Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A "Validation" Forbidding Mourning

I put on a brave face for the photographer at Greenbush.  On Monday the smile was real.

I haven’t put Greenbush behind me just yet—that probably won’t happen until I enjoy myself in a mountain bike race, whether or not my result compares favorably with that of my opponents—but my performance in a time trial yesterday has restored some self-confidence.  I didn’t mention in this blog that I was going to do the TT because, honestly, I wasn’t sure until early yesterday morning.  I hadn’t ridden my road bike in a week, but I woke up feeling rested and strong and decided to give it a go.

This particular time trial is a recurring, unsanctioned race that’s not on any official calendar.  But it’s close to home and free of charge, two of my favorite things.  I was the third rider to start from a field of 14 and I quickly got into a good rhythm despite a bit of headwind for the first couple of miles.  As I neared the midway point of the course, I caught the rider who had started 1 minute ahead of me.  By the end of the 10.1-mile race I was just 32 seconds behind the rider who had started 2 minutes ahead of me.  I finished in 11th place, posting an average speed of 20.5 mph on the rolling course.

And that’s where I belonged: most of the field was younger and fitter, and a few of the guys were rockin’ TT/tri bikes with all of their aerodynamic benefits.  Giving a good account of myself in competition against riders of such quality was just what I needed to get my head back in the right place.  Reflecting, learning, correcting … those are OK, but doubts and regrets have no place in training.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Discard After Reading

For reasons that should be obvious, here's a statue of a camel getting rained on.
I have been looking hard for the silver lining around the big black cloud that was my performance on Saturday at Greenbush.  The objective truth is that I finished just one lap, abandoning the race at 1 hour, 15 minutes.  The competitive racers completed that same lap in well under an hour.  I guess the upside is that 1:15 was an improvement over the 1:20 that I had posted in practice on Friday.  And I didn’t crash: body (mine) and bike (not mine) came through without damage.  I had the fitness to do better but I didn’t have the skills.  Riders with vastly more experience told me that Greenbush is among the more technical of the courses in WEMS and WORS, and that I should expect to fare better at a different race.  I do want to try another one … maybe Wausau on June 12.  That’s the Big Ring Classic, a much less technically-demanding race, especially for Citizen-class riders.  In the meantime, I still need to work on those bike-handling skills and I have to sharpen my fitness.  It’s not horrible—not by my standards, anyway—but it could be better.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I Suck, However ...

You gotta crawl before you can walk.
I will do my best tomorrow at Greenbush in my first-ever mountain bike race: 12 Hours of the Northern Kettles, race #2 of the WEMS series.  I don’t expect my best to be very good by other people’s standards.  Mountain biking is coming hard for me.  On Tuesday I rode at Greenbush for the first time, tackling Loops 1 and 2 before running out of daylight.  Today I rode all four loops, the 9.5-mile race route.  My time was 1:20.  At least I now have a reference point and I know that I won’t be able to complete more than 2 laps during my 3-hour race.  I can’t imagine doing that course for 6 hours, or 12!  Lots of racers will turn in sub-1 hour laps tomorrow.  I won’t be anywhere near them, but I’ll gain experience and, hopefully, have some fun.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mixed Feelings

How should I feel about the week that just ended?  I rode a total of 187 miles and that’s not bad.  I watched every stage of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California.  On Thursday, for the first time in 2011, I did an out-and-back ride to Eden on the Eisenbahn State Trail.  (I really like that ride and I do it several times each year.)  On Friday morning I attended Bike-to-Work Day and on Saturday I had fun on the best-attended Washington County Bicycle Club ride in recent memory.  The WCBC’s “Random Lake Roller” attracted 17 riders.  The highest attendance last year was just 11.  More is better.

