Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: A Statistical Review



I put up such big numbers in 2015 that I never thought to challenge them this year. I didn’t expect to get close to 215 rides and 6,236 miles, both personal records. In fact, I didn’t even set a mileage goal for 2016. Nevertheless, 2016 proved to be another high-volume season. I rode on 185 occasions—not 186, as shown above … Garmin broke one of my rides into two pieces—and I amassed 5,620 miles. The 185 rides are 3rd most all-time and the 5,620 miles are 2nd only to last year’s total. Here’s the breakdown, month-by-month:

050 January
205 February (PR)
365 March
426 April
654 May
725 June
796 July
717 August
594 September
620 October (PR)
409 November (PR)
059 December

I competed in 10 WCA cyclocross races and 3 mountain bike races (2 WEMS, 1 WORS), exactly the same totals as last season. I also competed in Race The Lake, Wisconsin’s biggest road race. Again this year there were no centuries for me—at 89 miles, including a little warm-up and cool-down, Race The Lake was my longest day in the saddle. My last century was on August 2, 2014.

I have set a mileage goal for 2017, one that is much lower than you might expect: 3,398. That will take me to 60,000 career miles. Of course, I probably will exceed that goal. This was my 8th consecutive season above the 4,000-mile threshold, after all. But in 2017 my primary focus will be mountain bike racing, training for which will mean long hours at much lower speeds than I would experience on the road. The 2017 WEMS and WORS calendars line up nicely for me, and the racing season begins just 18 weeks from today!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Cursed Periode

Everything was fine until the ice pellets started to cut into my eyeballs.

In Belgium, this is a busy time of year for pro cyclocross. There was a big race today. There’s another one on Monday, and another one next Thursday, and next Friday, and one on New Year’s Day …

It’s kerstperiode, which translates pretty well as “Christmastime.” Family and community activities abound; cyclocross is only a fraction of the fun. And the weather isn’t bad: it’s going to be in the mid-50s there on Christmas Day.

In West Bend the situation is rather different. Our last 50° day was November 29. That also was our last 40° day, which just goes to show how quickly things can deteriorate here. Winter officially arrived on Wednesday and must have liked what it saw, as Autumn had left behind a foot of snow and a streak of sub-32° days that stretched back more than 2 weeks.

I had not ridden my bike since November 29, but I rode today. We hit 36° this afternoon and the wind wasn’t bad. I took my 29er out for a 90-minute reconnaissance loop of the city. I found exactly what I expected: the Eisenbahn State Trail is open from Rusco Drive to Barton Avenue, and Regner is open for Enchantment In The Park, but most other park paths are snow-covered. Oh, well. It was nice just to get outside. Time will tell whether today’s ride was my last ride of 2016. Fresh snow is falling now, and despite the promise of 40° next Monday, the 10-day temperature trend is down.

I still hate winter, but I’m trying to make the best of it.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Shoveler’s Blues

It’s a losing proposition. But one you can’t refuse?


Today, finally, is the end of the 2016 cyclocross season in Wisconsin. The USA Cycling Midwest Cyclocross Championships took place in Sun Prairie on a course that literally had to be forced open with snowblowers. Racers competed—or, in some cases, just rode around the course uncontested—in single-digit wind chill. There was supposed to be another race on the same course tomorrow, but the organizers have canceled it in anticipation of wind chill that could reach 30° below zero. The Wisconsin Cycling Association has canceled tonight’s season-end party due to the snow that is expected to continue into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Only 28 racers were preregistered for tomorrow, spread across 8 different groups classified by gender, ability and age. The competition would have been a farce, just as it was in many categories today. How legitimate is a race when you’re the only one in it, or when merely crossing the finish line guarantees a spot on the podium? Those situations occurred in 11 of today’s 20 races. Preregistration for today was fairly robust, but many racers ultimately decided to forfeit their entry fees rather than to brave the elements.

Meanwhile in Antwerp, Belgium, the world’s top professional cyclocross racers enjoyed a dry, 46° Saturday. At this time of year, that’s a normal day there. But in Sun Prairie, the high temperature of an average December 17 is just 30° before you calculate the wind chill. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? I’m torn between respect for the organizers who work very hard to make these races viable, and a desire to see such events fail so that we can return to a schedule whose end date recognizes the harsh reality of Wisconsin weather.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Presenting The 2017 Cheesehead Roubaix

You don’t have to be as badass as Nicki Lock and Jessica Helmlinger to enjoy the ride, but …
The 8th Annual Cheesehead Roubaix will begin at Newburg Fireman’s Park on Sunday, April 30, at 9 a.m.  Inspired by Spring Classics like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, Cheesehead Roubaix is a 63-mile ride that features almost 10 miles of dirt and gravel. The ride will test your fitness with rough road conditions and about 2,000 feet of climbing.

Cheesehead Roubaix is free of charge, but please consider making a voluntary contribution to the Newburg Fire Department to show your appreciation for the use of its facility. There will be a donations jar at the concessions stand before and after the ride. Last year we collected $1,542 and the department made an additional $472.75 in food & drink sales after the ride. Thanks for your generosity!

There will be a free, mid-ride rest stop courtesy of our friends from BELGIANWERKX. Please let us know you plan to attend so that we can ensure there’s enough food & drink at the rest stop. Join the fun at the Facebook event page, send me email or leave a comment below.

Moroder Photography will be on hand again to preserve your Cheesehead Roubaix memories. Check out these awesome images from last year!

Cheesehead Roubaix is designed for self-sufficient cyclists. The rest stop will be your only support. The ride uses only open public roads and park paths. You are responsible for your own safety and conduct, and you are expressly not exempt from Wisconsin traffic laws. Represent the sport well. Please visit the Cheesehead Roubaix website and print out your own copy of the cuesheet and map. The website also offers a data file for Garmin GPS devices.

See you on April 30!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

ToAD To Return To West Bend In 2017


There’s nothing yet at the website of the Tour of America’s Dairyland, or at its Facebook page, or at its Twitter page, but apparently ToAD will return to West Bend in 2017 after a successful inaugural race this year. The good news comes from the Downtown West Bend Association, which says the West Bend race will be on Monday, June 19. That little bit of information gives us the rest of the dates: June 15-25.

I’m not a criterium racer, but I know some guys who are already training for ToAD 2017!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Giddyup, Giddyup



By   riding 409 miles this month I established a new personal best for November. My previous record was 350 miles, set in November 2015. It’s my third monthly record this year—February and October were good to me too—and I’m at 5,561 miles, year-to-date. I won’t beat the record of 6,236 miles I rode in 2015, but with decent weather I might make a run at a monthly record for December. Anything more than 175 would suffice.

I got to 409 this month with a bunch of short rides. I rode 17 times, so that’s only 24 miles per ride on average. (But it’s way better than the equivalent amount of time on the turbo trainer!) For comparison, I rode 19 times in September, 19 times in May, and 15 times in April. I rode most frequently in August (23) but my highest mileage total came in July (796). This month’s weather allowed me to ride more often than I expected. I kept the rides short, though—nothing longer than 35 miles—as a concession to limited daylight. In December there will be even fewer available hours and I will be almost exclusively a weekend cyclist … if that.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Gut Check


Was it only one week ago that I rode my bike in shorts on a 70° afternoon? Winter is here. It arrived last weekend, bringing our first dusting of snow and wind chill in the teens. The change was dramatic, but not unexpected. I felt really good about not having any more races on my 2016 calendar. WCA cyclocross went on without me in Milwaukee on Saturday and in Madison on Sunday.

But by mid-afternoon on Sunday the bike was calling to me again. I wanted to ride, and I especially wanted to prove to myself that I could renew my uneasy peace with cold weather. Prior to last weekend, temperatures in West Bend were consistently above normal for November. On Sunday, normal would have been 42° but we reached only 32° ... and that’s the bottom of my range. The sun was out, though, and the roads were dry and the wind wasn’t too bad. I actually enjoyed my 1.5-hour ride. It wasn’t merely a case of enduring something unpleasant. I did another 1.5 hours on Monday, and yet another 1.5 hours on Tuesday. A relentlessly wet and sloppy Wednesday turned into a rest day, and today was always going to be one because there was no way to get an after-work snooze and do a ride before my in-laws arrived for Thanksgiving dinner. I will be back in the saddle tomorrow if the rain stays away, and the weekend actually looks pretty good. I am 20 miles away from a personal record for miles in November, so I have extra motivation.

