Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Statistical Review

What a year!  My 2012 cycling season exceeded my expectations.  I won a race in my first full WORS campaign and finished on the podium in 9 of the 11 races in which I competed, taking second place in my age group in the final Cat 3 (Citizens) standings.  In the WCA cyclocross series I had fun and, occasionally, modest success.  I improved as a time trialist.  Overall, I competed in 22 different races.  I rode outside in all 12 months for the first time ever and topped 5,000 miles for the second consecutive year.  To reach my total of 5,005 miles, I completed a personal-best 204 rides and set personal records for mileage in the five coldest months of the year.  Here is my mileage breakdown month-by-month:

117 January (PR)
137 February (PR)
516 March (PR)
479 April
604 May
621 June
600 July
600 August
516 September
310 October
330 November (PR)
175 December (PR)

In support of my cycling goals and other athletic aspirations, I spent 870 minutes on the trainer and 750 minutes on the treadmill—totals that were lower than usual because I was able to get outside more often—went hiking on 6 occasions and snowshoeing on 2, and completed 156 upper-body strength training workouts.

So, what is the plan for 2013, my 10th season as a cyclist?  It’s still evolving.  I need 4,570 miles to reach 40,000 and I think that’s a worthy goal.  If a year from now I can say that I averaged 4,000 miles per year for 10 years, then I will be very satisfied.  But like this year, 2013 won’t be all about the miles.  Being competitive as a racer will be far more important.  I will tackle another season of WORS—this time as a Cat 2 (Sport) racer—and I hope to do more WEMS races.  Long-distance road events likely will have their place too.  That gran fondo I find so intriguing, the Ride Across Indiana, is still out there.  If RAIN makes it onto my 2013 calendar, then I might do a couple of brevets and centuries to prepare for it.  When next fall comes around, I want to be smarter about my goals and preparations for the cyclocross season so that I don’t run out of gas before the state championships.

Watch for more specific plans in January as WEMS, Wisport and the WCA finalize their schedules.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Planet Fitness

Lots of equipment for not a lot of money.
For me, Christmas is the end of the holiday season.  I just can’t be bothered with New Year’s, eve or day, occasions that offer me neither gifts nor special meals.  And lately I have been eating too much anyway.  It’s time to rediscover better eating habits and it’s time to work out more.  A lot of people felt that way today, I’m sure, but unlike many of them I am not waiting until the start of the new year to make a change.

Today I joined Planet Fitness, selecting the 1-year membership for $99 … less than $2 per week!  Planet Fitness has the convenience of 24-hour access and all the equipment I could need, especially good treadmills.  I’m sure I will use the strength training equipment too—particularly for the lower body, which I can’t exercise as effectively at home—but access to good treadmills was my principal consideration.  I said in a previous post that treadmill workouts don’t figure heavily in my fitness program … that might change.

I think I spent about $750 on my home treadmill back in 1997 and I got my money’s worth, but today it is literally falling apart:
Noisy motor, dead display panel, disintegrating belt.  Not worth fixing.
A decent treadmill can cost $2,000 or more and it’s not worth making such a big investment for a piece of equipment I probably would use only 25-40 hours per year.  The professional-grade equipment at Planet Fitness is so nice that I am contemplating a little bit of treadmill running to torch some of the belly fat I never seem to lose.  In my experience, nothing burns fat like running.  But also in my experience, nothing hurts my knees, ankles and shins like running.  In the controlled environment of the gym I can introduce a little running without some of the risks I would encounter outdoors.

Today’s trip to Planet Fitness was just an introduction.  I walked for an hour with the treadmill speed set at 3.5 mph and the incline set at 1 percent.  That easy effort still burned about 400 calories, and there are much greater efforts to come as I get deeper into the new workout plan.  I haven’t figured out all of the details, but it’s a good feeling to start something new and I hope my enthusiasm carries me through the winter.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Another One Bites The Dust

Earth as seen by the Apollo 8 crew on Dec. 24, 1968.
And the world just keeps on spinning.  If the Mayans couldn’t see their own imminent demise, then what chance did they have to see ours in what was, from their point of view, a distant future?  I’ve lost track of how many doomsdays I have survived.  There will be more, I feel certain.  But I have no supernatural understanding of things to come, just an assumption based on experience.  Despite a history of failure the prophets will continue to conjure their lies and fantasies, then promote them to us out of religious zeal or (more likely) a desire to separate us from our wallets.  If you’d like to get in on the fun, I have two suggestions.  First, don’t set an exact date.  Second, make the imagery of your apocalyptic vision so impossibly weird that even the people who are too smart to believe in its literal truth can debate what you really meant.

If yesterday had been the last day on Earth, then at least I would have gone out well.  I spent the evening in the company of several of my finest cycling friends.  We weren’t riding, but we were reminiscing about the past year and looking forward to the next.  Of course, much of the new racing schedule is still unknown.  WORS announced its 2013 dates way back in August, parts of the ABR and Wisport calendars are available online, and I know a couple of WEMS dates that haven’t yet been published.  There’s nothing yet from the WCA, but that’s not the end of the world.  The WCA is always among the last organizations to announce its schedule … even though most of its events fall on the same weekends, year in and year out.

I’ve never done a WCA road event, so why should I care about that schedule?  The answer is Cheesehead Roubaix.  I would prefer not to schedule it against a nearby WCA race, because some of the people I’m trying to attract to my event would likely go to the race instead.  Sunday, Apr. 28, is still the most likely date for the 2013 edition of Cheesehead Roubaix.  I wouldn’t mind settling into a predictable pattern, always scheduling the event on the Sunday before the first WORS race.  My ride is a good fitness test, even if there are no hills on it to compare with the challenges at the WORS season opener in Iola.  Stay tuned; I will have an official announcement soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Roll With The Changes

Inflexible is a word that almost always has negative connotations.  For those things that we don’t want to be flexible—the bottom bracket of a bicycle, for instance—we typically use positively-charged words like “strong” or “resilient” instead of inflexible.  As a cyclist I don’t want to be inflexible in the physical sense or in my approach to training, and during the last seven days I have come to appreciate a training tool that I would have mocked not long ago.

That’s my new foam roller, the correct use of which is supposed to ensure greater flexibility, to improve blood flow and to relieve sore muscles.  A lot of cyclists tout the benefits of massage.  At the highest levels of the sport, there are team assistants whose entire careers are based on their ability to rub, press or knead the discomfort from the riders’ muscles.  At my level of the sport?  Well, sometimes there are massage services for hire at the end of organized bike tours, but I have never availed myself of them.  I don’t often experience soreness—I exercise too frequently for that to happen—but I do get tight and inflexible.  Getting an occasional massage would be nice but I’m not about to pay for it.  For around $30, a good foam roller is an inexpensive option … perhaps not as therapeutic as a professionally-administered rubdown, but more cost- and time-effective.

I have used my foam roller every day since I bought it last Friday and so far, so good.  I can’t say that I’ve gained any flexibility yet, but the roller was effective against a couple of kinks in my legs.  Spots that hurt when I first applied the foam roller don’t hurt anymore.  Is there better proof than that?  As with any tool, there are techniques that one must learn to ensure maximum effectiveness.  I’m still learning but already I’m convinced that the roller will be especially useful when I get back into the high mileage months of my cycling season.

Friday, December 14, 2012

An Unexpected Journey

The road goes ever on and on ...
As this year began I didn’t think I had a realistic chance to reach 5,000 miles of cycling.  With 5,113 miles in 2011, I had crossed that threshold for the first time ever.  But here I am again: riding this afternoon on my lunch break I reached 5,005 miles, year-to-date.  Am I done?  I don’t know.  Certainly I won’t be as motivated to ride now that the milestone is behind me, but surpassing 5,113 isn’t out of the question.

2012 wasn’t supposed to play out like this.  I knew I would be racing more this year.  I knew I would be spending more time on mountain biking.  Having another high mileage year happened organically, a function of riding often instead of riding far.  My average ride this year is just 24.5 miles, but I’ve done 204 rides!