On the downside, I’m not sure I’m any more prepared for mountain bike racing.  I practiced at Glacial Blue Hills on Tuesday and at New Fane on Friday, but those were humbling experiences that tested the limits of disc brakes more than my fitness.  Today I had planned to ride at Greenbush for the first time ever, but I settled on a solo road ride instead.  There’s no way I want to go into Saturday’s WEMS race without some experience on the Greenbush trails, so I have to get up there this week.  Ideally, I’ll go a couple of times including Friday, a vacation day for me.  Team Pedal Moraine has scheduled trail work on Friday and I’ll help with that, then ride.

The week ahead will make many demands of me.  In addition to my job, softball on Wednesday, and preparations for Greenbush, I have an unusually long list of household chores.  My wife’s sister and brother-in-law will arrive from California on Thursday.  We don’t see them often, so our home needs to make a good impression.  In the week ahead my energies won’t be completely devoted to cycling, but I will do the best that I can.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Take It Easy

Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.
A week has passed since I felt a pop in my right thigh during a softball game.  The leg is healing well but I took myself out of the lineup tonight to prevent any further injury.  I’m one of 14 guys on the roster and tonight everyone was present.  Playing the last-place team, there was no reason for me to take a risk.  I kept the scorebook while my teammates posted an easy 16-4 victory.

At the ballpark I jogged a little bit just to test the leg and it didn’t want to go full speed.  But I’m not having any discomfort on the bike.  I rode on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.  If the weather permits, I’ll get out again tomorrow.

Friday is looking good for Bike-to-Work Day in West Bend and I plan to be there.  It will be weird to ride around for a couple of hours before work, but working from home now gives me that opportunity.  On Saturday I plan to ride with the Washington County Bicycle Club, a 40-mile road ride at an easy pace.  Sunday must be another mountain biking day.  I need some practice at Greenbush in advance of the WEMS race on May 28.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Dish Best Served Cold

A crash on the Wild Goose State Trail last August left me with an injured shoulder and forced me to miss my softball team’s playoff game.  This week, softball took its revenge.  In Wednesday’s game I strained my right quadriceps.  It was pretty tender on Thursday, a little better yesterday and significantly better today but still not 100 percent.  I’m sure I’ll be ready for next Wednesday’s game, but the injury kept me out of today’s WEMS race at Suamico.  There was no way the muscle was going to loosen up in a 47-degree drizzle, and no way it was going to perform adequately over a 3-hour race.

So, now I’m two weeks away from the WEMS race at Greenbush, Team Pedal Moraine’s signature event.  Weather permitting—and assuming no more injuries—that will be my mountain bike racing debut.  This is getting ridiculous.  I’m not even close to where I thought I would be at this point in 2011.  I have no races under my belt, no mountain bike of my own, and I’m 316 miles behind last year’s pace.  Last month’s Cheesehead Roubaix is the one success I can claim this season.

The Tour of California begins tomorrow and Versus will have the broadcast, 4-6:30 p.m. (assuming there are no breaking developments in the worlds of bass fishing or bull riding).  That’s something to look forward to on a day that promises more crappy weather.  I’ll ride outside if I can, but tomorrow could be a trainer day.  Taking another day off is not an option.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tragedy In The Giro

Leopard Trek team website
Belgian pro Wouter Weylandt died today while competing in the Giro d’Italia.  You probably already heard the news from some other source, but I didn’t want to let Weylandt’s tragic death go without mention here.  Officials at the Giro waited until the stage ended before making an official announcement, though Weylandt was dead at the scene after crashing on a descent.  I was watching Gazzetta TV’s streaming webcast, which missed the accident itself but showed a few seconds of the aftermath before pulling its camera away.  The images were horrific, and when medical staff began administering CPR the coverage mercifully jumped back to the race leaders.  I didn’t expect Weylandt to pull through, but I looked for any sign of hope.  One report said he had been given adrenaline.  Another said he was being rushed to a hospital by helicopter.  The effort to save his life was nothing short of heroic.

But the effort failed.  The stage ended without a podium celebration for today’s winner or for the new GC leader.  Tomorrow’s stage will begin with a moment of silence and almost certainly will be neutralized by the riders themselves, with the blessing of the Giro’s organizers.  Without any real racing on which to comment, the cycling press will spend the day wringing its hands over rider safety.  We all want something good to come out of this loss.  We can’t accept that a competent professional, a popular 26-year-old in peak physical condition, could be taken away in an instant.