The bathroom scale is proving motivational too: my weight is creeping up. I spent most of the cyclocross season at 187 pounds but today I was 190 … and that was before the big feast. I exited November 2015 at 189 pounds and that’s not a bad goal for November 2016.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Done

“I’m not joking. This is my job!”


In   college I had professor of English who, in flashes of inspiration, would say, “I want to give you a word.” Proceeding to the chalkboard, he would write the word and then give the class its definition. The students quickly understood that these words were to be taken seriously. Anything written on the chalkboard was likely to appear later on an exam. So, it seemed odd when at the very end of the last class, when all exams and writing assignments were behind us, the professor returned to the chalkboard one more time.

“I want to give you a word,” he said. Then he wrote D-O-N-E and bade us farewell. And “done” is an interesting word for one so small, so common, so … monosyllabic. It can be a simple statement of fact, or a lament, or an expression of joy. For college students wearied by a week of finals, it was certainly an expression of joy.

Today my 2016 racing season is done. That’s a simple statement of fact, and a lament, and an expression of joy. I’m glad to be done, glad to be rid of obligations and expectations. I would have liked to go out on a high note, but frankly that seemed impossible. Last week I spent only 4.5 hours in the saddle, adding a paltry 69 miles to my total. It was my worst week of training since May 9-15. This week isn’t going to be much better, and I don’t feel fit enough to give a good account of myself in the remaining WCA cyclocross races.

It’s probably not a coincidence that such a bad week immediately followed the end of Daylight Saving Time, and the days will continue to get shorter for the next month. Colder too: we’ll have some 50° days this week but West Bend might fail to reach 40° on Saturday and Sunday, and high winds on Saturday could bring sub-freezing wind chill. I really want to spend some time hiking, an activity I can enjoy under weather conditions that make cycling unappealing. And I really want to spend more time lifting weights, especially since I expect mountain biking to be the focus of my 2017 season.

There is no offseason anymore. “Done” is the just the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Today I get a head start on next year.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sven-less-ness



Fan support for cycling can be hard to quantify. You can count the visits to websites that provide racing coverage. You can even look at TV ratings … especially outside of the United States. But if you want to talk about attendance at races, then you quickly realize that in most cases fans don’t buy tickets to gain access. Perhaps they do for track events in the controlled environment of the velodrome, but they don’t for most of the road races, criteriums, or cyclocross races.

This morning, Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad published a short analysis of recent professional cyclocross races, concluding that Belgian fans are less engaged this season than they were in 2015-16. The reason? Sven Nys, the now-retired legend of the sport. Without his star power, the newspaper argues, cyclocross has lost some of its allure. Certainly, Nys’ departure is a factor. I would argue that the premature departure of another popular rider, Niels Albert, and last year’s retirement of 2-time world champion Bart Wellens also makes for a less compelling starting grid. Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels no longer produce consistent results and even at their best are quiet, introspective men whose victories can go unnoticed. Tom Meeusen remains one of the more engaging fan favorites, but he has raced with limited success so far this season. Lars van der Haar is out of action as he recovers from an injury. On the women’s side, the amazing career of 7-time world champion Marianne Vos is coming to a close. Her heir-apparent, Sanne Cant, has combined a somewhat prickly personality with a baffling inability to win a world championship despite being a prolific winner otherwise.

Still, there’s so much to like. Current men’s world champion Wout Van Aert and 2015 world champion Mathieu van der Poel are great rivals already … at the ages of 22 and 21, respectively! Laurens Sweeck is just 22 and Toon Aerts just 23. These are riders at the top of the sport right now, with many epic battles ahead. And current women’s world champion Thalita de Jong is just 23. Yes, there has been a real changing of the guard in the last couple of seasons, but cyclocross is in good hands.

I am forced to admit, though, that I am less enthusiastic about the pro road racing scene. The big stars of the previous generation gave us great storylines. Sometimes those storylines proved shameful, but we enjoyed the show while we suspended disbelief. Fabian Cancellara, Ryder Hesjedal, Michael Rogers and Fränk Schleck all retired at the end of the 2016 season, and Peter Sagan now stands out even more clearly as the bonafide superstar in a peloton full of guys who don’t make a lasting impression. You might admire the accomplishments of somebody like Chris Froome, but can you really say that you find Chris Froome to be a compelling personality whose every move demands your attention? I can’t. And it doesn’t help that there were only 5 Americans in this year’s Tour de France, and only 2 in the men’s road race at the Olympics in Rio. It also seems to be true that young road racers serve longer apprenticeships than racers in other disciplines. In football or basketball, a college stud can make an immediate splash upon turning professional. In road racing, The Next Big Thing rarely lives up to the hype.

Cycling is not a team sport in the same way as baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or soccer. Teams in those other sports are inextricably tied to geography, and you probably cheer for the ones closest to home. Players come and go, but the team endures. Fans cherish its history, its stadium, its uniform. Cycling teams have no such continuity. One day you’re riding a Brand A (“Best bike in the world!”) for a manufacturer of writing utensils and the next day you’re riding a Brand B (“Best bike in the world!”) for a company that sells hardwood floors. Fans attach themselves to individual riders—team is, at best, a secondary consideration and probably not even that. I’m more inclined to support an American on the basis of our shared nationality than I am to support a foreign rider.

The point is this: personalities matter. Superstars matter. Of course there’s a little post-Sven Nys depression in cyclocross but it will pass as the greatness of the new generation becomes even more obvious. Road racing is in bigger trouble because of its reliance on Sagan. The careers of Alberto Contador, Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish are winding down. Somebody new must step into the void to create the stories from which we cannot turn away.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Watch Cyclocross, Please

This is my view from the turbo trainer.

At   the end of October, Trek announced that its website would host live video for 10 of this season’s top European cyclocross races. American fans welcomed the news: Trek says it had more than 10,000 viewers for the first webcast on November 1. That was last Tuesday; weekend and holiday numbers should be higher. This Friday, for instance. As we observe Veterans Day, Belgium will observe Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I. Even if you have to work, I encourage you to dedicate a browser window to the webcast of Jaarmarktcross. Even if you turn off the speakers to stay out of trouble with your boss (you’ll get ambient race sounds, but no commentary … and it wouldn’t be in English anyway), even if you aren’t actually watching, tune in. Lots of website hits will encourage Trek to keep providing the coverage beyond the 2016-17 season. And it costs you nothing.

Well, probably nothing. If your Internet access comes from a cable TV company, then you may be familiar with data caps. Those are the bandwidth thresholds at which the cable company says you have had enough fun for one month … unless you don’t mind paying a premium for more. The data cap system is a money grab that has nothing to do with network congestion or fairness, and its primary targets are people like me.

In January I told you about my early experiences with cord cutting—i.e., getting rid of a wasteful, expensive bundle of Internet, home telephone, and cable TV services. Almost a year later, my family and I are very happy with the new arrangement. Thanks to mobile phones, we haven’t missed our land line at all, and our Internet connection is our connection to television programming. We have been experimenting with Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix, watching about 80 percent of our shows “on demand” and about 20 percent live, over-the-air. So far, we haven’t had any data cap issues. That’s probably because my kids weren’t big TV watchers in the first place; your household’s experience might be different.

