Sunday, August 28, 2011

Call It The Redemption Ramble

Can't see the race from the observation tower.  Reforestation is working!
After a bad mountain bike racing debut at Greenbush in May, I knew two things: first, I didn’t want to get back on the mountain bike for a while, and second, I did want to try another race at some point.  Today proved to be the right time and Suamico proved to be the right place as I competed in the Reforestation Ramble.

The venue lived up to its reputation: a mix of wide nordic ski trails and smooth flowing singletrack with only modest changes in elevation.  Back at Greenbush I don’t think I was comfortable for a single moment, but at Suamico I was comfortable almost immediately.  The start seemed almost leisurely, but I figured I should go along to get along—I’m still a roadie masquerading as a mountain biker.  I wasn’t going anything like full speed but I passed a couple of guys in the few minutes before we reached the first section of singletrack.

What came next was the pattern that my entire race would follow: limit my losses on the singletrack and then just destroy people on the ski trails.  I was good on the hills but otherwise fell back a little on the singletrack due to poor technique.  Invariably I would carry too much speed into a corner, then brake hard, then accelerate hard on the exit.  For what it’s worth, I never crashed, but I used gobs of energy that the more experienced, more fluid riders conserved.  That might have become an issue in a longer race, but as a Cat 3 (Citizen) competitor I needed to complete just one 12-mile lap.  I trusted in my fitness and pressed on.

By the halfway point I was convinced that I had seen everything Suamico could throw at me.  I had been passed only once but soon retook that position by outdistancing my rival on a sandy climb up a section of ski trail.  There were two hills I failed to climb cleanly.  The first was on a singletrack section where a rider stalled just in front of me, leaving me nowhere to go.  The second was on a very sandy ski trail.  I later learned that the only good line was on the far left; I had no chance trying to charge up the center.  I didn’t lose much time there, but pre-riding the course would have allowed me to avoid the problem.  And pre-riding would have helped with the finish.  I flew through the aid zone at mile 9 without taking a water hand-up, so I knew I was getting close.  But a short time later when I saw the number 24 flashing at me I assumed I was coming to the line in 24th place.  That would have been a great result, but actually the sign was indicating my current speed as I tried to finish in style.  Yeah, 24 mph.  Those ski trails were fast.  But the true finish line was still one gentle corner and a short sprint away.

In the end I took 41st out of 123 in men's Cat 3.  In the 40-49 age group, I was 13th out of 32.  With a time of 58:44.2, I was less than 5 minutes behind age group winner Chris Harold of Lindenhurst IL (53:57.7).  Mitch Otto of Appleton posted the fastest overall time in Cat 3 with a 52:01.0.

So, just like last weekend’s Kirke Vei Time Trial, the Reforestation Ramble was an honest representation of where I am right now as a cyclist.  Where I will go next is uncertain.  A good August will go out with a whimper: tomorrow is a planned rest day, Tuesday will be a fairly easy effort and Wednesday will be the final night of my 2011 softball season.  My only special events scheduled for September are the Washington County Bicycle Club rides on the 10th and 24th … but that could change.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flying From Frustration

No, not really.  But it wouldn't have surprised me.
Today was not a good day at work.  Most of my regular duties were on hold this week as I completed five days of online, instructor-led training for a complex software package my company is going to deploy.  Things went pretty well for me Monday through Thursday.  But today I was lost, muting my microphone and swearing up a storm.  When the class finally ended I needed to get on the bike and let off some steam.

With a long road ride planned for tomorrow, this evening I rode the Giant FCR3 up the Eisenbahn State Trail to Eden.  I wasn’t there to visit all the touristy hot spots; as soon as I reached the end of the trail I turned around and rode back home.  I covered the 47 miles in 2:44, a 17.2 mph average.  Outside of West Bend I saw very few people and the solitude was therapeutic.