As cyclists and fans, is this our Dale Earnhardt moment?  Certainly, Weylandt didn’t attain the same stature within cycling that Earnhardt reached in auto racing, but his family and friends loved him just as much.  Earnhardt’s death led almost immediately to safety improvements in NASCAR.  Is there something we can learn from Weylandt’s crash?  Some people within cycling are saying already that this is just one of those things that happens every 15 years and there’s nothing to be done.  I’m not sure.  Earnhardt’s death led NASCAR to mandate head-and-neck restraints for its drivers.  Weylandt might have lived through his crash if he had worn a full-face helmet, but that seems a very doubtful future in a sport that values lightweight equipment and only recently required helmets of any kind.  Earnhardt’s death also led NASCAR to rebuild track walls to make them more shock absorbent.  Obviously, cycling can’t erect padded walls along its road courses but perhaps it can do something to make its routes safer.  Was there a less technical option for today’s descent, a different way down?  We want to see challenging and scenic routes but there must be a limit.  The racers themselves feel that way and protest loudly when forced to ride under conditions that are clearly unsafe.  Weylandt’s crash may have been caused by his own moment of inattention.  But still, something good needs to come out of this tragedy.

NASCAR uses restrictor plates to limit speed on its biggest tracks.  We can’t limit the ability of a bicycle to descend quickly, but maybe we can force riders to limit their own speed.  Many amateur races—including those in the Wisconsin Cup and Wisport series—run on open roads where racers are exposed to vehicle traffic.  To prevent head-on collisions, such races impose a center line rule: if a rider strays across the line into the oncoming traffic lane, he is disqualified.  UCI road races run on closed roads where oncoming traffic is not a threat, but overcooking a corner is.  Could the UCI create a center line rule on technical descents, forcing the riders to limit their speed to whatever “fits” the traffic lane rather than allowing them to swing wildly from one side of the road to another?  It would still be fast, still an exercise in bike handling.

We lost Weylandt today.  We might have lost Oscar Pereiro and John-Lee Augustyn in similar fashion during the 2008 Tour de France.  Is it time for a change?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Getting Ready For Stump Farm

Today I returned to New Fane to gain some more mountain biking experience in advance of Saturday’s race.  I wore everything that I expect to wear during the race, so now I expect nothing but good performance from my clothing and shoes.  The borrowed Trek Fuel 70 also performed well.  Of my own performance I can say that I didn’t crash, that I rode cleanly through a couple of sections that gave me trouble last week, and that my Lap 2 time was more than 5 minutes faster than my Lap 1 time.  I’m still nothing like “good,” but I’m getting better.  Familiarity with the terrain is huge, so once Suamico is behind me I’ll be looking for some practice sessions at Greenbush in advance of the race there on May 28.

Eventually I would like to be better than other people, not just better than my novice self.  Today I was clearly faster than a couple of people I encountered on the trails, but they weren’t the sorts of riders I expect to find at WEMS and WORS races.  There were two riders who just flat rode away from me today: Patrick Brock—who placed 5th last year among the Cat 4 racers in the Wisconsin State Cyclocross Championships—and some dude on a gold GT.  These guys were faster on every part of the trail but most noticeably faster on descents.  They seemed not to need their brakes at all on sections that had me wondering whether mine were going to melt.  That’s not fitness; it’s technique that I need to learn.  I can accept that younger, lighter, fitter guys will out-climb me, but I’m in trouble when they can get a gap without even pedaling.