Smart TVs in the living room and master bedroom made the transition easier than it would have been otherwise. They have built-in apps for the on-demand services and they connect easily to my ChromeBox or to my laptop if I want to watch streaming coverage of a bike race on a screen bigger than the 22-inch monitor in my home office. But down in the home gym, the TV is an older high-definition model with no Internet connection, no way to connect to my laptop, and an NTSC tuner that can’t interpret the new digital broadcasts. The solution there was a $37 converter box with an ATSC tuner and a USB port to which I can attach an external hard drive. That allows the box to function as a DVR, but so far I’m using it only for over-the-air TV and to play back bike races. YouTube has countless hours of racing coverage. Using an online converter to change the format from FLV to MP4, I can download to my external hard drive and then play through the box to keep myself entertained when I’m on the turbo trainer or lifting weights. The setup isn’t as slick as the YouTube app, but I have a workable solution until one of those smart TVs ages into the home gym, its upstairs replacement funded by all the money I’m not paying for cable anymore.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Winning Weekend ... Weather-Wise



A full weekend of cyclocross racing in Wisconsin with temperatures in the high 60s and sunny skies … in November? Yes, please! Historically, the average high temperature in West Bend for Nov. 5-6 is just 49°, but on Saturday we reached 64° and today we hit 68° to break the previous all-time high of 66°, set in 1924. I raced in Milwaukee County and Dane County, respectively, where the weather was just as nice. What a treat to leave the winter clothes at home!

Estabrook Park

The course at Estabrook Park in Milwaukee (and Shorewood and Whitefish Bay, believe it or not) is never exactly the same from one season to the next, and Saturday’s edition of the race featured a section of Milwaukee River bottomland that isn’t normally in play. But the inclusion of that section also allowed the organizers to use a challenging stone staircase that might be the toughest run-up in Wisconsin Cycling Association history. And the stairs were just about the only section of the course that you could be sure was firm. Even flat sections open to the abundant sunshine failed to dry out completely. The race was positively energy-sapping from start to finish, but I enjoyed it tremendously and sustained a very steady effort. I was 19th of 27 overall in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race, 15th of the 22 Cat 3s. John Lirette (Ben’s Cycle/Milwaukee Bicycle Co.) took the win. I felt like a winner after the race when I retired to the Estabrook Beer Garden for a complimentary brew and bratwurst.

CamRock

Today I most emphatically did not feel like a winner. In fact I was dead last: 13th of 13 in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race, 8th of the 8 Cat 3s. I overtook the back of the 35+ field that had started 1 minute ahead of my age group, so I wasn’t literally the slowest man in the race, but that was my only consolation. Once again, the guys to whom I lost were simply faster. The guys at my level have been very hit-or-miss with their participation this season, so it was only a matter of time before I was DFL in a small field. John Lirette won the 45+ age group again today. He does well under all conditions. I do well, relatively speaking, on courses like CamRock, and I didn’t ride badly today. If I could race against the Dave Hanrahan of Nov. 8, 2014, when I placed 3rd at CamRock, I’m sure I would kick his ass. But he was a Cat 4 in a field of Cat 4s. Now I’m overmatched. Cyclocross is still fun, but from a competitive standpoint I don’t matter very much. It’s becoming what it probably should have been from the start: a way to stay fit at the end of the year, but not an end unto itself.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A New Argument For Park Site O



When the WCA announced last Thursday that Milwaukee County would not allow the Halloween Cyclocross Classic to run at soggy Washington Park, some racers wondered why the organizers immediately canceled the event. There was another option: Mitchell Airport Park is the backup venue for Milwaukee-area races. Why wasn’t the race relocated rather than canceled?

At least part of the answer is that Mitchell Airport Park isn’t a very good option. It’s really just a field, almost completely flat and almost devoid of trees. Any cyclocross course there would be purely a creation of posts and tape, a labor-intensive setup yielding uninspiring results. The park has no buildings, no electricity, no off-street parking, and very little adjacent on-street parking. A race promoter would have to bring in portable toilets, electric generators, and some kind of tent/pavilion to shelter the registration workers and race officials. With most races already operating on extremely thin margins, nobody is going to accept those extra costs. To cancel a race will always make more financial sense than to relocate to Mitchell Airport Park.

For the Madison-area races, Trek’s corporate headquarters in Waterloo is the backup venue. That’s not just private land, it’s also a permanent cyclocross course … more-or-less. By using familiar lines, setup wouldn’t be as labor-intensive and the resulting course would be more than satisfactory. (If it was good enough for defending world champion Wout van Aert at the Trek CXC Cup in September, then it’s good enough as a backup venue for a WCA race.) Maybe that should be the backup option for all WCA races. It’s a half hour east of Madison and an hour west of Milwaukee. Promoters are probably still on the hook for portable toilet rentals and electric generators, but course setup would be easier and, at least this year, racers would welcome the opportunity to preview the state championship venue. Attendance should be good, and you need that to cover your costs.

Still, it’s too bad the Milwaukee area doesn’t have a permanent cyclocross course. It wouldn’t need to be on private land; it only would need to be somewhere that isn’t environmentally or politically sensitive. Even if it didn’t have buildings or electricity, it would at least be no worse than Mitchell Airport Park, and it would have the enormous benefit of being easy to set up on short notice. Imagine a course that is mostly defined not by posts and tape, but by a lawnmower. Imagine something like Badger Prairie, where so much of the course is simply carved into a field of tall grasses. We could have that at Park Site O in West Bend. To be an ideal location for a race, Park Site O would need electricity and bathrooms. As things stand, a promoter might be able to work something out with the Kettle Moraine Ice Center that sits on the property’s eastern boundary. Mitchell Airport Park has no neighbors from which it might borrow or rent resources. Like Mitchell Airport Park, Park Site O is easy to reach from the freeway system, but only Park Site O has off-street parking. It’s 90 minutes from Madison but less than 45 minutes from Milwaukee, and it’s a closer relocation option for the Manitowoc, Grafton and Oshkosh races.

Weather-related cancellations are rare in the WCA cyclocross series, and you couldn’t justify development of Park Site O as merely a backup site to be utilized once every five years or so. I envision a permanent bike park with multi-purpose turf trails that can be used throughout the year. Creating them would be a big job—too big for me to tackle by myself—but it’s still mostly a function of mowing and raking. We could have this by next summer, then work out any kinks during our Tuesday practice series in August and September. Wouldn’t it be cool to see it in use as Plan B when otherwise a race would be canceled outright?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

2016 Sunnyview Cross


Oshkosh was a new host city on the 2015 WCA cyclocross calendar. Today the 2nd edition of the race proved to be even better than the inaugural.

That’s not to say I had a good result. I was 13th out of 14 overall in Cat 1/2/3 Masters 45+ and 7th out of 8 Cat 3s. I was the meat in a West Bend sandwich: Troy Sable (unattached) took 12th place and Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) took 14th in his first Masters race as a Cat 3. Midway through Lap 1, I was close behind Sable and Anthony James (Team Extreme) when I crashed. There were a few spots on the course that never dried out today, and I found one! I resumed quickly but never got close to Sable and James again. In many ways, my performance today mirrored my performance last weekend at Fitchburg. I actually rode a very strong race, and the crash wasn’t that big of a deal; I just lost to guys who were faster. Joe Curtes (Twin Six) was today’s winner.

The course was really cool, a big improvement over last year’s. Race director Wade Loberger and his Wheel & Sprocket teammates kept the challenging hill in play but otherwise completely redesigned things. Sunnyview Exposition Center is the home of the Winnebago County Fair, and today’s race took us through the animal barns with a tip of the hat to Jingle Cross, the UCI race at the fairgrounds in Johnson County IA. The course was a balanced mix of power sections, rhythm sections, grass, asphalt, concrete, dirt, sand, gravel … it was cool. And the expo center itself provided a warm place for registration and for podium presentations, a comfortable spot for post-race refreshments, and proper bathrooms. I wouldn’t change a thing in 2017.

Wren’s upgrade to Cat 3 is a big deal. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, then you know that Jeff and I train together and race together frequently. It’s a great rivalry and a great partnership, but making it work has been difficult during this cyclocross season. His Cat 4 Masters races were at 9 a.m. and my Cat 1/2/3 Masters races were at 2:16 p.m., so carpooling wasn’t always convenient. Either I was going to the race venue far too early, or he was staying far too late. We’re back on the same schedule now and even though we’re fighting for lowly positions, it’s good to be in the same fight again!