I didn’t have any mileage goals coming into 2012 and I won’t set any for 2013.  But I wouldn’t be caught off-guard by a third consecutive 5,000-mile year.  I’m looking at some endurance events for my 2013 calendar, preparation for which could take me to new levels.  I keep telling myself not to try to repeat in 2013 the sequence of events that made 2012 so special.  Some of my friends and teammates have hinted at their plans for the new year and the theme seems to be a desire to keep things fresh by not simply following the same schedule again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


When the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around.
If you’re into numerology, then today is tailor-made for you!  And you’re an idiot.  The universe is unimpressed by our feeble attempts to quantify its movements.  Though modern timekeeping is extremely accurate, it still reaches back to an unknowable past for its point of origin.

But still: 12-12-12.  If I were of the sort who looks for meaning in numbers, then I could find it easily in 12.  My youngest child is 12 years old.  Today is my twelfth December 12 as a resident of West Bend.  Since I was born, there have been 12 leap years.  I wear size 12 shoes … except when I’m cycling.  Then my feet expand to a robust 46 EUR.  On Monday, shortly after 12 p.m., I received an email informing me that Team Pedal Moraine will hold its annual business meeting on Jan. 12.  On Feb. 12 I will begin a 12-week preseason training plan designed to ensure my fitness for the new racing season.  The new WORS season will consist of 12 races, whether I compete in all of them or not.

Back to the present: there’s nothing about 12 that is more or less special than the other numbers.  I include a lot of numbers in this blog and not one has any mystical significance.  Not one taps into some universal truth or clue to our collective destiny.  But sport, like time, demands to be quantified.  My numbers tell me what I’ve accomplished and then motivate me for new efforts.  There’s one more number I want to hit this year: 5,000 miles.  I’m just 50 miles away and we’re going to have reasonably nice weather for a few days.  It would be a great way to finish 2012, the first year in which I have ridden outside in each of the 12 months.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

200 Rides

I’m proud of the milestone I reached today: 200 rides this year.  I took advantage of the sunny, 54-degree afternoon to ride during my hour-long lunch break.  If not for the 20-30 mph winds, I might have taken the whole afternoon off!  Sure, even in Wisconsin there are people who ride year-round, regardless of weather.  Good for them.  I’m not the fair-weather-only rider I used to be—my 2004 season began on March 26 and ended on Oct. 29—but I still have my limits.

It has been a real pleasure to ride on each of the first four days of December, but now I might be done.  I don’t see anything I like in the 10-day forecast.  But with just 68 miles to go for a 5,000-mile year, I could find just enough motivation to ride on a couple of days that otherwise wouldn’t be appealing.  We’ll see.  By this time in 2008, I was already into my indoor trainer workouts.  The longer I can put those off without seriously compromising my bike-specific fitness, the better.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Keeping The Gears Turning

Because I wanted to concentrate on racing and not merely on racking up a lot of miles, I began 2012 with no mileage goals.  Nevertheless, I will finish the year with a handful of personal records, including a new mileage mark for December.  I rode 43 miles on Saturday and 30 more today for a total of 73 … and I’m probably going to add to it before the month is over.  That beats the old record of just 45 miles, set last year.  I also set new personal bests in January, February, March, and November.  With my year-to-date total now at 4,903 miles, I can hope for my second consecutive 5,000-mile year.  Surpassing last year’s 5,113 still appears unlikely and will require another spell of uncommonly warm weather.

If today’s weather had been more typical of Dec. 2, then I might have been tempted by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin’s annual bike swap at UW-Milwaukee.  But really I don’t need much right now; on Friday I received a couple of cassettes I had ordered, and this week I will receive a nice flat handlebar to replace one that is too wide and too heavy.  With the new parts installed the 29er should be ready for early spring training.  It will get a new chain, new cables and new cable housing before the racing season begins.

Tomorrow I will add weight to a couple of my home gym exercises.  That’s always a good feeling.  But my treadmill is in rough shape and I’m not sure I should still be using it.  It’s 15 years old and the belt is disintegrating.  I don’t know whether replacing the belt is a good investment.  I use the treadmill only 15-20 hours per year now that I have a bike trainer and a greater willingness to exercise outside during the winter—whether riding, hiking, or snowshoeing.  The treadmill is a nice thing to have for a change of pace, but I don’t use it for serious training.

Friday, November 30, 2012

An Up And Down Week

At the beginning of this week I went to the USA Cycling website and upgraded from Cat 3 to Cat 2 for cross-country mountain bike racing.  Based on the success I had this year, it was not just the right thing to do, but also mandatory according to USA Cycling rules.  Knowing that in 2013 I will be doing longer races and facing more technical trails, I’m still unsure what my WORS ambitions should be.  I don’t expect to be on the podium.  Next season likely will be a year of learning, adjusting, and finishing in the middle of a big “Sport” field, all to set up a more competitive 2014.  I can live with that.

I’m not sure I can live with being forced to upgrade from Cat 4 to Cat 3 in cyclocross next year, but that’s what I will have to do if USA Cycling doesn’t amend the new guidelines it announced earlier today.  I’ve done 15 cyclocross races as a Cat 4 and I’ve never come close to winning even one of them.  In fact, I’ve never been on the podium.  But the new guidelines demand that I upgrade to Cat 3 based on my experience, not my results.  The one good thing about being a Cat 3 would be racing later in the day when the weather is warmer.  The reality, however, is that I’m not very likely to race at all if I have to compete against riders whose abilities so far exceed mine that I have no realistic prospect for success.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend

A section of boardwalk winds through a wetlands area at Lac Lawrann Conservancy.
I couldn’t talk myself into getting on the bike today.  With the mid-afternoon “feels like” temperature hovering around 30 degrees, it was a little too cold.  I opted instead for a 90-minute hike through Lac Lawrann Conservancy and Royal Oaks Park.  Somebody’s going to have to explain to me why West Bend isn’t a nationally-recognized haven for trail running.  Is the sport just not that popular?  Lac Lawrann, Ridge Run, Glacial Blue Hills, the Ice Age Trail … we’ve got miles and miles of amazing trails within the city limits.  It’s extraordinary how often I have them all to myself, as was the case today.  As hiking trails they’re on the tame side, but for running they would be sublime.

Today is the end of a four-day weekend that began with a 32-mile road ride early in the afternoon on Thanksgiving.  It was 63 degrees and sunny and there was no way I was going to miss a chance to ride in those conditions.  I’ve set a new personal record for miles in November (309) and year-to-date I’m at 4,809, which is my second-highest total ever.  Last year I rode 5,113 miles and I’m not very likely to surpass that total this year.  Weekday rides are almost out of the question due to limited daylight, and there are only five weekends left before the new year begins.

Black Friday once again failed to tempt me but early today I took advantage of an online deal that was too good to ignore: two brand new 10-speed Shimano cassettes for $30 apiece with free shipping.  I damaged the cassette on my 29er during the WORS season finale, so one of the new cassettes will be its replacement and the other will be a spare.  I’m thinking about a couple of additional equipment changes between now and next spring, but there’s no reason to rush.  My big purchase probably will be a better set of 29er wheels for competition and that’s too big an expense not to consider carefully.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Fifties

Better fed than Red: Eating turkey makes us impervious to Communist propaganda.  It's true!
With four rides in the last five days I feel like a cyclist again.  We’ve started to string together sunny days in the 50s and it looks like that trend will continue through Thursday.  In fact, we may even see 60 on Thanksgiving.  A long ride followed by a big dinner would be my kind of holiday!

