Sunday, April 29, 2012

Awesome Day At Cheesehead Roubaix

Riders reach the top of the climb on Lovers Lane near Boltonville.

I’m calling this one a success.  As the creator of Cheesehead Roubaix, it was gratifying to have something like 30 riders meet me in Newburg this morning to test themselves on an intentionally-hard metric century that features about 9.5 miles of unpaved roads.  As a rider, I was challenged by my own creation and by the riders it attracted.

The first 7.5 miles of the ride were fairly conventional as we rolled away from Fireman’s Park at a pace that kept everyone close to each other.  This wasn’t a no-drop ride, but even the strongest riders seemed content to take things easy until we reached the first unpaved sector.  Lovers Lane—essentially a mile-long farm machinery path between County Highway H and Highland Drive—provided the first real demonstrations of power and bike handling.  It’s an awful road, easily the toughest on the route, and it stretched the riders into a very thin line.  Saturday’s rain had left puddles in some of the ruts, but even high spots were soft and muddy.  I was among the first riders to reach this uphill sector but mid-pack by the end, hampered somewhat by road tires that didn’t always bite into the road surface.  But instead of pressing their advantage, the first riders to summit called a truce and waited for the others.  At least one rider walked up the steepest part of the hill, the last bit before Highland.  It took several minutes for everyone to regroup, during which time one rider fixed a flat tire and many others cleaned mud from their tires and brakes.  I was happy to be riding my cyclocross bike with its cantilever brakes and generous frame clearance.

Dirk Hofman Motorhomes was with us in spirit as we entered Waubedonia Park. (If you have to ask ... )
Not long after we resumed, the group broke up for good.  We tackled a series of rolling hills in a near-constant headwind for more than an hour.  I got dropped at mile 16, then caught the leaders when they stopped briefly at mile 24.  By mile 31 I was dropped again and rode many solo miles between the group I couldn’t stay with and the group that couldn’t catch me.  I reached Waubedonia Park (mile 47) with a small group that stopped briefly to refill water bottles.  But then I outdistanced my ride partners as we gained elevation over the next couple of miles and was alone again until mile 59.  By that time I was starting to feel a few cramps in both thighs and was worried I wouldn’t make it up the short but sharp hill on Congress Drive, less than two miles from the finish.  A teammate from Team Pedal Moraine caught up to me and our chatter helped to take my mind off my physical discomfort.  I got over the climb and rode strong to the end.  Total time: 3:52, a 16.3 mph average.  That’s not a bad set of numbers when you take into account the wind effects, the unpaved roads, and all those solo miles.

Cheesehead Roubaix will be back next year, providing a tough training opportunity on roads you normally would avoid.  I’m sure I’ll spend lots of time considering route changes and other refinements to make the event even more special.  But I’ve got a year to work that out.  Now it’s time for me to ensure my readiness for the WORS season opener in Iola next Sunday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jeff Wren Is Our Bobke

I can’t believe this video was unknown to me until earlier today.  It was shot way back on Oct. 8, 2011, at Grafton’s PumpkinCross.  Coming into the sand pit for the first time, the faster men of Cat 4 Masters 45+ were already reeling in the slower Cat 4 Masters 35+ who had started a minute earlier.  When I saw how much trouble the sand pit was causing, I decided to run it … to Jeff Wren’s chagrin.  And hilarity ensued.  For what it’s worth, I rode the sand pit on each of the remaining laps.  By that time the riders were strung out in a long line and I didn’t have to worry about anyone crashing in front of me.

Jeff and I were at it again this Tuesday on very unfamiliar ground: criterium practice in West Bend.  We joined about 20 other riders—Team Extreme guys, mostly—for three practice races.  This time hilarity did not ensue.  Riding at those speeds on pavement in a large group is serious business.  But we had fun and everyone stayed safe.  I have never raced in a crit and prior to Tuesday I had never practiced for one.  I can see its appeal, but it’s a style of racing for which I am unsuited.  I don’t have a sprint, nor do I have sustainable breakaway power.

My Tuesday was supposed to be spent on the mountain bike at New Fane, but car trouble kept me in West Bend.  I took the road bike over to crit practice just to say hello to the gang, then found myself actually doing the race simulations.  I was able to hang around on the tempo laps without any difficulty, but I couldn’t stay with most of the guys when they cranked up the speed before the final sprint.  That’s OK; they’re already a couple of races into their season while I remain focused on the still-distant 2012 cyclocross season.  And many of them were experienced Cat 2 and Cat 3 racers whose wheels I couldn't hold on my best day.

I have no criterium ambitions, but adding these practices to my training plan could help my top-end fitness.  That’s something I don’t work on enough.  Developing the power needed to close a gap or to sprint for the finish line would undoubtedly help me when ’cross resumes.  Maybe I will move my New Fane visits to Mondays or Fridays, days when I don’t want to put in a hard aerobic effort.  I could continue to develop mountain biking skills while I’m in “active recovery” mode.  Tuesdays and Thursdays, then, would be the harder aerobic efforts.  Weekends would continue to alternate between racing and long, steady distance.