There's a lot to learn, but that's what my 2011 is going to be about.  I think that by throwing myself into racing right away, I'll progress more quickly than I would outside of a competitive environment.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Negative Split

I'm a little concerned about the origin of those bubbles.
As noted previously, one of my standard routes is an out-and-back Eisenbahn State Trail ride on my Giant FCR3, turning around at Main Street in Campbellsport.  Tonight I covered it in 1:58.  The trip from my house to Campbellsport took 1:04 because of a 15 mph headwind.  On the return trip I achieved the negative split I always desire on this route, getting back to my house in just 0:54 thanks to the tailwind.  Then I took 2 minutes to go around my block, finishing my ride at 32 miles with a 16 mph average.  That’s not bad; I wasn’t out to kill it.  I’m actually more proud of the outbound leg, the 1:04 that I worked.  I was faster on the way home but under the circumstances anyone would have been.

Racing Update

This week I mailed my registration for Stump Farm 12, the WEMS race in Suamico on May 14.  So, unless rain closes the trails, that will be my mountain bike racing debut.  Two weeks later I’ll race the 12 Hours of Northern Kettles in Greenbush.  (Well, I’ll race 3 of the 12 hours.  Hats off to the people who do the 6- and 12-hour races; the 3-hour version will be enough for me.)  That will get me through May and then we’ll see how things go.  Right now the June 12 WORS race in Wausau looks like a possibility but I can’t commit yet.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Great Family Event

The flyer speaks for itself.  Thanks to the City of West Bend, the local bike shops and the other businesses that get involved, this is a great annual event.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This Little Piggy Went To Market

I try not to obsess over equipment weight.  I don’t replace perfectly good parts just to cut a couple of grams.  What do such savings mean when my own body is overweight?  I would be better served trimming pounds of belly fat.

My feet aren’t fat, but they are big.  So, at size 46 European (roughly a 12.5 US) my cycling shoes are probably heavier than yours.  I bought a pair of Pearl Izumi shoes when I got my Giant OCR1 back in 2005.  They have been my only cycling shoes and they’re looking mighty rough.  Today I got a new pair of Diadora shoes in a color scheme that will look great with my Team Pedal Moraine kit.  They’re comfortable and they’re 124 grams lighter than the Pearl Izumis—more than ¼-pound of mass that I won’t have to push around with every pedal revolution.  I didn’t buy the shoes for the weight savings, but in theory there should be a little performance boost.  If not, then at least I'll be stylin' while you're passing me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day My Way

Another win for HTC Highroad, but that's not Mark Cavendish.
With just two more weeks until Stump Farm—the WEMS event that I expect will be my initiation into the ranks of mountain bike racers—and with a howling wind that would have made for an unpleasant road ride, I took a borrowed Trek Fuel 70 up to New Fane to experience those trails for the first time ever.

I was not disappointed: New Fane proved to be much more to my liking than Glacial Blue Hills.  I immediately understood what my more experienced mountain biking friends describe as “flow.”  Glacial Blue Hills has defied all of my attempts to find a rhythm, but Loops 1 and 2 at New Fane became faster and easier as I repeated them.  (I took just one tour of Loops 3 and 4 today.)  Overall I rode pretty clean.  There was one steep hill on which I lost all momentum and foolishly tried to get out of the saddle.  My rear tire broke loose and I was done.  And there was a right turn at the end of a fast descent that I nearly overcooked.  Fortunately a nearby tree worked in tandem with my left shoulder to put me back on course.  Have I mentioned that I’m really, really inexperienced as a mountain biker?  I’m not looking for results this year; I’m looking for skill development in a competitive environment.

So, I’ve reached the end of my 12-week training plan.  My fitness is OK but not outstanding.  I still need the weather to warm up before I will hit my stride.  Stump Farm is not a super-technical course, but I will continue to work on bike handling skills during the next two weeks.  I do need to add fitness, though, and I won’t completely abandon the road bike in the meantime.  I’m game for a Thursday evening road ride if there’s still a demand for it in West Bend.

Today began with a live webcast of the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt.  I know maybe 100 words of German but that didn’t matter.  The video quality was excellent and the race came down to a huge bunch sprint.  Today will end with Versus’ same-day broadcast of the final stage of the Tour de Romandie.  We’re getting into that sweet time of the year when there’s always something going on.