But the end of the cycling season is coming.  In my previous eight Decembers as a serious cyclist, I rode just 55 miles total.  We’ve already reached the point in the year where after-work rides are impossible because of darkness, and we’re probably not far from the point where snow and cold temperatures make weekend rides too unappealing to contemplate.  Until then, I will try to use numbers to motivate myself to keep plugging away.  In the absence of structured training for an imminent competition goal, I at least can pad my stats!  Here are the figures I’m currently using to push myself just a little deeper into the offseason:

20    more miles to set a PR for November
262   more miles to reach 5,000 for the year
46    miles in December to set a PR
8     more rides to reach 200 this year

My November and December mileage marks are nothing spectacular—reaching 46 miles in December could be the work of a single afternoon—but I’m pretty proud of the 192 rides I’ve done this year.  That number is a record already, topping last year’s 170.  I can say for the first time that I rode on more than half of all the days of the year.  That’s kind of neat, right?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fatal Crash In West Bend

The intersection of Kilbourn and Indiana has good sight lines and a 4-way stop. (Google Maps Street View)

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
A 57-year-old bicyclist died Sunday as a result of injuries she sustained after being struck by a vehicle Nov. 6, West Bend Police Department said Monday.

Police identified the bicyclist as Marjean C. Boots of West Bend.  She died at Froedtert Hospital.

A preliminary investigation determined Boots was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, police said.

It does not appear that alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash, police said.

On the evening of Nov. 6, police said they received a call that a bicyclist had been struck by a vehicle at the intersection of S. Indiana and W. Kilbourn avenues.

The driver of the vehicle was a 38-year-old man from West Bend, police said.

The accident remains under investigation by the West Bend Police Department with assistance from the Wisconsin State Patrol.

In an earlier report, the time of the accident was given as “shortly after 5 p.m.”

Sundown was at 4:37 p.m.  I am much more interested in knowing whether the bicyclist had deployed front and rear lights as required by law than in knowing that she didn’t wear a helmet, which is not required by law.  Media outlets commonly report the absence of a helmet in bicycle accidents, but to what end?  The implication is that riders without helmets were reckless and otherwise might have avoided serious injury or death.  That’s a poor assumption.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thanks, I Needed That

Any ride that includes part of the Cheesehead Roubaix route is a good ride in my book!
I haven’t had anything nice to say, so I haven’t said anything at all.  This was a bad week.  But my spirits are somewhat restored by the sunny, 64-degree afternoon we had today.  I did a 35-mile solo ride on my cyclocross bike, averaging 17.3 mph on a route with little elevation change, plenty of wind, and half a dozen chance encounters with other cyclists taking advantage of the unseasonable warmth.

I did this route today, counter-clockwise. Strong south winds encouraged a mostly east-west route.

I rode last Saturday and Sunday, and again yesterday.  The rides have been fairly short—I’ve ridden just 110 miles this month—but if I can get outside consistently between now and the end of the month I should set a new personal best for miles in November.  My current record is just 257 miles, set in 2009.  I will be off work all of next week and on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  If the weather cooperates I may even make a run at another 5,000-mile year.  I’m now at 4,610.  My 29er is still in the shop, so mountain biking plans are on hold.  That’s bad news for skills development but good news for my mileage total.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Pinch Of This, A Dash Of That

© Barbara Howe ... yes really: a copyrighted picture of waffles.
The period from last Friday to this Friday was really unconventional.  It didn’t make me any fitter, and I’m still committed to avoid racing until next year, but at least I made an effort to mix things up.  Last Friday I did my first indoor trainer ride since Apr. 20.  Then on Saturday I went out and got flogged in the Halloween Cross race at Washington Park in Milwaukee.  On Sunday I watched Internet coverage of the Boulder Cup pro cyclocross races.  After work on Monday I went to Ridge Run County Park for a brisk 60-minute hike, my first since Feb. 23.  On Tuesday I started reading Geoff Drake’s history of Team 7-Eleven, the pioneering American cycling team of the 1980s.  On Wednesday I reached 4,500 miles of cycling so far this year, riding 20 miles after work on a combination of roads and trails.  Early on Thursday I watched Flemish-language coverage of the Koppenbergcross, won in impressive style by Sven Nys.  Later on Thursday I did my first treadmill workout since Mar. 30.

Today I dropped off my 29er at Pedal Moraine for a little post-Sheboygan mudfest service.  Pretty sure I don’t have any brake pads left.  If you were on the Ride of Krankenstein with me last Friday night, then you know my front brakes were screaming all the way up to Kewaskum and back.  This evening I began a new phase of my upper body strength training, adding weight and a couple of new exercises to shift out of maintenance mode and into gain mode.  I will look for strength gains throughout the winter, then return to a maintain strength / prevent injuries plan in early spring.  Dinner was an unexpected highlight today.  My wife offered pancakes, I suggested waffles as an alternative, then she remembered this recipe.  I found it a few years ago while reading up on former cyclocross champion and fellow Pittsburgh native Barb Howe.

My plan for the weekend is to ride at the warmest point of the afternoon … 90-120 minutes each day, probably.  Looking for enjoyment more than training.  I’ll have the 29er back for next weekend and if the weather is OK I think I’ll go to Glacial Blue Hills to see whether I can unlock a few more of its mysteries.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ridge Run Cyclocross?

Simply enjoying moments like this one at Wells Lake should have been enough, but ...
So, I innocently go over to Ridge Run County Park today for an hour of hiking and what happens?  I see a cyclocross course.  No, not a real one, but close enough:

The landscape fencing, the horseshoes pit that looks like a double barrier, the sand volleyball courts just begging to be ridden through … it was all too much.  And this sort of epiphany has hit me before:

My experience at Royal Oaks Park last November stuck in my mind and contributed to the cyclocross practice course that I helped to create this August, but today’s waking dream of a course at Ridge Run will remain only a dream.  Washington County doesn’t want bikes in its parks.  That’s too bad, because in addition to some fun cyclocross courses there also would be more opportunities for mountain biking.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

2012 Halloween Cross

Team Extreme's Jeff Wren hits the gas on the uphill barrier section at Washington Park.
My 2012 racing season is over.  Finally and absolutely.  Last weekend’s mixed emotions have been replaced by this weekend’s undeniable realization that I am burned out.  I placed 20th out of 30 today in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ field at Halloween Cross in Milwaukee.  But I didn’t deserve even that lowly placing; two of the top three guys in the series retired from the race with mechanical issues, and they were way ahead of me when misfortune struck them.  That makes two really poor results on consecutive Saturdays and I’m just done.  I need some time away from competition.  This was my 11th straight weekend of racing and I have lost my edge both physically and mentally.  The offseason starts now.

But a break from competition won’t mean a wholesale hiatus from cycling.  I might even spend some time on the mountain bike in November, looking for further improvements in my technical skills.  This year I felt like I had the fitness to perform reasonably well at the next level in WORS, but sometimes my technical skills seemed inadequate even for a beginning racer.  How well I develop those skills will have an enormous bearing on my results when I resume racing next May.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The 2012 "Ride of Krankenstein"

Getting ready to rehydrate at the turnaround point in Kewaskum.

It was an all-Washington County Bicycle Club affair tonight on Jimmy Scharrer’s 3rd Annual Ride of Krankenstein.  Seven of us left downtown West Bend shortly after sunset and explored the Riverfront Parkway before heading up the Eisenbahn State Trail to Kewaskum.  A few beers later, we made the return trip to West Bend and enjoyed more refreshments at Riverside Brewery & Restaurant, a club sponsor and (dare I say?) our favorite haunt.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My 2012 WORS Awards

What a great season!  I reached the podium in 9 of the 11 WORS races in which I competed, won the Reforestation Ramble, and finished in 2nd place on series points.  And I helped Team Pedal Moraine win its division in both the Competition and Participation categories.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow

Today's race at Sun Prairie featured this steep hill and several other technical challenges.
I have mixed feelings about this weekend’s WCA cyclocross races.  On Saturday my performance was almost as bad as it could have been, and yet I still found a couple of points around which I could rally.  In today’s race I was much more competitive.  Again I failed to get the result I wanted, but I felt much better about the effort.  Hope is a funny emotion … and something I still have here at the midpoint of the season.