Tomorrow morning I will ride with the Washington County Bicycle Club, then I might do a little mountain biking.  On Wednesday I rode with my Team Pedal Moraine friends at New Fane.  It was my first time on the mountain bike since the WEMS race at Greenbush in May, so I was pretty rusty on my first lap at New Fane but the second one was better.  There’s still a chance I will do the WORS race at Suamico on Sunday and one more practice session would help.  Suamico is probably the least technically-demanding course for WORS and WEMS, so maybe I could race it without the fear of imminent death that dogged me at Greenbush.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 Kirke Vei Time Trial

MadCity Velo’s website describes the Kirke Vei Time Trial as a “technically challenging and hilly course that will test your management of power output over the entire 20K distance.”  Except for the slightly exaggerated length of the route—it wasn’t quite 20 kilometers—the race lived up to its billing on Saturday.

I rode as well as I was able, finishing the 12.2-mile course in 36:06.99, a 20.27 mph average.  Overall I placed 73rd out of 99 finishers, and 9th out of 13 in the non-aero “stock bike” category, won by Dean Lazenby in 31:46.79.

My day began inauspiciously, as I had slept poorly and just felt not quite right.  And the weather turned rainy by the time I reached the halfway point of my drive to Dane County.  Once I got to Madison, however, the rain was ending and the clouds were breaking up.  I still had almost two hours before my start time and hoped that the roads would dry out.  And they did, but not before the weather conditions forced a delay in starting the event.  No one seemed to mind the delay, as wet roads on this already technical course would have made for more dangerous racing.

Last Sunday when I pre-rode the course I identified the first three miles as a potential trap.  The downhill start begs you to go fast but then there are three little hills just waiting to put you in the red.  I rode this section faster than I thought I would, spurred on by race-day adrenaline.  The morning rain may have helped here by smoothing out the loose gravel from a recent chip-and-seal resurfacing.

At about 15 minutes elapsed, Travis Goodlund caught me for 3 minutes and rode away easily in his aerodynamic tuck.  Goodlund finished 3rd in this year’s WCA state time trial championship, Masters 40-44, behind winner Jeff Otto and West Bend’s own Jeff Melcher.  He was the only rider to pass me.  Otto was the overall winner in a course-record 26:31.55 on Saturday as the Kirke Vei TT returned to its traditional route after a couple of years on a shorter route dictated by road construction.  Goodlund was 7th overall at 29:24.03.  My minute man, Chris Mueller, is a frequent 35-39 age group winner in the Wisport series and I wasn’t surprised not to see him again after the starting line.

In the middle of the course, where I knew I had to be good, I was good.  At about the 9-mile mark I spotted a Team Wheel & Sprocket rider.  Finally, someone to chase down!  It’s a great incentive to see the gap close as you pursue the rider ahead of you.  Roughly a mile later we turned onto County Highway W for a gradual ½-mile climb up to Drotning Road.  Here the gap fell dramatically, giving me confidence that I could make the catch on the tough hill at the end of Drotning, still about 1.5 miles away.  Not until the bottom of that last climb did I recognize the rider as Melissa Putzer, who had started 2 minutes ahead of me.  Knowing I had taken 2 minutes out of her propelled me past her on the hill, around the last two corners and across the finish line.

My average heart rate during the TT was 157 (85%) and my maximum was 170 (92%).  It was a very solid effort and a lot of fun.  I also enjoyed hanging out with the other racers once my ride was done.  This event had been on my To Do list for the last few years, but always got bumped off for one reason or another.  Now that I’ve done it, I hope to do it again.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ride For Congo

Sorry for the short notice, but this ride didn't come to my attention until this afternoon.  If you're looking for some easy miles for a good cause, check it out.  You can download a registration form here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Building Confidence

In preparation for Saturday’s Kirke Vei Time Trial, this week I am limiting my mileage but riding with more intensity.  I’m trying to sharpen the legs and get more rest, simultaneously.  After a rest day last Friday, I rode only 30 miles on Saturday and 25 on Sunday.  Those were decent efforts, but not spectacular.