Friday, October 28, 2016

October Mileage Record

Despite plenty of wet and gloomy weather, somehow this month has turned into a record October for me. Today’s ride brought my total to 540 miles, beating the 534 miles I rode in October 2014. It’s my 2nd PR of 2016, following a surprisingly good February. I will add a few more miles before October is done, then we’ll see what happens in November and December. My mileage records for those months are 350 and 175, respectively. Those aren’t big numbers, but I won’t be very motivated to break them. Daylight Saving Time ends next weekend, the temperatures are dropping, and I have some non-cycling tasks to complete before winter arrives.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hallowe’ekend



Saturday’s Halloween Cyclocross Classic in Milwaukee has been canceled. Milwaukee County Parks made the call this morning, saying that the grounds at Washington Park would be off-limits due to all the recent rain. No doubt, last year’s damaging mudfest was still fresh in the minds of the decision makers.

A little closer to home, there will be a nighttime ride on the Eisenbahn State Trail tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., hosted by the always frightening Jimmy Scharrer. The 16-mile out-and-back ride will start and finish at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, with a mid-ride rest stop at the Speakeasy tavern in Kewaskum and post-ride drinks at Riverside Brewery & Restaurant in West Bend. I have to work, so no fun for me. If you’re free, then use the Facebook event page to let Jimmy know that you’ll be there!

An open Saturday probably means a long road ride for me and more energy for Sunday’s cyclocross race in Oshkosh. And hopefully we will have a long stretch of dry weather between now and next Saturday: Estabrook Park is another Milwaukee County property.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Mark Badger Thing

"It's a tug of war. We expected more, but with one thing and another, we were trying to outdo each other … "


The good news today is that I have surpassed 5,000 miles, year-to-date. I came into 2016 with no pre-defined mileage goal, but as 5,000 began to seem likely I got very interested in reaching it. In my 13 seasons as a cyclist, this is my 5th time with 5,000 miles or more. I first did it in 2011 and I would have done it every year since if not for time lost to a broken collarbone late in 2013. I’m not done riding this year and there’s a reasonable chance I will surpass 5,236 miles, making this my 2nd highest mileage total ever, but I won’t get close to the personal record 6,236 miles I rode in 2015.

The bad news today is that I gave a terrible performance at the Sun Prairie Cup. I was 22nd of 23 overall in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race, 14th out of the 15 Cat 3s. Really, I was dead last: the guy I “beat” took a DNF. Arlen Spicer (BELGIANWERKX) won my race. Team Pedal Moraine’s Steve Cummins took the win in Masters 55+ Cat 4. Clearly, they handled the TONS of descending, off-camber turns better than I did on a Sheehan Park course that was shorter but more challenging than before. I was so slow that I couldn’t catch the guy in front of me even when he suffered a significant crash on the final lap.

That guy was Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts), against whom I have enjoyed a remarkable rivalry. Today was the 8th time that Mark and I have finished consecutively. I hold a 5-3 edge in those meetings, which include both cyclocross and mountain bike races. Mark is 2-1 against me this year, beating me at the Reforestation Ramble and again today. I held him off yesterday at Celtic Cross in Fitchburg, just as I did last season. His victory over me today was a repeat of the 2014 Sun Prairie Cup.

Saturday’s Celtic Cross was a much better race for me on a McGaw Park course with few technical challenges. I was 15th of 20 overall in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race, 11th out of the 15 Cat 3s. I crashed at the midpoint of the race, but recovered quickly enough to keep Badger behind me. How’s that for evenly matched? On back-to-back days, each of us crashed and still prevailed against the other! Fitchburg’s own Jay Maas won Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 on Saturday.

There are two races scheduled for next weekend. I’m more interested in Sunday’s race at Oshkosh than I am in Saturday’s race at Washington Park in Milwaukee, so I might put all of my energy into it. But weather could be the big factor as I make my plans: there’s rain in the forecast. Wet and/or muddy, and I’m out. I’m happy with my 5,000 miles, I’m obviously not contending for high finishes in my cyclocross races, and I’m thinking about allowing myself an off-season.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The 2017 WEMS Schedule



Last night the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series announced its 2017 schedule, and it appeals to me as no WEMS schedule ever has before:

04/29 - The Wild Ride Buzzard Buster @ Hatfield
05/06 - Southern Kettles Classic @ Eagle (Emma Carlin Trails)
05/13 - 9 Hours Of Alpine Valley @ Elkhorn
05/27 - Stump Farm 100 @ Suamico
06/10 - Romp In The Swamp Epic @ Wausau
07/15 - RASTA Rock ‘n’ Root @ Rhinelander
08/19 - Hundred-Down In The Underdown @ Gleason
09/09 - Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane
09/16 - 9 Hours Of Silver Lake @ Silver Lake
10/07 - GEARS Greenbush Grinder (WEMS Championship) @ Greenbush

If I’m still working overnight, finishing my last shift of the week on Saturdays at 7 a.m., then the races in Hatfield, Wausau, Rhinelander and Gleason probably won’t make it onto my calendar. It’s asking too much to work for 8 hours, then to drive 3 hours or more from Brookfield, and then to race for 3 hours or more. But the rest of the WEMS schedule is intriguing. My participation at Emma Carlin might come down to whether I can practice on those trails prior to the race. The weather can be quite limiting that early in the season. Greenbush has often been used as the first venue of the year, and lack of access to it in April has been one of the factors keeping me out of that race. As the series championship race in October, Greenbush is more attractive. There will be many opportunities to practice there during the summer. And the new race at Silver Lake in western Kenosha County could be fun … but as with Emma Carlin, I’ll need to see those trails in practice before I commit.

I’m still working on my 2016 racing season, so any plans for 2017 are very preliminary. But I’m pretty sure I will give more emphasis to mountain bike racing and less to cyclocross next year, and it’s not unthinkable that I will be going after series points in WEMS and in the Wisconsin Off-Road Series.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

2016 Velocross At Humboldt Park



Last year the Velocause cycling team introduced a new venue to the Wisconsin Cycling Association cyclocross series: Humboldt Park in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. It was a really fun course that featured a surprising amount of elevation change for that part of the city. When I saw the event reappear on this year’s schedule, I knew I would be going back.

This year’s edition of the race was considerably bumpier than last year’s, but my new tubeless setup allowed me to run lower tire pressure and most of the course favored a power rider who likes to stay on the gas all the time. I got another average result—15th of 20 overall and 10th of the 14 Cat 3s in the 45+ age group of Masters 1/2/3—but the race was very satisfying nonetheless. Aside from one noteworthy mistake, I handled the course well and eventually found a pretty smooth line.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not perfectly suited for cyclocross because I’m not an explosive starter. I need to settle into the race. That means guys like today’s winner, Arlen Spicer (BELGIANWERKX), are long gone by the time I hit my stride. But today I rode across a 1-minute gap to overtake the last couple of guys in the 35+ age group. That kept my head in the game when otherwise I might have resigned myself to 16th place in my age group behind John Young (Hollander Benelux Racing).

Young was inches ahead of me on Lap 1 when I overcooked a corner on the approach to a sharp uphill section, lost all momentum and had to run to the top. The seconds I yielded to him there were difficult to reclaim in the laps that followed. But I remembered outclimbing him at Cross-Shooshko, and with each little hill today I got closer. I made the catch with 2 laps to go—Young gave a word of encouragement as I passed—and I slowly stretched out my advantage to the finish line. It’s a small victory, for sure, to be 15th instead of 16th, but friendly rivalries go a long way when you’re not fighting for podium spots.

I won’t go to the Badger Prairie race in Verona tomorrow; I’m opting for a long road ride instead. But if the weather is fair in Dane County next weekend, I should be back in action at Celtic Cross and the Sun Prairie Cup.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The WORS State Championship Controversy

The Wisconsin Off-Road Series has a full-blown controversy on its hands at the highest level of competition. At issue is the use of volunteer points to secure the overall series title in the men’s Elite category. The state champion for 2016 will be Nathan Guerra (Vision Cycling), whose season was cut short by injury. Guerra didn’t race in the series after the Midwest MTB Championships on July 24. But by volunteering at the Reforestation Ramble on Aug. 21, Guerra earned an additional 186 points. Those points ultimately proved to be the difference in the final standings. Guerra finished with 1,548 points, 56 more than Pete Karinen (True North Apparel).