MWI Classic

What can I tell you about Saturday’s race at Noyes Park in Milwaukee?  I was awful.  My legs felt heavy during my warmup and just never came around.  I got an average start but dropped out of the Top 10 by the middle of Lap 1.  I could tell that fellow West Bend racers Troy Sable and Jeff Wren were going well, but I was losing ground.  And it wasn’t just the usual suspects ahead of me; I was getting passed by guys I typically—if not always—beat.  I thought all of the psychological damage was done after Lap 2 but early in Lap 3 I got caught by the Top 3 riders in the Cat 4 Masters 55+ group, guys that had started 30 seconds behind me.  That was humbling.  (Before the end of the race I overtook a couple of guys from the Masters 35+ wave, a small consolation.)  On Lap 4 I fell to 13th place in my group when Barry Zellmer went around me.  I’ve never lost to Barry, so I found a little pride and stuck to his back tire until we hit a long-ish grass hill.  I knew he would suffer there and when I jumped out of the saddle and sprinted to the summit I put Barry behind me for good.  That tiny victory allowed me to finish 12th out of 17 in Cat 4 Masters 45+, my worst finish this year.  Jon Antonneau took the win, followed by Jed Schleisner, then Sable, then Wren.  It was a disappointing race for me and I didn’t deserve to gain in the series standings on two of the three guys ahead of me, but Dave Dineen didn’t line up on Saturday and Timm Jacobson—who surely was heading for either 1st or 2nd place—had tire trouble and couldn’t finish the race.

Sun Prairie Cup

Sheehan Park in Sun Prairie was a spectacular venue for today’s race and everyone seemed in good spirits as the sun shone brightly after a week of clouds and rain.  The course featured a short, sharp hill that I wouldn’t even try to ride up, plus lots and lots of off-camber stuff.  I knew during my course recon and later during my warmup that the legs were more lively than they had been on Saturday.  Starting from the front row, for much of Lap 1 it looked like I was going to get away with the leaders.  But when John Grosz passed me for 5th place I couldn’t hold his wheel.  I felt OK but I couldn’t reach any deeper.  Jeff Wren and I traded places on a couple of occasions before he, too, opened a gap I couldn’t close on Lap 2.  John Lichtenberg went around next, then Troy Sable early in Lap 3.  I stayed with Troy for several minutes, surprised that I couldn’t overtake him on a long straightaway or on the gentle but sustained climb that followed.  Jeff Hatton passed me late in the lap to seal my fate: 10th place out of 19.  Timm Jacobson took the win ahead of Jeff Abitz and Dave Dineen.  Jed Schleisner finished in 4th, so I lost ground in the series standings today.  But let’s get real: I’m not racing for the series title.  I haven’t finished higher than 6th this year; my high position in the points standings is the product of having earned at least a few points in all 7 of the races in which I have competed.

Being 10th out of 19 isn’t very impressive but for me the placing wasn’t as important as the effort I made.  On Saturday I was just another obstacle for people to get around; today I was racing from start to finish.  Though only 10th I finished within a few seconds of Wren (7th), Sable (8th) and Hatton (9th).  And on a challenging course I displayed good technical skills.  The fitness just wasn’t there this weekend.  More on that momentarily …

Leaving the race venue, Jeff Wren and I headed south to the Trek store near East Towne Mall in Madison.  It was an opportunity for us to stare longingly at bikes that we will never be able to afford, but more importantly to dispose of the $20 coupons we got way back on June 17 at the Battle of CamRock WORS race.  Nice gift!  Jeff turned his into a CO2 inflator, replacing one that he lost while racing earlier this year, and I turned mine into three pairs of white Pearl Izumi socks that won’t see any action until the first dry, warm day next spring.

So, Now What?

Saturday’s dead legs were almost surely the symptom of a poor week of training.  After racing last Sunday in the WORS season finale, I took a rest day on Monday, then rode just 16 rain-shortened miles on Tuesday before bad weather wiped out my Wednesday and Thursday.  I did a 19-mile ride in the drizzle on Friday just because I had to do something and I couldn’t bear the thought of getting on the indoor trainer.  That’s a bad week, and the one before it wasn’t really any better.  I have made less-than-ideal weather my excuse for not training properly all month.

That ends now.  I’m on vacation from my job this week, but I’m not heading out of town.  If the weather forecast is accurate, then I should have many opportunities to ride.  I can rediscover a good mix of endurance and intensity … maybe not in time to make a difference at the next race (Saturday at Washington Park in Milwaukee), but hopefully in time to make a difference sometime during the second half of the season.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Orange, Crushed

Time to go.
In a sport whose teams change title sponsors faster than a bastard from a Texas trailer park changes baby mamas, Rabobank has for 17 years provided consistent, professional and enthusiastic support for road racing at its highest level.  But now it’s gone.  The Netherlands-based bank has lost faith.

“Rabobank has come to this decision following publication of the report from the American doping authority USADA last week,” the company said in a news release today.  “It is with pain in our heart, but for the bank this is an inevitable decision.  We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport.  We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future.”

So, Rabobank believes USADA.  There must be some other player within the “international professional world of cycling” in which the bank has no confidence.  You would have to be pretty thick not to recognize the UCI as the target of this criticism.  Rabobank’s departure is a huge blow to cycling and we can only hope that it will be the straw that breaks the backs of the jackasses who govern the sport.  I don’t know whether the UCI can be salvaged under new management—maybe it’s time for ASO or a breakaway league to assert itself—but things cannot continue as they are.

Here’s what all the armchair lawyers fail to understand while they’re screaming about “due process” and “fundamental human rights” and all of that shit: In the end, professional cycling is just entertainment, nothing more.  Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is something the public demands in a murder case but not in a doping investigation.  Go back almost two years and re-read my post on Garmin-CervĂ©lo’s firing of Matt White, whose recent confession has sent ripples through Australian cycling: in a sport whose credibility with the general public is so damaged by doping scandals, the mere appearance of impropriety is grounds for censure.  As a large international business, Rabobank gets that.  So does Nike, Trek, Anheuser-Busch, etc.

Without the sort of stable sponsorship that Rabobank provided, cycling cannot exist as a truly professional sport.  The UCI must now accept the findings in the USADA report not just as they pertain to Lance Armstrong, but also as they pertain to weaknesses and corruption within the UCI itself.  And Pat McQuaid must go.  If the UCI is to continue at all, then as its president he must accept responsibility for its past failures.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 Wigwam MTB Challenge

Will you love me tomorrow after what I did to you today?
The traditional finale of each WORS season, the Wigwam MTB Challenge is always a highly-anticipated event.  I went to Sheboygan this morning with a vague notion of going after an age group win in my last Cat 3 (Citizens) race, but it wasn’t the right course for me … especially not in such rainy weather.  I finished 6th out of 27 in my age group, 26th out of 121 overall.

Yesterday’s rain led the race organizers to cancel the pre-ride, and no pre-riding was permitted today as the rain continued to fall.  I did some course recon after work on Friday and that experience helped, but upon arriving in Sheboygan today I learned that the course had been altered significantly.  Its signature feature—a very steep hill known as the Equalizer—was removed from the course altogether.  I didn’t miss it, or the tricky descent that would have followed.  My race was reduced to 1 lap instead of 2, but some additional trail that I didn’t pre-ride was added to make the lap longer.  However, I can’t blame my sub-par result on a lack of familiarity with the course, as everyone was in the same boat (pun intended).

I got a good start and appeared to be heading for the prologue holeshot prime until my back tire slipped out on a tricky little hill that would be a source of trouble for riders throughout the day.  Mike Nass seized the lead and the top prize.  I was the second man across the line and later used my $10 winnings to buy lunch for myself and my carpool partner Jeff Wren.  With the prologue behind us we dropped into the singletrack and I quickly lost interest in the race.  The condition of the trails was abominable.  Nass was riding away and in rapid succession I lost a few more places to rivals in my age group.

When we crossed under State Highway 42 I relaxed a little and started picking my way through slower traffic from the earlier starting waves.  I knew that without the Equalizer I should be able to negotiate that part of the race with little difficulty.  Rain had swollen the lowlands along the Pigeon River and in a couple of places I rode through water higher than my crankset.  I shudder at the damage I may have done to my bike today.

