that participants must suffer to earn the donations of their sponsors.  Certainly, these events attract a lot of riders who feel a genuine compulsion to help the charities in question, but I argue that for more serious cyclists the ride is the attraction and the needs of the charity are, at best, a distant second.  Such riders use these events as training opportunities: building on their base miles, racing against friends or trying to set a personal record over a fixed distance.  That they are contributing to a charitable cause is a nice extra, but that they are contributing specifically to fight cancer or MS probably doesn’t matter to them.

What if the cause were something closer to home?  The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin used to have an annual ride to raise money for itself, but I believe potential riders were turned off by its route options—nothing longer than a metric century—and by the lack of specifics from the Bike Fed on how it would use the donations.  A ride for cycling needs those specifics in a way that a ride for disease research does not.  Serious road riders expect some benefit for themselves, not just a handout for bike commuters.

People who ride for recreation have a different mindset than people who ride for transportation, but common to both groups is the threat from motorists.  What if that were the cause, the thing that brought us all together for an annual fundraiser ride?  Take the Ride of Silence concept and raise donations from it.  Put the money into a fund that can provide direct assistance to accident victims or to their families.  We’ve seen cyclists come together in this way before, as in the case of Jeff Littmann.  Motorists continue to injure and kill cyclists who are using the roads in a responsible and lawful way, and always we’re frustrated by the response from law enforcement and by the absence of compassion from the non-cycling public.  Establishing a victims fund is something we could do to help our own community.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Weekend Of Good Numbers

There’s feeling healthy and then there’s proving it with science.  Yesterday I had a routine blood test, mainly a check of my cholesterol levels.  Mine are naturally higher than average due to hereditary factors but I keep them under control with a small dose of a generic statin.  On Saturday my total cholesterol count was 172—anything under 200 is considered desirable.  Triglycerides were 101 (<150) and my “good” cholesterol count was 69 (>40).  That “good” cholesterol count is more closely tied to exercise than the other numbers and mine fluctuates as my activity level increases and decreases.  Blood sugar and all other levels were well within normal ranges.  This morning I weighed myself and checked my blood pressure and resting heart rate.  More good numbers!  My weight is down 11 pounds since the beginning of the year, my blood pressure is a healthy 108/56 and my resting heart rate is a mere 42 beats per minute.  I’m doing alright for a guy who’s going to be 47 next Sunday.

Good health is its own reward, but I’d really like to win the Battle of CamRock on my birthday.  My early success in WORS has been the result of good fitness, good tactics, and courses that have rewarded my roadie background.  You can probably break me if you throw enough singletrack at me, and by reputation CamRock has more of it than most courses.  The pre-ride on Saturday will be my most important preparation.  But it won’t be my only preparation: between now and then the 29er will get a new chain and new rear brake pads, and I will spend more time on singletrack than I would in a typical week.  Last Friday I conquered a couple of things at Glacial Blue Hills that I had never ridden before.  That’s down to greater technical skill and greater confidence.  With limited time today I spent an hour at New Fane, where I’m now riding very comfortably on trails that used to give me fits.  On Saturday I will take as much time as I need to get familiar with CamRock, and hopefully the temperature will be in the high 80s again.  I won’t wilt in the heat.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

2012 Big Ring Classic

Brad Jorsch, me, Jim Steig and Kevin Apodaca on the podium at Wausau.
It was a wonderful WORS weekend for me in Wausau.  I had great fitness.  I had familiarity with the course that I gained during five practice laps.  I had good in-race tactics.

And I had one bad shift that probably cost me 1st Place.

Going into today’s race I was second on series points in Men’s Cat 3 (Citizens) 40-49, so I got a call-up for a preferred spot on the starting line.  I took the far left, clipped in quickly as the race began and easily negotiated the first left-hand turn.  But series leader Jim Steig also started strongly, as did Kevin Apodaca on his fat bike.  Loren Beyer was in the mix early in the race before crashing in the first section of singletrack.  That left only Steig and Apodaca ahead of me, and they got a little gap as we moved through the field of riders from another age group that had started earlier.  By the end of the first lap I had lost sight of my rivals, but by hammering the open sections I soon reeled them in.  I passed Steig on the last big hill climb and I was about to pass Apodaca, but suddenly I didn’t need to: Apodaca made a wrong turn at the top of the hill.  By the time he got back on course, I was already on the fast descent with Steig in pursuit.  Steig was content to follow me through the remaining singletrack—he even told me so—but I figured he would contest the long sprint for the finish line.  As we emerged from the singletrack I attempted to shift into my big chainring and nearly shifted the chain off the bike.  In the few moments it took me to make a correction, Steig flew past me and I simply ran out of racecourse before I could catch him.  His margin of victory was just 1.9 seconds; I was that close.  Apodaca finished in third place, 33.8 seconds behind Steig.

It was a strong field of 30 riders in the 40-49 age group.  Out of 152 riders overall, Steig was 3rd, I was 4th, Apodaca was 6th and Brad Jorsch was 9th.  This is my second Top 10 overall finish.  With just one more, I will get a mandatory upgrade to Cat 2 (Sport) for 2013.

After today’s result, Steig and I are still 1-2 on series points in our age group.  It’s shaping up as a good rivalry.  Steig was 3rd at Iola as I took 4th.  He was 2nd at Rhinelander as I took 3rd.  But one of my other rivals had a rough weekend: John Norman crashed hard during a practice lap on Saturday evening and separated his shoulder.  He will be out of action for a little while.  There were a lot of crashes with injuries in practice and in competition.  Jeff Wren hit his head after sliding out on some gravel during his race today.  He blacked out for a few seconds, then remained on the ground for a couple of minutes to compose himself before resuming.  He made it to the finish line but was still a little shaky as we broke camp, so I did all the driving back to West Bend!  In April I joked that Jeff is our Bob Roll, but maybe he’s really our Chris Horner.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Plan For June

Rodgers & Hammerstein were right: June is  bustin’ out all over.
Yes, June.  I know today’s weather was more like what you would expect in April, but June has arrived and now the cycling calendar is about to get really full.  I plan to do all three WORS races this month: the Big Ring Classic at Wausau on Sunday, then the Battle of CamRock at Rockdale on the 17th, and finally the Red Flint Firecracker at Eau Claire on the 24th.  On Saturday the 30th I’ll finally have a chance to ride with the Washington County Bicycle Club for the first time this year.

For training I’ll stick to what has been working: every-other-Tuesday crit practices, Thursday group rides, Friday singletrack skills development at New Fane, plus occasional long-distance excursions on the road or on the Eisenbahn.  In the home gym I will mix things up a little … not yet sure what form the new routine will take, but six weeks have passed since I last made a change and I want to avoid a plateau.  That’s all upper-body stuff that I do mostly for softball, but it has benefits on the bike too, especially for mountain biking.

As a cycling fan, I’m excited about all the TV coverage that NBC Sports has promised for June.  NBC Sports will have same-day coverage for each stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse, plus next-day coverage for the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship … 15 consecutive days of cycling on TV from June 3 through June 17!  Then the 11-day Tour of America’s Dairyland kicks in on June 21 and I hope to be in the crowd for the Shorewood, Schlitz Park, and Downer Avenue races.  And as June comes to a close, the Tour de France will begin.

It’s going to be a great month, even if it did start on something of a sour note.