Yesterday I gave a more serious effort on the Eisenbahn State Trail.  I rode the 15.6 miles from my house to Main Street in Campbellsport in 58 minutes, then needed just 54 minutes to return home.  I averaged 16.7 mph on a 31.2-mile route that includes about 24.5 miles of gravel.  Not bad.

Today I averaged 18.5 mph on a solo road ride following this 27-mile route, counter-clockwise:

I climbed sensibly, descended and cornered well, rode strongly on the flats and never felt like I was overextending myself.  My perceived effort suggested perhaps 17.5 and not 18.5 mph, and I’ll take that as a good sign.  I need to feel strong going into the TT.

My softball team will play its final regular season game tomorrow and that will keep me off the bike, but the rest day will be good for the legs.  I’ll come back on Thursday with a road ride on which I must ensure optimal operation of my Raleigh, then on Friday I will do a short ride on my Giant FCR3—probably another Eisenbahn excursion with a few sprints.  It will be an early-morning drive to Dane County on Saturday and I won’t risk the Raleigh on Friday evening as there could be inadequate time to address a new mechanical issue.

So, I’m feeling good physically and I think the bike is going to be fine too.  What will that mean in terms of my performance vis-à-vis those of my competitors in the non-aero classification?  I don’t know, but it should be fun to find out.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A View To A Kill?

Today I previewed the course for Saturday’s Kirke Vei Time Trial near Cottage Grove.  It doesn’t suit my abilities particularly well.  Three deceptively tough little hills in the first three miles will make it hard for me to settle into a comfortable rhythm.  The middle of the course is where I will need to shine.  It’s not flat, but I should be able to climb in the big chainring and then hammer the descents.  At about 8.5 miles there’s a switchback climb to a summit you can’t see from the base, so I’m hoping some of my opponents will hit the climb too hard and blow up before the top.  At 10 miles there’s an annoying little grinder that ends with a right-hand turn and an out-of-the-saddle sprint onto Drotning Road.  It will be full gas down Drotning for almost 1.5 miles until I hit the steepest climb on the entire route.  Race organizers refer to it as “the wall” and indeed it is steep, but it’s not a long climb and I’ll be very motivated to get over it knowing that less than ½-mile remains in the race.  Among the skinny guys on expensive TT bikes, this climb will separate winners from losers.

So, having ridden the course a couple of times today, I know I’m heading for a hurting.  I don’t think I’ll be the slowest racer, but I’ll be a long way from the top.  I averaged 17.1 mph today, riding at a comfortable pace while reading all the road signs, scanning for potholes, etc.  On Saturday I will be happy if I can crack a 20 mph average.  The strategy will be a good warmup and a sensible approach to those first three miles.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Anything But Dull

The Tour de France is cycling’s biggest event and there is a little bit of sadness every year when it ends.  All of the compelling storylines, the almost 24-hours-a-day TV coverage … it all goes away in an instant.  You could be forgiven for mistaking the Tour’s final stage as the last day of racing on the pro calendar.

But this year really is different.  There’s good racing to be had this week.  Each morning I watch streaming coverage of the Eneco Tour.  In the afternoons I watch the stream from the Tour of Utah and at night I watch the highlights on Fox Sports (AT&T Uverse channel 744 in West Bend).  And the news coming out of the world of professional cycling is fascinating.  HTC Highroad—the winningest team in the peloton—will fold at the end of the season because it cannot find a new title sponsor.  All of the Highroad guys—Mark Cavendish, Matt Goss, Tony Martin, Tejay Van Garderen and others—have found or still need to find new teams for 2012.  Thor Hushovd—reigning World Champion and winner of 10 Tour de France stages during a brilliant career—has been left off the Vuelta roster by his current team and may not get to ride next year’s Tour for his new team.  The teams of Quick Step and Omega Pharma-Lotto will join forces in 2012 to form a Belgian super team … with or without Philippe Gilbert, who likely will finish this season as the world’s No. 1-ranked rider.