Crossing back to the west side of the highway after too brief an interval on the east side, I dreaded the creek crossing and the slick roots that were to come.  But at least I knew to expect them.  I saw many crashes today and had many off-the-bike moments myself, some by design and some otherwise.  There were steep climbs over roots that would have challenged me on the best of days—today was anything but—and on a number of occasions I simply dismounted cyclocross-style and ran for all I was worth.  Running with the bike didn’t cost me any positions and surely saved me a lot of frustration, if not crashes.  I had stopped losing positions by that point but I no longer could see any rivals ahead.

I finished in 43:25.0, more than 4 minutes behind winner Rob Hoefert.  Nass was 2nd, followed by Rick Johnson, Brad Jorsch and John Norman.  Nass protested Hoefert’s victory, claiming that no one in our category had passed him after he got around me during the prologue.  For my part, I was certain that I had not been passed by five riders in our group.  After some discussion I think we’re all satisfied that Hoefert gained his advantage by taking the “A” line while Nass and I took the “B” line to get up a tricky hill.  In retrospect, the organizers probably shouldn’t have provided two lines, as riders on different lines no longer could be sure of each other’s position.  Nass finished less than 20 second behind Hoefert.  Would he have won if he had known a rival was just ahead?  We’ll never know.

So, the WORS season is done and it was a great one for me.  I finished in 2nd place on series points in the Citizens 40-49 age group and will move up to Cat 2 (Sport) for 2013.

Grafton PumpkinCross

This was supposed to be another back-to-back race weekend for me, but Saturday’s cyclocross race was canceled by the rain.  On Thursday the Village of Grafton pulled the plug on PumpkinCross, and I’m disappointed but I understand the village’s desire to protect its park from the damage that would resulted from the race.  (You should see the mess at Sheboygan!)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

USADA's Case Against Armstrong

I despise Lance Armstrong and I hesitate to make any mention of him on my blog, as to do so is to add, if only minutely, to his fame.  However, yesterday’s release of the reasoned decision in USADA’s doping case against Armstrong is too big to ignore.  I admit that I took many prejudices into my reading of the report, but a couple of hours later I came out with no countervailing impressions.  I am convinced that Armstrong established a doping program for himself, expanded it aggressively to his teammates, and used his fortune and his stature within cycling to intimidate those who spoke against him.

USADA’s report relies heavily on the accounts of Armstrong’s former teammates and other US Postal and Discovery Channel team personnel.  Armstrong’s apologists attempted to cast doubt on the reliability of these witnesses because some of them—Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, most particularly—admitted not only to their own doping offenses but also to elaborate denials that began with the implausible and ended with the ridiculous.  But in their sworn testimony to USADA, Landis and Hamilton provide specifics that are not merely plausible, but also corroborated by several other former Armstrong teammates.  Should we assume that all of the testimony was false, that it was obtained only by USADA coercion, that each of Armstrong’s former teammates had an ax to grind or was looking to line his pockets with a lucrative book deal?  Come on.  Some of the riders in question had, like Lance, “never failed a drug test,” though after reading their testimony you will wonder how anyone ever got caught.  Some, like George Hincapie and Michael Barry, were already retired from the sport.  Admitting their participation in Armstrong’s doping program came at a considerable personal cost.  Their reputations are now forever damaged.

But even if the remaining Armstrong fans aren’t convinced by the testimony of confessed dopers, how can they explain the relationship between Armstrong and Dr. Michele Ferrari?  It’s clear from bank records that Armstrong paid more than $1M to Ferrari.  Are we to assume that huge sum was for occasional advice on seat post height?  Again, come on.  Armstrong continued but attempted to conceal his relationship with Ferrari for years after the doctor faced doping charges in Italy.

You can see real desperation among the thinning ranks of Armstrong faithful in their comments on CyclingNews, VeloNews, Yahoo and other forums.  Some are clinging to the absence of the smoking gun: the failed drug test.  Others are attacking the credibility of the witnesses, calling for a lifetime ban for everyone involved.  Sorry, but that’s not going to happen.  Without the promise of reduced sanctions, much of the testimony would have been withheld.  It stinks, but it’s a long-standing practice in criminal and civil proceedings and in cases like this one that don’t fit neatly into the legal system.  Armstrong fans continue to follow the lead of Armstrong’s attorneys by describing the USADA case as a witch hunt, a vendetta, and a waste of taxpayer money.  Where was the indignation back when taxpayer money was used to fund the US Postal team in the first place?  And where was Armstrong, who chose not to defend himself before a panel of arbitrators?  In a real witch hunt, the witches had their day in court.  For them, the outcome was usually predecided, but they were there to protest their innocence.  With the cowardice of a bully who is finally faced with an authority he cannot intimidate, Armstrong chose not to expose himself to examination under oath.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped his team of lawyers from criticizing the ensuing proceedings at every turn.

The UCI now must decide whether it will challenge USADA’s decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.  Don’t be surprised if it does, as the UCI takes quite a beating in the USADA document.  The UCI has been all over the place on this case, sometimes saying that USADA had the right to pursue the charges, sometimes claiming jurisdiction for itself.  When USADA made a preliminary announcement of its decision, the UCI called USADA’s reasoning into question by complaining about the amount of time it took for USADA to present the supporting documentation.  The overall impression is an attempt by the UCI to undermine USADA’s credibility, and that hardly speaks to the impartiality of the body that is supposed to govern the sport.

What’s left to the believers?  Not much.  So little, in fact, that one of their remaining arguments is that if everyone doped then Lance was still the best on a level, if dishonest, playing field.  Therefore, they say, he should retain his seven Tour de France titles because there is no one more worthy of them.  What utter nonsense, and what an insult to those riders who chose to race clean.  Yes, we know that nearly all of the men who shared the podium with Lance were guilty of doping or at least fell under well-reasoned suspicion, but we are far from being able to say that the entire peloton was dirty.  Let the titles be vacated.  It’s absolutely foolish to remove dopers from the results and contend that the remaining order would have prevailed if the dirty riders had not participated.

But the worst argument of all must be that punishing Armstrong will have such a damaging effect on Livestrong that for the sake of all those poor cancer patients we should overlook his transgressions.  On one hand, it’s very difficult to criticize Livestrong.  As an organization it has done great work and has given hope to a lot of people.  But on the other hand, the organization is built on a lie.  Livestrong exists because Armstrong beat cancer and won the Tour de France.  Take away either of those things and there is no Livestrong.  If Armstrong is a fraud, then Livestrong continues only to his self-aggrandizement.  Livestrong is one of innumerable charitable organizations fighting cancer.  Its demise, should it come, need not prevent anyone from making a donation.  At the website of the American Cancer Society you can even make one in Lance Armstrong’s honor.  You won’t get a yellow wristband to show off, but then it’s not about you, is it?

I repeat: I despise Lance Armstrong.  I admit to having enjoyed, for a while, his exploits on the bike before I had good reason to suspect he was doping.  But I never had reason to suspect he was anything other than an arrogant prick off the bike.  I couldn’t understand why in interview after interview the media allowed itself to be trampled by such a crude and insulting person.  So, no, I didn’t read the USADA report with an open mind.  I read the report to find confirmation of what I already believed.  That’s my confession, and confession is good for the soul.

Ask almost anyone.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Thrilla’ On The Hill-a

In this weekend’s WCA cyclocross action, Wren vs. Hanrahan was unavailable on pay-per-view … but it was tape-delayed.  And Saturday’s shocking finish set up a big rematch that went the distance on Sunday.

Cross The Domes

On Saturday I returned to Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park, home of the famous domed botanical gardens and the site of my first-ever cyclocross race last October.  In my debut I was 9th out of 18 in Masters 45+ Cat 4; this year I hoped for more.  My pre-ride went well, revealing a course that was substantially different from last year’s.  Gone were the sand pit and the barriers, replaced by a steep hill that few riders in my category could ride up (and it was immediately clear that I wouldn’t be one of them).  But no big deal: running the hill wouldn’t be appreciably slower than riding it.  I hit the start line confident of a good race.