And Karinen is not happy:


Surely there was a more constructive way to criticize the WORS scoring system, but at least that got the conversation started. The people who are coming to Guerra’s defense—including WORS kingpin Don Edberg—argue that Guerra worked within the rules that governed the 2016 season. Here’s the relevant rule:

“Series competitors who forfeit participation in a race to help run the event may qualify for volunteer points. To receive these points, a point total equal to a racer’s lowest scoring race excluding DNFs, a racer must: 1) contact the race director at least 8 days in advance of the race to apply for acceptance to the race staff, 2) work a minimum of 5 hours on race day, and 3) pick up a VP (volunteer points) form from the WORS tent, fill it out, have their Race Director sign it and turn it in to WORS Timing & Scoring. A series competitor may include only one VP in their overall results. The VP will either replace a competitor’s lowest scoring event with a point value equal to the second lowest score or one equal to their lowest score depending upon the number of scoring events they have in their overall score.”

When he could race, Guerra raced well. He won 3 of the 7 races in which he competed, he never finished lower than 3rd place, and he was undefeated in 6 head-to-head meetings with Karinen. He was the better racer. On the other hand, he did race only 7 times. At the Elite level, a racer’s best 8 results are counted for the overall WORS title. Without those volunteer points, the last of Guerra’s best 8 results would have been a zero. That would have dropped him to 6th place overall, resulting in a silver medal for Justin Piontek (Adventure 212 / Specialized) and a bronze for Ben Senkerik (Team Extreme). Those awards are nothing to sneeze at, as WORS is our USA Cycling-recognized state championship series.

And then there’s the money: as overall champion, Guerra gets a $1,500 prize. He’s a professional racer, after all, and the distinguishing characteristic of professionals is that they get paid. So, the question is not whether Guerra did anything against the rules. The question is whether riders at that level should be able to earn volunteer points in the first place. WORS couldn’t exist without volunteers—they do most of the work while the WORS staff provides the series administration and the USA Cycling officials oversee competition on race days—but volunteers don’t come from the ranks of the professional riders. Of the 36 Elite riders who scored series points, only Guerra earned volunteer points. He used the system to his advantage, but others might have done the same. It’s not just true that the other Elite men didn’t volunteer; none of the other state championship contenders competed in every WORS event. Those were missed opportunities to score points or to replace earlier results with better ones.

Still, to award a state championship under these conditions is far from desirable. I agree with the strict interpretation of the rule, but I also understand the complaints of the people who think there’s something outside of the spirit of competition in this situation. Starting in 2017, the volunteer rule needs to exclude Elite racers. There’s too much at stake for guys who are trying to scrape together a living from a sport with few financial rewards.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

2016 Grafton PumpkinCross



From my home in West Bend, the closest race venue of the WCA cyclocross series is Lime Kiln Park in Grafton. And it’s always a great course, so I anticipate PumpkinCross much more eagerly than most races. But PumpkinCross hasn’t been good to me. I crashed in 2011 and had to settle for 7th place when I might have had a Top 5. In 2012, I was very fit from a successful WORS mountain bike racing season, but heavy rains prompted the Village of Grafton to cancel PumpkinCross to protect the park grounds. In 2013, I attended PumpkinCross as a fan but not as a racer; I was recovering from a broken collarbone. In 2014, I finished in 6th place despite a bad starting position. I went into the race as the series points leader for Cat 4 Masters 45+, but I didn’t get a call-up. I also dropped my chain that year and had to retake 2 positions late in the race. In 2015, I flatted and had to run half a lap to the pits for a new wheel. The best result I could get in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 field was 23rd out of 30 overall, 8th out of 9 Cat 3s. That experience led me to abandon a clinchers-with-tubes setup in favor of the tubeless wheels and tires that I now use.

Today the bike worked perfectly and the weather was perfect and the course was perfect and I was in perfect health … if not necessarily in perfect fitness. My result is nothing to shout from the rooftops, but at least it’s honest: 25th out of 30 overall in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 field, 15th out of 19 Cat 3s. I handled the technical stuff really well, but I lost at least 1 spot every time up the big hill. Coming into today, I had just 5 hours on the bike this week. Those weren’t bad rides, but I knew my top-end fitness was slipping. For most of today’s race, I could see Troy Sable (unattached) just 20 seconds ahead and Dave Dineen (KS Energy Services / MOSH / Team Wisconsin) just 10 seconds ahead, but I couldn’t close the gaps.

As a SuperCup race, the PumpkinCross fields were stacked. There’s no shame in losing to the guys who beat me. Michael Meteyer (Trek Midwest Team), a Cat 2, won the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race. In the Masters 55+ Cat 4/5 race, Steve Cummins (Team Pedal Moraine) took the win.

Next up for me is Velocross at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee on Saturday, Oct. 15. If nothing else, today’s race was good for knocking off some rust from a body that hasn’t been pushed hard enough in the last couple of weeks. By this time next week I hope to rediscover some of the fitness I have lost. A good race in Milwaukee may encourage me to race next Sunday at Badger Prairie in Verona. Right now I’m not committed to Sunday’s race, as I am not chasing series points.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The 2017 WORS Schedule



The Wisconsin Off-Road Series announced its 2017 schedule today, surprising much of the state’s mountain biking community with the news that the long-running season finale in Sheboygan is gone. (The host club for that race dropped the news on Monday.) Removing Sheboygan from the schedule means the entire 10-race season will run in just 4 months, May through August. That leaves September and October free for Wisconsin’s fledgling high school league, which has close ties to WORS.

As I write this, the biggest mystery is where the season will begin on May 7. Based on the map above, I think the first race will be the Englewood Opener in Fall River. That was a new, non-series event this year. But there’s also uncertainty surrounding the WORS Cup. That used to be a 3-day event called the Subaru Cup. This year it was called the Midwest MTB Championships. As a 3-day event, it featured not just a cross-country race, but also short track cross-country and Super D. As a 1-day event, there won’t be enough time or resources to do anything except the cross-country race.

My own plans for 2017 took a hit today. This year I did Race The Lake and my favorite WORS race, the Reforestation Ramble. They were on consecutive Sundays. Next year, they both fall on August 20. I would have liked to do both again. If I had to decide right now, then I would choose the WORS race. I might have series ambitions. The condensed WORS schedule appeals to me, and the Cat 2 (Sport) 50-54 classification is going to be very competitive.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sodden Impact

Go ahead, make more rain.
Are we in a weather funk, or what? In September we had 15 days with measurable rainfall, including 6 out of the last 10. And so far we’re 1-for-1 in October. This weather is killing my cyclocross season. Some cyclocross racers love wet and/or muddy conditions. Not me. The Wisconsin Cycling Association season resumed today in Manitowoc and I was not there. After working overnight and facing the prospect of racing in the rain 70 miles from home, I took a pass.

There’s more going on here than a single decision to skip a race in circumstances that would have made it impossible for me to be successful. My training has been terrible lately. On Monday, very high winds kept me off the bike and behind the lawnmower. On Tuesday, rain forced me to cancel the season finale of the cyclocross practice series at Royal Oaks Park. I did 2-hour training rides on Wednesday and Thursday, then got rained out again on Friday … and again today.

I feel like I’ve lost some of the edge on my fitness. I have lost the mental edge. Immediately after canceling practice on Tuesday, I set up my Raleigh on the trainer in the home gym. I need to make peace with it, but I haven’t yet. The ugly truth is that I am not fully committed to this cyclocross season. As much as I love the sport, I haven’t convinced myself that training and racing in cold, wet conditions is worthwhile when the result is, at best, a mid-pack finish.

I am still what I always was: a guy who just might succeed by outlasting you. The WEMS race at New Fane back on Sep. 17 provides a perfect example. I was in 11th place at the end of Lap 1 and in 10th place at the end of Lap 2, then I jumped up to 5th place by the end of Lap 3. I was still in 5th place at the end of Lap 4, but closing fast on the guy ahead of me. I moved into 4th place early on Lap 5 and held that position for the remainder of the race. But that’s mountain bike racing; cyclocross doesn’t work that way. Explosive starts leave me fighting for the scraps after the first minute. Throw in weather that I truly hate and you have a recipe for demotivation.