This is great stuff!  If I have one complaint, though, it’s this: allowing riders to negotiate transfers to other teams during the current season is a horrible idea.  There’s enough time to work out contracts after the Giro di Lombardia (Oct. 15) and before the Tour Down Under (Jan. 15).  Because Hushovd is leaving Garmin-Cervélo we now have to deal with the ugly question of whether Jonathan Vaughters is leaving him off the Vuelta roster out of spite, though the most sensible reason to exclude him is to keep him from earning points that due to a ridiculous UCI rule would benefit his new team next season.  At cycling’s highest level, no one succeeds without support from his team and during transfer season you really have to wonder how race dynamics are affected.

But anyway, it continues to be a great year to be a cycling fan.  And the Vuelta starts just one week from tomorrow.  It’s a Grand Tour without the high drama of the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France, but this year the behind-the-scenes storylines should be very compelling indeed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Déjà Vu ... Uh, Again

Yes, it's the same picture.  Why wouldn't it be the same picture?
Today I did my first century since last fall, riding 100 miles in 5:38 for an average speed of 17.7 mph.  I did the first 75 in the company of Jim Saueressig, riding from West Bend to Grafton, then on to Port Washington, Belgium, Cedar Grove and Oostburg, our turnaround point.  The return trip took us through Dacada and then to Jay Road where we were surprised to encounter Jimmy Scharrer.  Five miles later we spotted my neighbor Mark Kaphingst, out for a ride with a friend.

With so many good cycling roads from which to choose, it’s remarkable how frequently I have chance meetings with cyclists that I know.  On my last century—Oct. 17, 2010—I had random encounters with both Jim and Jimmy.  Just like today, we hadn’t shared our ride plans in advance.  The meetings were the result of a remarkable series of in-ride route choices and timing.

Back in West Bend at mile 75, Jim and I headed to our respective homes.  I refueled and rehydrated, then returned to the road to complete my century.  On the final 25 miles I didn’t see anyone I knew and that’s OK.  At that point all I wanted was to get done, get showered, and get dinner.

I must give a shout-out to Diana De Mint-Behrend of Slinger, who rode 100 miles today in celebration of Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday.  She reports that the hills on her route took a toll, but she stuck it out.  That’s a fan!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Déjà Vu

Today’s ride—my 100th this year—brought my mileage total to 3,100 and that’s exactly where I was on this date last year.  But let’s hope history doesn’t repeat tomorrow: on Aug. 6, 2010, I crashed and separated my shoulder.  That injury kept me off the bike for 10 days and pretty much wiped out my goal of a 5,000-mile season.

This year, reaching 5,000 miles is still possible.  That’s especially true because working from home will allow me to ride earlier in the day in September and October when I used to waste the last 45 minutes of daylight just driving back from the office.

But—and I’ll keep repeating this until I convince myself—August will be more about performance than about miles.  I have competition goals, especially the Kirke Vei Time Trial.  Yesterday I had a little setback: another broken spoke.  To say that I have fallen out of love with my Easton EA70s would be an understatement.  But to be fair, I’m probably a little too heavy for them.  Today I went back to the Mavic Aksium wheelset that came with my Raleigh.  It’s heavier but it should be stronger.  That will be fine for training, but I don’t know how I’ll like it in competition.  For what it’s worth, tonight I rode 42 solo miles on familiar, rolling roads, averaging 17.3 mph.  That’s a very normal Friday night pace; I didn’t feel like I worked harder to overcome the 315g difference in the wheelsets.  But we’ll see.  They do spin up slower.  I’m looking at my options, as ideally I would like to put the Aksiums on my Giant FCR3 where they would be a big upgrade to the no-name stock wheels.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not Gonna Do It

"Wouldn't be prudent."
This morning West Bend published its Fall 2011 recreation guide online. If you live in the city you’ll get a printed copy this weekend. You may recognize “Indoor Cycling” as my trainer party series, but its inclusion in the guide was an error. Due to poor attendance last winter, there will be no trainer party series at Mutual Mall.