Early in the first lap I lost a couple of places but I quickly recaptured them.  Team Extreme’s Jeff Wren started well and was staying in contact with ISCorp’s Timm Jacobson, so I was content to follow.  Series leader Dave Dineen of Team Wisconsin was already pulling out a big advantage but I didn’t figure on being close to him anyway.  If Jeff could keep me close to Jacobson, that would be good enough until the final lap.  Troy Sable was hanging tough too, mere seconds behind me.  But early in the third and final lap, Jacobson had gotten enough of a gap on us that he remained in front even after stopping in the pits for a new rear wheel.  I passed Wren to grab 6th place late in the lap, but I no longer could see Jacobson up ahead.

That’s when my race went to hell.  I overcooked a turn and got entangled in course tape, and in the few seconds I needed to free myself, Wren and John Lichtenberg went by.  I barely stayed ahead of Sable and couldn’t close on Wren or Lichtenberg before the end of the race.  I finished 8th out of 20, an improvement over last year but not the result I might have had.  Dineen won to solidify his series points lead.  Wren was 6th and Sable 9th, so West Bend riders took three spots in the Top 10.  West Bend’s Mike Bown won the Masters 55+ Cat 4 race.

River Hill Park CX

The course at River Hill Park in Kewaskum was brilliant, and, just like last year, racers were amazed by how much the organizers could do with such a small space.  The outstanding feature of the course was a short but super-steep hill that I couldn’t ride, but neither could my closest rivals.  I rode the rest of the course well and was very motivated to make up for Saturday’s mistake and to finish ahead of Jeff Wren.  Although ours is a friendly rivalry, each of us really wants to beat the other.

Lap 1 didn’t settle anything between Jeff and me, though it did ensure that neither of us would be contending for overall victory.  Dave Dineen, Jed Schleisner (Diablo Cycling) and PJ Braun (Heavy Pedal) were already gone and would finish in that order.  Timm Jacobson clung to 4th as Jeff and I pursued.  By Lap 2 John Grosz found a way around me, then Jeff Wren, and finally Jeff Hatton (Titletown Flyers), but he couldn’t close on Jacobson.  On Lap 3 I was happy just to follow Wren; no one was catching us from behind and I was content to settle things on Lap 4.

In his first career cyclocross race, Kurt Baehmann was unintentionally making things very interesting for Jeff and me.  Baehmann—a Masters 35+ Cat 4—was racing at the same time as Jeff and me but shouldn’t have been racing against Jeff and me.  He didn’t realize that, and when Jeff passed him late in Lap 4, Baehmann attempted to retake the position.  In his haste, Baehmann crashed right in front of us, forcing Jeff and me to take a wide line around him.  It was neck-and-neck for the next minute, then Jeff opened a little gap on a fast descent that ended with a gravel road crossing and a greater-than-90-degree left turn.  But I closed the gap on the first little climb back up the hill, then hit the gas and passed Jeff on the final climb.  I negotiated the sharp right-hander at the top, shifted into the big ring and hammered down to the finish line to take a hard-won 7th place out of 19 in my age group.  Jeff was 8th, followed by Team Pedal Moraine’s Steve Cummins.  Team Extreme’s John Norman completed the Top 10 just ahead of Troy Sable.  John Lichtenberg was 14th, so I got “revenge” on him today too!

It's all good fun, but you shouldn't be surprised if there's another knock-down, drag-out fight between Jeff and me next Saturday at Grafton.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

No HRM Done

A funny thing happened on the way to every race, every ride, and every indoor training session I’ve done this year: I didn’t use my heart rate monitor.  In fact, the last time I fastened the chest strap was Aug. 2, 2011.  Back in 2007 when I started using the HRM as a training tool, I had high hopes for it.  And I did use the device regularly for a few years, but last year I reached for it less often, and now it’s almost completely out of mind.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my interest in heart rate training waned just at the moment I decided to throw myself into cyclocross.  When I bought the HRM, I intended to use it as a motivational tool to ensure that I make a sincere effort in training.  Cyclocross simply doesn’t allow for anything less than a sincere effort!  Wearing a heart rate monitor at a ’cross race is like carrying a household thermometer into a burning building.

Then came the mildest Wisconsin winter I have ever experienced, and I was able to ride outside instead of slogging through indoor training sessions in my home gym.  After that came spring and a mountain bike racing season that I didn’t know I would take so seriously.  I raced more than I thought I would, and racing is hard.  When I wasn’t racing I was training hard, doing things like practice crits and self-timed loops at New Fane or TTs up and down the Eisenbahn State Trail.  The intensity was there all year and it’s still there in the new cyclocross season and in the Tuesday evening practices that help me to prepare for the races.

But soon I will have to contemplate a new season of indoor training.  Certainly, I don’t think we’re going to have another winter as mild as the last one.  I think I will give heart rate training another try.  Its detractors will tell you that it’s not as productive as wattage-based plans, but I don’t have a way to measure my power output.  I know I’m guilty of not always giving my best effort during indoor training sessions, but numbers motivate me and recommitting to the HRM should help me to get more out of the off-season … when it comes.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Have Bikes, Will Travel

After the Masters Cat 4 race, Jeff Wren readies himself for additional punishment in the Elite Cat 4 field.
What a long weekend!  What a wonderful weekend!  I spent more than 7 hours in the car just to do 1.5 hours of racing, and it was more than a fair trade.

On Saturday I placed 7th in Cat 4 Masters 45+ at Twilight Cross in East Troy.  Going into the race I was in 3rd place on series points, so I got a valuable call-up and started from the front row.  The first lap was a prologue … really just half a lap to create some separation in the field.  I had a good start and avoided some crashes and nonsense, but on the first full lap a rider went down right in front of me.  I didn’t crash but I also didn’t have anywhere to go, so I lost precious momentum.  By Lap 3 I had settled into a nice rhythm, but I had also settled into 7th place and there was no prospect of retaking 6th from John Grosz, whose speed I was merely matching after he passed me and created a 15- to 20-second gap.  In the dying moments of the race I picked off a few stragglers from the 35+ group as I stretched out my lead over the guys who were chasing me.  The course featured a fair amount of off-camber cornering and I handled the bike well, I just wasn’t as fast as the guys who beat me.  Series points leader Dave Dineen claimed the victory and looks like the man to beat this season.  Jeff Wren was 12th in the 18-man field.  Mike Bown represented West Bend in the Cat 4 Masters 55+ race and took a very impressive 2nd place.

Getting home from East Troy at about 7:30 p.m., I quickly unpacked all the cyclocross stuff and then packed up all the mountain bike stuff for this morning’s WORS race, the Bear Paw Rock & Roll.  I went to bed early but that did me no good; I couldn’t turn off my brain and at about 1 a.m. I was seriously considering just abandoning any hope of sleep.  I got a few minutes here and there, then the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. and I grabbed some cereal and a Coke.  By 5:30 a.m. I was on the road to White Lake, about 150 miles from home.  I arrived at the race venue at 8 a.m., then quickly checked in at the registration table and hopped on the bike for a practice lap.

I didn’t like what I saw.  The singletrack sections were more difficult than anything I had yet seen on a Citizens (Cat 3) course, and some of the fire roads—on which I normally would be free to fly—were a dangerous mix of sand and loose, deep gravel.  On the other hand, there were some sections that I knew would be better for me than for my rivals, including a pair of long climbs.

The first of the long climbs is the steepest and it presents a test of bike handling and aerobic fitness.  I was content to follow Paul Baltus to the summit on Lap 1, then I took the lead with a burst on the two-track that followed.  Reaching the first section of singletrack, I was able to dictate the pace and pick my own line.  Things were going well until the midpoint of Lap 1 when a rider I didn’t recognize passed me and rode away.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t stay with him, but my main objective was to keep Brad Jorsch from overtaking me.  So far, so good.

Jorsch began the day in 3rd place on series points and still had a chance to catch me for 2nd overall.  If I could finish ahead of him, then I would secure my final position in the series.  Points leader Jim Steig—who locked up the Cat 3 Men’s 40-49 title weeks ago—opted for the Cat 2 “Sport” race today.