Next week’s forecast holds some promise and I still plan to race at PumpkinCross in Grafton on Oct. 8. The WCA season really is just getting started and I shouldn’t give up on it yet. I am hedging my bets, though, by looking for other cycling opportunities. There’s an appealing gravel grinder in downstate Illinois on Oct. 30, for example, that could be a great alternative to another weekend of rotten weather in Wisconsin. And I’m only 468 miles away from a 5,000-mile season. But that’s a consolation prize, and when I’m planning for 2017 I should look for more competition goals early in the season. Autumn is never what I want it to be. Saving myself for it is failing to make best use of my abilities.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Before Somebody Gets Killed ...

Stop
Doing
This

Bicycle riders may utilize the sidewalk except in downtown West Bend and downtown Barton. All three of these collisions occurred in a part of town where riding on the sidewalk is permitted. But bicycle riders on the sidewalk must stop at every intersection and must understand that they are less visible to drivers than they would be if they were on the street. This is nothing new. For their part, drivers must come to a full stop at a red light or stop sign before completing a right-hand turn and under all circumstances must yield to anyone in a crosswalk.

Infrastructure doesn’t fix this. Only better behavior fixes this. There will always be points of intersection between bikes, pedestrians and motor vehicles, and it’s up to you to conduct yourself safely at those points.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Unsanctioned Doesn’t Mean Unimportant

You might not think an unsanctioned race is as important as a sanctioned one, but somebody does!
Earlier this year I heard an American road racer say that, in the opinion of his cycling friends, a race without the sanction of USA Cycling isn’t a real race. I was surprised by that viewpoint. USA Cycling is our sport’s national governing body, fair enough, but many prominent races fall outside its purview. In 2013, the UCI asked USA Cycling to be more diligent in its enforcement of Rule 1.2.019, which forbids licensed racers from participating in unsanctioned events. But doing so would have cut off a major source of income for many of our domestic pros. USA Cycling went to bat for them, and the UCI backed down.

That was an acknowledgment of the value of non-USA Cycling events. Yesterday we saw another: USA Cycling and the independent Oregon Bicycle Racing Association announced an agreement that will make it easier for Oregon racers to integrate with USA Cycling-licensed racers from other states. The racing scene in Oregon is strong, and the new agreement recognizes that fact.

USA Cycling sanctions the road, track and cyclocross races of the Wisconsin Cycling Association and the mountain bike races of the Wisconsin Off-Road Series. And these races are popular, but in many corners of Wisconsin there is significant anti-USA Cycling sentiment. Some of our best racers hold no licenses and compete in non-USA Cycling events only. Are they cheating themselves? Hardly. Consider these points:

  • The unsanctioned Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series consists of 9 races, just 1 less than the far more expensive Wisconsin Off-Road Series, and many people would argue that they run on better trails.
  • With its signature 40-mile mountain bike race, the Trek-sponsored Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival draws 2,100 participants annually and has been a Wisconsin tradition since 1983. 
  • Wausau24 draws more than 200 participants annually for a full weekend of mountain bike racing.
  • The Minnesota Mountain Bike Series holds 2 of its races in Wisconsin and requires a USA Cycling license at the Pro/Expert level only. Licenses are optional for all other racers.
  • Milwaukee’s chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association hosts a series of unsanctioned races at a variety of Milwaukee County and Waukesha County trails every Wednesday evening in June, July and August.
  • The unsanctioned Wisport series runs most of the road races (9) and time trials (11) in Wisconsin, far more than the criterium-heavy WCA.
  • A smaller alternative to USA Cycling, American Bicycle Racing sanctions track events, criteriums, road races and mountain bike races throughout Wisconsin, often concurrently with Wisport.

Throw in some gravel grinders and fatbike races and in Wisconsin you could race all year long without a license. Are they real races? Well, first ask yourself whether a USA Cycling-sanctioned race is legitimate when its categories are so narrowly defined that all you have to do to reach the podium is to finish. For Juniors and women, that happens at almost every criterium, cyclocross race and mountain bike race. Meanwhile, the list of winners at the unsanctioned Chequamegon 40 includes cycling legends Greg LeMond and Steve Tilford. How’s that for real?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

2016 Northern Kettles Fall Epic

The mountain bike trails at New Fane are “home turf” for Team Pedal Moraine, and I feel really good about the work my teammates and I did there in today’s WEMS race, the Northern Kettles Fall Epic.

As always, the race featured long-, middle-, and short-distance options. I chose the short-distance option … or should I say the short-duration option? Riders in my race had 3 hours in which to complete as many laps as possible. Vince Steger (High Gravity), a Cat 1 from Fitchburg, was the only rider to complete 7 laps, finishing in 2:44:46. He was untouchable. He completed Lap 6 at 2:20:43. The closest pursuer was my teammate Matt Grady, who finished 6 laps in 2:36:45 and won the fatbike division by more than 16 minutes! Chris Tamborino of Hubertus was 2nd in my 26-man category, completing 6 laps in 2:40:15. Eric Larson of Schofield was a close 3rd at 2:40:59.

I placed 4th in 2:42:21. I couldn’t see Larson and my closest pursuer was almost 6 minutes behind me, so I didn’t ride the last lap as hard as I might have. Memories of crashing on the last lap of the 2015 race were fresh in my mind and I wasn’t about to do anything that could jeopardize my cyclocross season. Last year on essentially the same course, I was 7th out of 25 men in the 3-hour race, finishing in 2:38:01. So, this year was just a little slower but there were some greasy spots on the course, thanks to rain earlier this week. I rode a strong but cautious race. After working overnight, I slept from about 8 a.m. until about 11:30. That’s not much, but it was enough. I was confident as the race began at 2 p.m., I felt energetic throughout the race, and my nutrition/hydration strategy was sound.

Team Pedal Moraine had 5 riders in the race. Long-time team members Bill & Brittany Nigh served as hosts today, putting on a great event with some timing table help from yet another teammate. Two more team members showed up as fans, offering their support and congratulations to the racers. It was a nice display of unity … and racing prowess.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Gold Star Memorial Trail



Back in April I had some fun imagining a new bike route that would connect the Wild Goose State Trail, the Eisenbahn State Trail and the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. It was all very speculative and wasn’t meant to reflect any existing projects or proposals. At that time, I didn’t know about an initiative in Dodge County that actually could come to fruition in the not-too-distant future.

The Gold Star Memorial Trail is still just a dream, but it’s one with a dedicated group of people already working toward it, and it appears to have support within Dodge County government. Unlike my idea, it would not be a rails-with-trails project, but instead would run within highway corridors like the Old Plank Road Trail, which parallels State Highway 23 in Sheboygan County. The Gold Star Memorial Trail—envisioned as a 15-mile ribbon of asphalt—would connect Beaver Dam, Horicon and Mayville, intersecting with the Wild Goose State Trail just north of Minnesota Junction. That intersection is just 5 miles from downtown Juneau, through which the Wild Goose passes. So, this new piece of the trail network would link roughly one third of Dodge County’s population.

And it could become part of an eventual link between the Wild Goose and the Eisenbahn. From its eastern terminus in Mayville, the Gold Star Memorial Trail would be just 21 miles west of the Eisenbahn. But while I could recommend a couple of very pleasant on-road connections, there isn’t an obvious corridor if you want to build an off-road alternative. The best choice might be a bike trail parallel to State Highway 28, connecting Mayville first to Theresa and then to the Eisenbahn at Kewaskum. Such a route would be a little short on scenery, but it would be better than nothing.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The 2016 CX Season Begins

Suyko killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?


This was the opening weekend of the Wisconsin Cycling Association’s 2016 cyclocross season and for me it was a humbling but useful experience. I did three races and got the result I deserved in each. On Saturday I felt pretty good about that; today I’m looking for the silver lining.

Cross-Shooshko

We’ve had a lot of rain recently and even more threatened on Saturday. But I knew a damp morning would turn into a dry afternoon at Kosciuszko Park in Milwaukee. I previewed the course about an hour before my 2:15 start time and found it slick but rideable. The course was a well-balanced mix of fast straightaways, meandering hill climbs, and off-camber sections with multiple lines but no consensus “best” way around. I was a little worried that a rideable course would become crash-filled at race speed. The sun and wind did their job, however, and the course was in excellent shape as I lined up for the Masters 1/2/3 race.

