|(Melissa Putzer photo)|
What a great start for WCA cyclocross this year! We had pleasant weather, well-executed events, and spirited racing to get everyone fired up for the long season ahead. I don’t have series ambitions this year but I am encouraged by my results so far.
Flyover Silver Creek Cyclocross
On Saturday in Manitowoc, I made my Cat 3 debut on a course that was outstanding in every detail. As a non-series event in 2014, the Manitowoc race garnered high praise for its course design. This year it was even better. It kept the most popular elements from last year and added a long run on the sandy beach of Lake Michigan. Cyclocross is often described as a race of transitions: a discipline that rewards those who can dismount, clear an obstacle, and then remount quickly. Manitowoc succeeded in presenting a fun challenge.
Moving into a higher level of competition after a strong 2014 season, I knew I would be challenged enough by the other men in the Masters 1/2/3/4 field. But I had a good practice lap and I didn’t have any more than the usual pre-race jitters. I was pleased with my start from the second row. Team Pedal Moraine’s Jeff Melcher quickly sprinted away from me and took some of the other top contenders with him while I held onto the wheel of Greg Ferguson (Trek Midwest). Staying with Ferguson for any length of time is an accomplishment, but when a rider fell in front of us about a minute into the race, Greg got around on the left while I was pinned against a post on the right. Then I lost contact with Paul Warloski (Milwaukee Bicycle Co.), and then PJ Braun (Fiets Club Flahute). The next couple of laps felt a lot like a Tuesday practice race at Royal Oaks Park as I tried to power away from Jeff Wren and Brian Petted, both of Team Extreme. By Lap 3 I had run through the slowest of the 35+ guys who started a minute before my wave, but I also had lost ground to a couple of 55+ guys who caught me from behind. The latter included Mike Bown (Belgianwerkx), with whom I worked to stretch my advantage over the pursuers from my own age group.
When Melcher lapped me on his final trip around the course, I knew I had just seen the front of the race go by. That inspired me to lift my pace and stay with my team captain as long as I could. We were near the end of the lap when he passed, and with the sandy beach and some tight turns before the finish line, I could at least be someone his chasers would have to pass. But that possibility never presented itself. The winner of the 35+ group passed me at the very end of the race, but no one else did. Melcher enjoyed victory in the 45+ group while I finished 14th out of 22. Among the Cat 3s, I was 6th out of 9. It was the result I deserved. I was technically competent, I out-climbed many of my rivals on a grassy hill that is a long grind by cyclocross standards, and I settled into the rhythm of the 45-minute race. Racing in prior seasons as a Cat 4, all of my races were just 30 minutes. I have the endurance for the longer event … but I do need to get faster.
Sheboygan Bicycle Company Cyclocross Classic
Today in Sheboygan, the 35+ and 45+ age groups started together in the Masters 1/2/3/4 race but they would have benefited from a time gap like the one that was used in Manitowoc. With a big group of riders going into a tight left-hand turn early in Lap 1, I had to shoulder my way past a guy who got tangled in the course tape and was trying to remount. I had sprinted to that point with the guys who eventually would win the race, but that little delay allowed them to leave me behind. I wouldn’t have stayed with them for long anyway. Arlen Spicer (Belgianwerkx) was the class of the field and the easy winner. In fact, I was kind of hoping Arlen would be even faster. I’ll explain that later.
After losing the front of the race, I settled into a less frantic pace with Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), Chris McArdle (Colectivo Coffee) and Brian Wick (KS Energy / MOSH / Team Wisconsin). McArdle and Wick were part of the 35+ age group and good guys with whom to work. We stopped losing positions and then tried to claw our way forward. The course at Sheboygan was bumpy as ever but most of the corners were generous and everything was dry, especially the steep hill known as the Equalizer. For me—and, indeed, for almost everyone—the Equalizer is a run-up even under ideal conditions. On my first ascent I was running well with the bike on my shoulder when Wren stumbled in front of me. One of his pedals became trapped in the spokes of my front wheel and (it’s a good thing we’re friends) he resumed his climb at a steady pace as I worked my wheel free. The bikes were undamaged and we hadn’t really lost any time, but two incidents on Lap 1 were enough for me.
I was Mr. Clean for the rest of the race, riding away from Wren and McArdle after a couple of laps and then riding down Wick after he had pulled out a small advantage. Wick and I continued as a duo for a full lap and for the most part I was content to follow, but on the penultimate lap he was clearly fading. I went around and encouraged him to stay with me, but a gap soon developed. As I approached the finish line, I could see race leader Arlen Spicer overtaking Wick and I quickly calculated that if I sat up and allowed Spicer to overtake me, then my position would be locked in and I wouldn’t have to do another lap. As it turned out, I reached the finish line first and earned the dubious honor of being the last man on the lead lap. I could see no one ahead of me and the race was finished behind me, so I cursed my luck (verbally, to the delight of USA Cycling official Rich Weiss) and rode on. Late in the lap I chased down a rider who was clearly out of gas and I thought that perhaps there had been some reason to ride the extra lap as if it mattered, but the results later confirmed that I was lapping the poor guy rather than taking a position from him. When it was all over, I was 11th out of 20 in the 45+ group, 7th out of 9 Cat 3s.
Let’s Hear It For The Locals!
West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) won the Masters 45+ Cat 4/5 race in Sheboygan. Fellow West Bender Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) took third place and Germantown’s Scott Willms (Emery’s) was fourth. Wren, Sable and Willms then competed in the Masters 1/2/3/4 race where they finished 12th, 13th and 14th, respectively. It’s a big ask to give your all in the 30-minute race early in the morning and then come back later for 45 minutes against even tougher opponents.
My worst cyclocross race of 2014 came at Lake Geneva on the morning following the 3-hour Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series race at New Fane. This year those events again fall on consecutive days, and I am committed to the WEMS race. I might skip Lake Geneva and then come back strong on Sep. 26-27 in Milwaukee at Cross-Shooshko and Velocause Cross. Lake Geneva will be the first event in the new Super Cup series-within-a-series that the WCA will try this season and the turnout should be huge. That’s exciting, but that’s not necessarily what I need right now as I continue to develop as a Cat 3.