In the very technical singletrack near the end of Lap 1, Jorsch fought his way back to me.  We went toe-to-toe on the big climb to begin Lap 2, then I pulled away from him as I had from Baltus earlier.  I hammered the open sections, taking risks I wouldn’t have in practice and feeling the bike floating around under me on the sand and gravel.  But the time gaps I pulled out there all went quickly away once we got back into the singletrack.  Jorsch and I passed each other a few times and even joked that neither of us could shake the other.  With Jorsch in front of me on a particularly nasty section of the trail, my frustration with myself grew as I hacked my way between large, closely-spaced boulders.  It was getting late, and Jorsch now had about 15-20 seconds on me.

But this was not to be a repeat of the cyclocross race in which John Grosz was always just out of reach.  I knew that if I still had Jorsch in sight on the long climb near the end of the lap, then I had a good chance.  I overtook him on the hill, went first into the final little section of singletrack, then locked out the front fork and shifted into the big chainring for a high-speed dash to the finish.  I hit the line in 1:04:30.6, followed 1 second later by Jorsch.  Baltus came in at 1:05:06.6, and John Norman at 1:09:40.4.  The winner was Rick Johnson of Woodstock IL in 1:01:50.9.  By taking 2nd place today I extended my series points advantage over Jorsch to 1,349-1,304, so I will finish in 2nd place overall no matter what happens in Sheboygan on Oct. 14.

And that’s important to me, because I haven’t decided whether I will race at Sheboygan.  I might be doing the cyclocross race in Verona that morning … or I might still be catching up on my sleep.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

We’re From The Government And We’re Here To Help

While riding through Quaas Creek Park on Monday I noticed some new signs and, well, let’s just say that my first reaction wasn’t positive.

The sign above seems to indicate that bikes are forbidden, but that’s not exactly the case.  Travel just a few feet down the trail and you’ll reach a second sign that explains the new rule:

So, you can bring your bike … you just have to walk it up to 1/3-mile:

What problem are we trying to solve with these signs?  Was there a recent bike-versus-pedestrian accident?  I approached the City of West Bend and got this response:

“These signs were installed under direction of the Department of Transportation (DOT), as the DOT partially funded the Quaas Creek riverwalk’s construction through a grant.  The boardwalk sections of the riverwalk do not meet DOT standards for trail width to accommodate multi-users (bicyclists and pedestrians), so instead of reconstructing the entire boardwalk, it was determined that the City would install signs.  The type and location of the signs was approved by the DOT prior to the installation.  This was necessary for the City to receive reimbursements on grants for the newest part of the project over the Milwaukee River, and also to be eligible for funding grants in the future.”

I’m grateful for the explanation.  Now that I know a federal government agency is the instigator, it makes sense that it doesn’t make sense.  If the trail isn’t wide enough to accommodate a pedestrian and a bicyclist, then isn’t it even less accommodating when that bicyclist is walking next to his/her bike?  I guess the logic is that the bicyclist-turned-pedestrian is now moving at the same speed as the pedestrian, so an acceptably small amount of damage will result when they brush against each other as they pass.  You might ride through Quaas Creek Park a hundred times before you see another soul on those trails.  These new signs are the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.  Of course, the DOT’s standards are meant to apply universally and not just in our quiet corner of the world.

Still, isn’t it odd that a motor vehicle—one which may be traveling at a very high rate of speed—must give a cyclist just 3 feet of clearance, but a cyclist traveling at 10-15 mph on a multi-use trail cannot be trusted to pass a pedestrian safely?

In Other News …

While I had the attention of the City of West Bend, I also inquired about the gravel trail that extends from Quaas Creek Park north to Stockhausen Lane.  Many cyclists have found the gravel to be unacceptably coarse and hoped the section would be paved with asphalt.  That’s not in the city’s plans, as the gravel trail crosses private property for which the city has an easement.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

2012 Northern Kettles Fall Epic

On Saturday afternoon I paired up with Steve Cummins of Team Pedal Moraine in the 5-hour duo competition of the Northern Kettles Fall Epic at New Fane, race number 8 of the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series.  Steve and I took 2nd place … out of two teams.  We completed the same number of laps (11) as the husband and wife team of Gary & Jen Barden, but we couldn’t match their speed.  It took us 4:50:46, but it took them just 4:43:38.  The Bardens also won the middle-distance duo category at the RASTA Rock ’n Root on Aug. 4 in Rhinelander and have ridden well in other WEMS races this year.  They were tough; no holes in their game.

Steve and I approached the race as a training exercise.  We have no series ambitions in WEMS but each of us still has something to play for in WORS, and Saturday was a good tune-up for the Bear Paw Rock & Roll race at White Lake on Sep. 30.  At New Fane, Steve had a faster start but then things evened out:

24:26    Steve
25:33    Steve
27:30    Dave
27:45    Dave
25:14    Steve
26:55    Dave
26:04    Steve
26:25    Dave
26:19    Steve
26:43    Dave
27:52    Steve

It was my first experience racing as part of a duo.  There’s a different mindset.  You know how long it’s going to take your teammate to complete a lap, so you have time to eat, drink, make equipment or wardrobe adjustments, use the bathroom, etc.  You recover from the effort of your lap, but you also cool off.  Restarting after a break doesn’t feel exactly like your first lap, but it’s close.  There certainly was a rhythm to the race and a relaxed vibe that was altogether different from the Go-Go-Go of WORS.  I like both formats.

Turnout for all divisions was small, but everyone enjoyed the racing as WEMS returned to New Fane for the first time since 2008.  Credit to Bill & Brittany Nigh of Team Pedal Moraine for hosting the event, and to the volunteers who assisted them.  Hopefully we’ll see New Fane on the schedule again next year.  Saturday’s attendance was low in part because of other big cycling events across the state.  On a different weekend in 2013, the New Fane race might really take off.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Regrets, I’ve Had A Few

One of my favorite authors, H.G. Wells, was born on this date in 1866.  Wells wrote science fiction stories so compelling that they are still enjoyed today, including The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898).

Most famous of all, perhaps, was The Time Machine (1895), in which the hero travels to a distant future where human beings have split into two distinct groups.  While the book portrays both the Morlocks and the Eloi as repugnant in different ways, the 1960 film version depicts the Eloi as elegant idiots whose minds and bodies have gone soft from generations of idleness.

Yvette Mimieux was tasty … in more ways than one.

Wells was an incredibly imaginative man but not even he could foresee a future in which idleness led not to a reduction in human stature but instead to a corpulent expansion.  Nonetheless, the basic concept of time travel continues to seduce us.  We long to know the future and wish we could change—or at least revisit—the past.

People who say they have lived with no regrets always strike me as disingenuous.  In my own experience there are so many things I would have done differently that I could fill a book with them.  But you’re not here to read about my clumsy attempts at romance, career and scholarship; this is a cycling blog.  If I could pedal backwards on the Fixed-gear Bike of Life, here’s what I would change:


While living in central Illinois in 1978 I rode my Huffy road bike from my home in Charleston to Paris and back, a distance of 56 miles.  That was pretty ambitious for a 13-year-old who had only recently stepped up to a 10-speed from a Sears BMX bike.  But I never followed up on that ride.  I lived in a small town surrounded by miles of quiet country roads.  It would have been a great place to develop as a rider.  If I could go back to that time, I would throw myself into the sport and in my teens come to an understanding of cycling that I didn’t reach until my 40s.


As a high school student in Racine, I replaced my ugly Huffy with an sharp new Raleigh Rapide.  One of my friends had a gorgeous Schwinn Le Tour and we talked about doing something more serious than just riding around town, but nothing ever materialized.  As soon as cars and girlfriends entered the picture, the bikes began to collect dust.  I chose to sell mine rather than to take it with me when I moved to suburban Philadelphia in 1988.  If I could go back to that time, I at least wouldn’t sell the Raleigh!  Racine wasn’t the most bike-friendly town but if my head had been in the right place I could have become a serious rider there.  My girlfriend was very athletic and almost certainly would have joined me if I had embraced the sport.