I didn’t merit a spot on the front row, but that’s where I found myself when nobody else seemed to want it. Immediately to my right was John Lirette (Ben’s Cycle / Milwaukee Bicycle Co.), who would go on to win. I let him know that I wouldn’t contest the holeshot. Whatever advantage being in the front row gave me, it wouldn’t have been right for me to impede the heavy hitters in my age group. I got a decent start but it didn’t take long for the faster guys to pull away. In the first minute of the race, I lost almost every spot I was going to lose. I was left with a very fun fight with age group rivals Jon Suyko (BELGIANWERKX), John Young (Hollander Benelux Racing), and West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached). Suyko wanted to be in the lead of the group and I couldn’t stop him from taking it. He never really pulled away, but I never really threatened to pass once he got around me. Young seemed content to follow. Sable passed me on Lap 2 but couldn’t get a gap. I retook that position at about the time we ran into the back of the 35+ age group that had started 1 minute ahead of us, and Sable dropped back, eventually finishing in 15th place. Suyko, Young and I worked with 55+ age grouper John Lichtenberg (Diablo Cycling) to get clear of any pursuers by the midpoint of the race.

Young then went around me but I kept him close and felt sure I could out-climb him late in the final lap. Lichtenberg and I gapped him before the uphill barriers and then made a last-ditch effort to overtake Suyko, but ran out of racecourse. Suyko was 11th of 17 racers in the 45+ age group while I took 12th and Young took 13th. I would have liked one more lap, as I had really settled into a nice rhythm. The deep endurance I enjoy at this time of year was there for me on Saturday … and would be tested again today.

Cross Of The North

I’ve written before about the reluctance of Milwaukee-area racers to travel outside of southeastern Wisconsin, and today’s race in Wausau was way outside of southeastern Wisconsin. For me it was 320 miles, round-trip, and as long as I was going to invest that much time I was going to get my money’s worth in the suffering department.

I entered my first-ever Elite Cat 3 race and found myself in a field of only 6 competitors. The other guys were all from Dane County and ranged in age from 25 to 35. I didn’t have a prayer, but I did the race as a warmup for the Masters race that would follow. Cross Of The North ran over a really interesting and imaginative course, featuring several very technical sections. I was dead last in the Elite Cat 3 race, but it was a good warmup that gave me a lot of familiarity with the course.

In the Masters 1/2/3 race that began just 15 minutes after the end of Elite Cat 3, I actually finished 3rd out of the 5 Cat 3s, benefiting from that deep endurance. My average speed was the same as it had been in the earlier race; I didn’t suffer any performance dropoff from accumulating fatigue. But that really is looking for the silver lining, because I was 11th out of 13 overall in the 45+ age group, taking a serious beat-down from a strong group of Cat 2s. Minnesotans took 1st, 3rd and 4th. The top Wisconsin guy was Appleton’s Jeff Abitz (Diablo Cycling) in 2nd place.

There were 254 pre-registered racers at Cross-Shooshko, a SuperCup race in the heart of Milwaukee. There were only 56 pre-registered racers at Cross Of The North, only 1 of whom was from Milwaukee County. But I understand not wanting to drive 400 miles. (For the Dane County guys, it was still about 300!) Needless to say, fields were small in every category. That’s too bad. The course was cool and the weather was beautiful.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cyclocross Eve 2016

The 2016 Wisconsin Cycling Association cyclocross season begins tomorrow with one of its top events: Cross-Shooshko at Milwaukee’s Kosciuszko Park. Cross-Shooshko is the first of eight races in the SuperCup, our state championship series. SuperCup events bring out more racers and, generally, better racers than non-SuperCup events. Tomorrow’s fields will be stacked with everyone who has championship ambitions, plus anyone who’s tuning up for next weekend’s Trek CXC Cup, a non-series event in Waterloo that some people consider an even bigger prize.

I have no SuperCup or Trek CXC Cup ambitions, but I do look forward to tomorrow. Cross-Shooshko has been a good event for me historically. I don’t expect to beat the Cat 1 & 2 guys in the Masters 1/2/3 race; my goal will be to place well among the Cat 3s and to catch some of the guys in the 35+ age group that will start 1 minute before my 45+ wave. On Sunday at Cross Of The North—a new, non-SuperCup event in Wausau—my challenge will be a little different. I will double up for the first time in my cyclocross career. I’m registered for both the Elite Cat 3 race at 1:15 and the Masters 1/2/3 race at 2:15. Each is 45 minutes long, so I will have just 15 minutes to recover between races. Why double up? To have more fun is probably the best reason, but there are competitive advantages. More racing is more of a workout, more time spent on cyclocross-specific skills, and more experience with race tactics. There’s also the matter of USA Cycling rankings, the less-than-perfectly-calculated numbers on which the WCA bases call-ups. Competing against a (presumably) larger field of (presumably) younger racers should help my ranking and therefore my position on the Masters starting grid in the weeks to come. But there are no guarantees: if pre-registrations are any indication, then both the size and quality of the Elite Cat 3 field will be inferior to that of the Masters 1/2/3 field at Wausau.

Moving up to Cat 3 at the start of 2015 was the equivalent of moving up to Cat 1 from a competitive standpoint, and I’m not that good. This season I hope to be one of the best of the Cat 3s in a Masters field that is rich with talent. And, of course, I hope to compete in the state championship race on December 3. I still have never made it that deep into the cold part of the season.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Bike & Pedestrian Funding Awarded To Washington County



Here’s great news from Debora Sielski, Deputy Planning & Parks Administrator for Washington County, reprinted verbatim from a news release she issued last Friday:

“The Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced the award of the 2016-2020 Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) to the Washington County Planning and Parks Department for the development of a Bike & Pedestrian Plan for Washington County. The project has been awarded up to $72,000 of federal funds. It is one of 33 projects and $15 million of approved TAP funding for the 2016-2020 program cycle. The Bike & Pedestrian Plan for Washington County is being developed in an effort to increase opportunities for non-motorized vehicle transportation. The Plan will make recommendations to develop a countywide network of trails and routes as alternate modes of transportation that can be integrated into a user’s daily routine. The Plan will focus on creating trails and routes that provide accessibility to essential services, such as schools, commercial centers and major employment centers as well as creating a trail network that provides varied recreational opportunities that are enjoyable for all residents. The Plan will promote recommendations for policies, programs and ordinances that will support development of a safe and accessible network of trails which encourage active lifestyles in a way that is safe, comfortable and enjoyable for all users. The Plan will consider connections between existing trails throughout Washington County as well as trails in adjoining counties. By providing connections to existing trails, Washington County residents will have access to a greater variety of opportunities and destinations.”

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Last Of The Big Blocks


It’s Sunday, the end of my training week. I screwed up my ride stats today by pausing my Garmin during a water stop and then neglecting to un-pause it when I resumed. I lost a few miles and several minutes of riding, so “officially” today’s ride was just 45 miles. I surpassed 4,000 miles, year-to-date, on Friday, so I can live with a few lost miles today. But if I add back the lost time, then this was a 10-hour week. It might prove to be my last big block of training this year.

The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are trending lower—though there is a nice dose of summer in the forecast for the new week—and the cyclocross season is scheduled to begin on Saturday. My base is very solid and I can afford to drop the volume if I increase the intensity. I’m going to use Mondays as flex days to focus on any part of my game that needs extra attention. (Tomorrow that means mountain biking, as I don’t feel prepared for the WEMS race at New Fane on Sep. 17.) Tuesdays will continue to be dedicated to cyclocross practice at Royal Oaks Park through the end of September. That’s a hard effort, but a short one. Wednesdays will be rest days. Thursdays will be long-steady-distance days. Fridays will be reserved for time trial efforts: hard, short, and hopefully the right workout to take me into the weekend primed but not fatigued. There are a lot of back-to-back races on the cyclocross schedule this season. It’s not good enough to be prepared for Saturday’s race if I’m exhausted in the starting grid for Sunday’s. I’m probably looking at an average of 6 hours of training per week during cyclocross season, not counting the races themselves.