This Tuesday’s performance—unexpected though it was—had its origins on Monday’s solo road ride.  Despite unfavorable winds and the fact that I was riding my ’cross bike with 700x30 tires at 70 psi, I averaged 17 mph for 32 miles over rolling terrain.  I felt strong.  I feel strong.  And I hope to perform well tomorrow in the first of this year’s Thursday evening group rides.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Sunday Rest Day?

Team co-captain Jeff Melcher snapped this photo of me helping my teammates at Greenbush.
On my training calendar, Sundays are not supposed to be rest days.  That’s especially true when they’re bright and sunny, but today was different.  Cheesehead Roubaix is just a week away and I felt like I had to paint the road markings today.  I might have been able to do it on a weekday after work, but today I had no other obligations and no threat of rain.  Painting took longer than expected.  When I got home, all I wanted was food.  After that, all I wanted was to mow my lawn.  So, I got good stuff done today; it wasn’t a day of lying around and watching TV.  And my mind was always on cycling, even if I never touched my bikes.

Yesterday morning I went to Greenbush for a Team Pedal Moraine trail work day.  We finished installing a bike wash at the Campground Road trailhead and we fixed a couple of deteriorating trail sections.  Then we hopped on the mountain bikes to make sure the trails were ready for the WEMS race on May 12.  It was my first time on the trails since last year's WEMS race, and memories of that poor performance were still fresh.  But on Saturday I rode reasonably well.  Some combination of the new bike and the practices at New Fane gave me the confidence to ride better at Greenbush.  I still don’t think it’s my kind of race course, as it is 100 percent singletrack.

So, the week ahead … Monday will not be a rest day.  I plan to hit the road on Monday and then return to New Fane for mountain biking on Tuesday.  Wednesday is reserved for softball practice, my only chance to knock off the rust before next week’s season opener.  Thursday should be a group road ride.  On Friday I might do a solo effort on the Eisenbahn.  Saturday could be another mountain biking day; I’m leaving my options open, but I won’t do too much because next Sunday is Cheesehead Roubaix and I want to ride well in my own event!  I’m really looking forward to it, but I’m also looking forward to being on the other side of it and able to focus on the mountain bike racing calendar.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Time For A Cool Change

Evelyn Stevens wins La Flèche Wallonne Feminine.  USA!  USA!
I can only imagine that sometimes my readers don’t know what the hell my headlines have to do with the stories that follow.  If last month’s “Dydd Gŵyl Dewi” didn’t elicit a Google search or two, then I haven’t done my job.  But usually the relationship is obvious: I don’t imagine anyone missed the point of January’s post entitled “2012 NBC Sports Cycling Schedule.”

So, what could “Time For A Cool Change” portend?  Obviously it’s a nod to an old song by the Little River Band, though I am not a fan.  As the self-styled Dennis Miller of cycling bloggers in West Bend, ages 45 and over, I throw plenty of music and other pop culture references at you.  And I do my fair share of bitching about the weather, which for the next couple of days will be very cool indeed.  But why stop at double entendre when you can have quadruple?  (Stick with me: the last two have something to do with cycling.)

Today I did what should be my last Wednesday ride for a long time.  I’ve got softball practice next Wednesday and the first game of the season on May 2.  Wednesday won’t be back on my cycling calendar until the end of August … except for July 4, as I’m sure we won’t have a game on Independence Day.  So, it’s time for that change and it’s cool because I love to play softball.  I probably wouldn’t have found my way to cycling if I hadn’t needed a low-impact way to strengthen my legs for softball.

The other cool change?  American Evie Stevens beat the almost-unbeatable Marianne Vos today in the women’s version of La Flèche Wallonne.  No American woman had ever won that race before, and the victory couldn’t have come at a better time.  With just 100 days remaining until the Olympics in London, American riders are fighting for qualification points.

The men’s version of La Flèche Wallonne was held earlier today too, and the finish atop the Mur de Huy was great theater.  I won’t tell you how it played out, just in case you’re waiting for the tape-delayed NBC Sports broadcast late Saturday night.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New Heights At New Fane

Another good mountain biking experience has me feeling better about my progress as the racing season approaches.  This evening I cut two minutes off my best lap time at New Fane, so I’m down to a respectable 30 minutes and I’m really just getting started.  The air was chilly—only a little more than 40 degrees—but otherwise the conditions were very good.  I did a full warmup lap, then returned to the car to shed my windbreaker.  I timed myself on my second full lap, then finished with a quick lap of Loops 1 & 2.  Familiarity with the trails is definitely starting to show up in my lap times, as I no longer slow down at all on some sections that I used to approach with a handful of brake lever.  And having a bike that fits is helping too.  Today it occurred to me that last year my balance and center of gravity were compromised by riding a bike that was too small.

The WEMS race at New Fane is still five months away.  You don’t suppose I could be good by then, do you?  I mean, I’ll have many more opportunities to practice on those trails, and I should have several other mountain bike races under my belt … not to mention a few road TTs and cyclocross races.  My fitness should be good and my weight should be down.  Who knows?