I didn’t own a bike or even ride a borrowed one from 1988 until 2003.  That’s unbelievable to me now.  Having missed opportunities in the 1970s and 1980s, I should have seen the benefits of cycling during the 1990s.  Early in the decade I was back in Wisconsin, living on the east side of Milwaukee.  I had a job downtown and usually drove or took the bus to work.  A bike would have been just as quick and so much cheaper.  With the money I spent on parking I could have bought a very fine bicycle.  And by this time I was getting really out of shape.

In 1996 I got married.  My wife and I knew we wanted to start a family and I knew improving my fitness could only benefit our future children.  I bought a treadmill and some dumbbells.  I got stronger, but cycling was still far from my mind.  We moved to the suburbs, first Oak Creek and then Hales Corners.  I had access to good roads.  I also had a new coworker who was a very accomplished road racer.  He spoke enthusiastically about the sport, but his tales of 100-mile training rides seemed insane to me.  Had I been more receptive, I would have found a willing mentor.


I moved to West Bend in June 2001 and it is at that moment that the regrets stop.  Two more years would pass before I bought a mountain bike just to ride around town for a little exercise, but I don’t think I would go back in time to change the progression of events that took me from 2003 to today.  I would erase the handful of crashes I’ve had, but the other moments of my cycling career—whether glorious or shameful—probably needed to happen just the way they did to bring me to where I am now.

I like where I am now, and I like the future into which I think I am heading.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

’Cross Weather

Members of the local cyclocross community have been meeting at Royal Oaks Park in West Bend for the last seven Tuesdays and at first there were some remarks about the hot weather making our practices feel out of place and not like “real” cyclocross.  Well, there were no such complaints today.  A cold breeze from the northwest and temperatures in the low 50s definitely made today feel like autumn.

I began my day with streaming coverage of the women’s UCI world championship time trial, in which American Evie Stevens took the silver medal behind Germany’s Judith Arndt.  As the defending champion, Arndt was the last rider to start, making for great drama as Stevens waited to see whether her time would hold up.  Next year for sure, Evie!  The men’s world championship TT is scheduled for tomorrow and I will watch it with great interest.  But for me the main event on Wednesday is CrossVegas, the first big date on the professional cyclocross calendar.  There will be streaming coverage starting at 10 p.m. Central, so tune in to watch defending US champion Jeremy Powers, Wisconsin’s own Brian Matter, and a host of other domestic and international men and women.

Between the TT and the cyclocross races on Wednesday, I will try to squeeze in a few practice laps at New Fane in preparation for Saturday’s WEMS race.  I’m pairing up with my Team Pedal Moraine teammate Steve Cummins for the 5-hour race.  It’s great to see WEMS returning to New Fane and it’s important to support a race so close to home.  Bill & Brittany Nigh are hosting.  I hope to perform well and will be very interested in comparing my lap times to those of more accomplished mountain bikers.  In WORS races, the higher categories usually have a more challenging course than the Cat 3s, but in a WEMS race everyone rides the same trails.  I’ll get a good feel for how far I have developed as a rider this year … and how far I still have to go.

Racing at New Fane on Saturday means no US Gran Prix of Cyclocross for me.  The two-day event in Sun Prairie will feature some of the same top-level pros as CrossVegas, as well as local pros and amateurs.  But with no WCA series points on the line, it’s a good event for me to skip.  I have a lot of two-race weekends coming up and neither my energies nor my finances are inexhaustible.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012 Lake Geneva Cyclocross

Today's course was awesome for racers and spectators alike.
I placed 6th out of 19 racers in Cat 4 Masters 45+ this morning at Lake Geneva and was really happy with my result.  Isn’t that funny?  It’s only one position higher than last weekend, but I feel so much better about it.  That’s the difference, I guess, between having high expectations and being more realistic.

Seven of the racers in today’s field were from Illinois.  I thought there might be many more and that in a big field I might have a low placing with few, if any, series points.  But several of the “usual suspects” from Wisconsin skipped today’s race for some reason.  Only two of the six guys who beat me at Sheboygan were on the starting line today, so with two mid-pack finishes I’m now up to 3rd place on points in the series.

Ken Krebs was today’s winner, closely followed by Dave Dineen, the new series leader.  Paul Fox took 3rd, Jed Schleisner 4th, and a late-charging Larry Gundlach 5th.  I was ahead of Gundlach until early in the final lap when he found some crazy second wind and just blew by me.

The course was outstanding, a great mix of fast sections and technical challenges.  I was good on the gravel road hill climb and over the double barriers whose placement turned a rideable hill into a run-up.  And on all four laps I rode well through the sand volleyball court.  Prior to the race I completed two practice laps and the experience helped a lot.  I handled all of the technical stuff well.  So, why only 6th place?  I think the answer is an inadequate warmup.

Cycling orthodoxy says: The shorter the race, the longer the warmup.  At about 30 minutes, my cyclocross races are very short.  At Sheboygan and again today, I had a good start but faded midway through Lap 1.  Somewhere in the middle of Lap 2, I rediscovered my legs and had plenty of punch from then on.  I think a longer warmup will get me over the hump, so that will be part of the pre-race strategy at East Troy on Sep. 29.

Disappointed with his 11th place finish today, Jeff Wren will try a longer warmup too.  Like me, he is fading after a strong start, then making a comeback.  Troy Sable took 10th place—I spent a long time looking at his back wheel, but I finally put him away on the run-up.  We’ll be back on the ’cross bikes this Tuesday for another practice session.  Practice will begin at 5:30 p.m., as usual, and we’ll start a 30-minute race simulation at 6 p.m.

And, by the way, during today’s race I surpassed 4,000 miles of cycling so far in 2012.  There’s an outside chance that this could be my second consecutive 5,000-mile year, but I won’t kill myself to reach that milestone.  Last year I reached 4,000 miles on Sep. 9, so I’m a week behind my 2012 pace.

By 11 a.m. it was already a nice Sunday, but the cherry on top was a late afternoon tour of Loops 1 & 2 at New Fane with my son Ryan.  For him, riding a bike is just a way to get around our neighborhood.  But today I was able to coax him into some mountain biking.  He did a good job, thanked me for taking him, and wants to go again sometime.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Cyclocross Anniversary

Anniversary / Birthday / Whatever.  Have a cupcake!
One year ago today I rode my Diamondback Steilacoom RCX cyclocross bike for the first time.  I got it just early enough in the day to set it up for my very first cyclocross practice later that evening.  It would take a few days for me to adjust everything perfectly, but I was happy with the bike right away.  How happy?  Well, from the day I got it the Steilacoom was the only bike I rode until I took my Raleigh Competition for a short spin on March 15.  During those six months, the Steilacoom was more than just my cyclocross bike; I also used it to tear up the Eisenbahn State Trail and as a winter road bike.  This year the Steilacoom has been my choice for half of all my rides—78 out of 155—including 47 fast miles today on the Eisenbahn, 41 of which I rode with Jeff Wren as we tuned-up for Lake Geneva Cross.

Obviously I would like a good result in Sunday’s race, but it’s going to be tough.  My mid-pack finish last weekend didn’t give me any reason to expect a high finish at Lake Geneva.  In fact, it might be a throwaway race.  In the WCA’s new format, only the 10 best finishes count toward a racer’s position in the series standings.  A great weather forecast and a huge influx of racers from Illinois should ensure that Sunday’s field is one of the largest this season, and that means points could be in short supply.  By finishing 7th out of 16 in my age group last weekend I earned 11 points.  If I’m 17th out of 35 on Sunday I will earn just 1.

But there’s no question that I’m going to give it a try anyway.  It’s only the second race of the year and unless/until I reach 11 there are no throwaways.  Every point counts, and maybe the best I can hope for is to stop one of my rivals from getting an extra point or two.  If nothing else, the race will be a good training opportunity—it will be just my 9th cyclocross race ever, after all.  I could use the experience and the 30 minutes of hard intervals.