On today’s ride I performed like a big block engine: plenty of power at low RPM. It was a sweet-spot ride for me … and nothing like the effort required by cyclocross. Fine tuning began back on Aug. 2 at Royal Oaks. Now it’s time to take the intensity up another notch.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lighten Up!

Why have your own blog if you’re not going to brag about yourself from time to time? Today I weighed in at 185 pounds, and that’s a good thing. It’s not just my lowest weight in 2016, but it matches my lowest weight from 2015.

Last year, I didn’t hit 185 until October 29, and I last hit that mark on November 15. By December 1, I was already at 191. On March 20, I hit 200 pounds. I stopped the damage at that point, but I didn’t get back under 200 on a consistent basis until April 20. Losing 15 pounds in 4 months would be a big deal for a lot of people, and obviously I wouldn’t be writing about it if it weren’t significant to me. But this has been a pattern for me for the last several years. The thing that makes today’s weigh-in truly notable is the date: I am far ahead of last year’s schedule and that’s a good sign as the cyclocross season approaches. I don’t have as many miles in the legs as I had last year on this date, but the intensity has been there. Racing—cyclocross in particular—is the reason my weight bottoms out late in the year. The recent combination of Race The Lake, the Reforestation Ramble, and the Tuesday cyclocross practice series has given my fitness a jolt. I’m down 5 pounds since August 10!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chicken & Egg

Do we lack choices because we lack interest, or do we lack interest because we lack choices?
I know I’m like a broken record with this, but I’m thinking again about the uniformity of mountain bike racing in Wisconsin. I don’t expect any changes to come from the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series (WEMS), which exists to promote the cross-country marathon format. The Wisconsin Off-Road Series (WORS) offers one Super D and one short track cross-country (STXC) race per year, but otherwise sanctions cross-country races that look very much alike. Super D and STXC are on the program only at the Midwest MTB Championships. That three-day weekend—the less-prestigious remains of the WORS Cup, which, in turn, was less prestigious than the Subaru Cup—is supposed to be the jewel in the WORS crown, but the top pro riders who used to compete here now compete elsewhere. We’re no longer on the map of the big national series. Nonetheless, the inclusion of Super D and STXC make that event unique in Wisconsin.

Well, unique for two more weeks. There's a great-looking weekend of collegiate mountain bike racing planned for Sep. 10-11 at Alpine Valley. It’s too bad the weekend is open only to collegiate racers. The format is almost identical to the Midwest MTB Championships, with cross-country, Super D and STXC on the schedule. And the downhill run will be significantly longer than a typical collegiate downhill, which should be very welcome news for racers and spectators alike.

Super D wouldn’t work at every WORS venue, but think of the series you could have with just Iola, Mt. Morris, Portage, La Crosse and Lake Geneva. That’s half of the calendar. And who says a Super D race has to be only an undercard fight before the main event on a WORS weekend? Have a date at Alpine Valley for everyone, not just for collegiate racers. Come to Washington County and race again at Sunburst, or create a Super D and Freeride event at Little Switzerland. When you don’t need miles of singletrack, there are lots of possibilities.

STXC could be a feature of every WORS weekend. At Nordic Mountain in Mt. Morris, former home of the Subaru Cup, they probably still remember where to set up the course. CamRock and Sheboygan have hosted cyclocross races, so those STXC courses would be easy to define. Even the Brown County Reforestation Camp—normally a challenging place for spectators—can host STXC. It proved that last Saturday night when local organizers ran a short track race on the lighted ski trails. The camp has about 3 miles of those, and the STXC race was a great addition to the Reforestation Ramble weekend … even if it wasn’t technically part of the USA Cycling-sanctioned WORS program. The prospect of bad weather kept me in West Bend until Sunday morning, but friends had a blast and the entry fee was only $10. If the STXC race comes back to the camp in 2017, then it will go on my calendar.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016 Reforestation Ramble


It  would be dishonest for me to say that I went to Suamico today with no expectation of doing well in the Reforestation Ramble, race 8 of 10 on the Wisconsin Off-Road Series calendar. After all, I won my age group on those trails in 2012 and 2015. But this year I have done very little mountain biking—today was just my 7th time on singletrack—and it was my first ride on my 29er since the WEMS race at Suamico on July 16. On Wednesday I paid a rare visit to the Pleasant Valley trails in Ozaukee County and spent about half an hour on a Rocky Mountain Pipeline at a Belgianwerkx-sponsored demo event. Sure, that was mountain biking, and perhaps riding an unfamiliar bike on unfamiliar trails resulted in a quick boost of my handling skills, but I was not perfectly prepared for today. Ideally I would have attended Saturday’s pre-ride, but with rain in the area I elected to stay home. Arriving at the Brown County Reforestation Camp this morning, I had only enough time for a quick tour of the newest section of singletrack before I was forced off the course by the start of the Cat 3 (Citizens) race.

It didn’t matter. I was strong and focused and ultimately very happy to take 3rd place out of 20 in my age group and 29th of 141 overall in the Cat 2 (Sport) race, finishing in 1:21:49.59. Series leader Lloyd Cate (Wheel & Sprocket) won the age group in 1:19:29.79, followed by Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) in 1:20:13.61. Both men are new to the age group this season, and Cate has a stranglehold on the series points that will determine the state champion. Today they benefited from call-ups that put them in the first row, while I started in Row 3 and had to work through traffic. I never saw them after the start.

Prior to today, the Reforestation Ramble differed from other WORS races in the length of its laps. In past editions of the race, it wasn’t unusual to do just two 12-mile laps, but today we did three laps of about 5.5 miles. That meant a higher percentage of singletrack and less time on the cross-country skiing trails where I excel. But I rode the singletrack as well as I ever have, and my lap times were super-consistent: 27:32, 27:13, and 27:03, respectively. Lap 1 was a dash through most of the series regulars who started in front of me … and it was a get-to-know-you lap on a trail system that can be configured in dozens of ways. As Lap 2 began my confidence soared because no one was passing me and I was moving steadily through younger riders who had started earlier. Late in Lap 2 I overtook a trio of rivals who would be very dangerous if I couldn’t get a gap, so early in Lap 3 I worked with riders from other age groups to build my advantage. But then I was unpleasantly distracted by a pair of crashes by riders in front of me, one of which forced me to dismount and hurdle the fallen rider as if he were a cyclocross barrier. I can only assume my pursuers were delayed longer than I was. In the final miles, the leaders were out of sight and I no longer felt pressure from behind, so I continued to work with younger riders to consolidate my position.

Last year the Reforestation Ramble was my only WORS race, and that will be true again this year. But I’m not done with mountain bike racing in 2016; there’s still the WEMS race at New Fane on Sep. 17. I should probably start riding there again. I haven’t been to New Fane since July 12!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Cyclocross Tubeless



Last year at this time I switched my mountain bike over to a tubeless wheel/tire setup. Now I am experimenting with tubeless for cyclocross. The objectives are the same in each case: run lower tire pressure to increase handling and ride quality while eliminating the chance of a pinch flat. Is it a cure-all? Certainly not. The risk of a pinch flat is gone because there’s no innertube, but in its place is the risk of a burp. That’s a momentary separation of tire and rim, resulting in a big pressure drop and, probably, a bit of a walk. I have had a couple of promising cyclocross races ruined by pinch flats, so I want to see what tubeless can do for me.

The really serious cyclocross racers swear by tubular tires, which offer even lower pressures, unbeatable cornering and run-flat capability. No, thanks. The cost is prohibitive and, anecdotally, I have seen more tubulars come unstuck from their rims than all other in-race tire failures combined.

On the mountain bike, I haven’t had any trouble with my tubeless setup. On the cyclocross bike, the jury is still out. I tested the setup for the first time at the end of our practice session at Royal Oaks Park last Tuesday, then did the entire practice session with that setup this week. There were no issues, and I felt like I could have gone even lower with my tire pressure. I’m counting on the extremely tight fit of Bontrager CX3 tires on Shimano Ultegra rims to burp only under extraordinary circumstances, if ever.

For me, tubeless is worth a try. If things go badly, then I will fall back to a traditional setup. Even accounting for the extra weight of the tubeless-ready tires, running the new wheelset with tubes would be a lighter and stiffer alternative to my aging Mavics.