Team Pedal Moraine has scheduled a trail work day at Greenbush this Saturday, starting at 8:30 a.m.  I’ll be there to help prepare the trails for the Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge, a WEMS race scheduled for May 12.  Once that’s behind us, we’ll focus our trail building and maintenance efforts on Sunburst in anticipation of the WORS race there on July 22.  I still need to take the 29er to Greenbush to see whether I can ride those trails better than I did last year, but if I don’t do any practice sessions then I certainly won’t try to race there.  I should have some opportunities to practice at Sunburst.  Just as with New Fane, I might be able to gain a little “home field advantage” before raceday.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spring Break 2012 (Final)

For the Fools Classic, the locals made better equipment choices than I did!
This was a long day, but a good day.  I spent Friday night at a friend’s house in suburban Pittsburgh, then awoke early this morning and completed the drive to West Bend in such fine style that I had time for a 1-hour bike ride.  I banged out the last 17 miles I needed to reach 1,000 miles so far this year.  Last year I didn’t hit 1,000 miles until May 16.  But for, like, the hundredth time: this year I’m not going to concern myself with mileage totals.  The miles will accumulate much more slowly as I spend more time on the mountain bike trails and less on the road.

The Fools Classic is already receding into the past—it was a week ago already—but I do want to revisit it for a moment.  I was going to struggle with its many hills no matter what I was riding, but so far I have neglected to mention that I was on my road bike with standard gearing: 53/39 up front and a 12-27T cassette.  This equipment choice did not go unnoticed by my fellow riders, who agreed universally that I was nuts.  Compact gears—even triple cranksets and mountain bike clusters—were the order of the day.  I should have taken my cyclocross bike.  The rear cassette would have been the same but I would have benefited from the 46/36 crankset.  I also would have appreciated the cyclocross bike’s more relaxed geometry.  The Fools Classic gave me some soreness in the neck and shoulders, and that’s extraordinarily rare for me.

I noted on Tuesday that I intended to return to the Perkiomen Trail to wrap up my vacation rides, and I did so.  My first experience with the trail was back in 2004, the first year I considered myself to be a true cyclist.  I rode it then on my Gary Fisher Wahoo mountain bike, but I didn’t cover the entire trail.  This week I rode the whole thing—plus a bit of the adjacent Schuylkill River Trail, a total of 41 miles—on my Trek X-Caliber.  Had I taken the cyclocross bike on vacation, I might have used it for this ride but I was glad to have the 29er.  Some of the gravel was really coarse, and the 12 percent gravel descent would have been really dicey on narrower tires.

Just in time: A place to refill the water bottle on the Perkiomen Trail.
Looks like we’re in for a very windy Sunday, so I’ll probably take the mountain bike to New Fane unless there’s rain.  It’s great to be back home and it’s time for three weeks of earnest preparation for the WORS season opener.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spring Break 2012

My week-long vacation in suburban Philadelphia is going OK, but it hasn't been and probably won't be the outstanding week of training I needed.

Things got off to a good start: I arrived early enough on Friday to take a short spin on the road bike to ensure its readiness for Saturday's big ride. And Saturday's ride was big indeed! The Fools Classic was a monster, covering 79 miles of seldom-used and even less-frequently-maintained country roads. The ride featured more than 5,000 feet of climbing and about 20 miles of unpaved roads. There were about 70 riders. I wasn't the first to finish and I wasn't the last. It wasn't a race, per se, but a sportive not unlike Cheesehead Roubaix. But while Cheesehead Roubaix is mostly flat, the Fools Classic went up and down a series of hills quite unlike anything we have in southeastern Wisconsin. Imagine our steepest hill. Now triple the length of the climb. Now strip all the asphalt off the road. I needed 5:55 to complete the route, and I was completely cooked when it was over. But I was rewarded with a good day of training, a free T-shirt and two bottles of locally-brewed ale.

On Sunday morning I enjoyed Tom Boonen's victory at Paris—Roubaix, though clearly the race was changed for the worse by the absence of Fabian Cancellara. I did a short recovery ride later on Sunday and felt surprisingly good. That led me to believe Monday's trip to Evansburg State Park would be enjoyable, but I hated every moment of my time on the mountain bike trails there. I have to believe that it's still so early in the season that nobody is riding on or maintaining the trails, as they were in terrible shape. I gave up after a frustrating hour of trying to find a coherent loop, then got a front tire flat as I was returning to my car.

Today was a rest day that shouldn't have been a rest day. All day long I lived under the threat of rain, but the rain never came. Tomorrow's forecast is nearly identical to today's, but I'll try to ride if I can. It's low-50s and very high winds here, so I would rather be on the trails than on the road. But now that I know Evansburg is a big pile of suck, I don't know where to take the 29er. I'm thinking about going back to the Perkiomen Trail. It won't help me with my technical riding skills at all, but at least it will allow me to ride for a couple of hours in the woods. If that plan doesn't work tomorrow, then perhaps I'll try it on Thursday, my last day here. A long ride on the Perkiomen Trail would be a satisfying conclusion to my trip. Without it, I will be disappointed. The Fools Classic by itself was not enough to get me closer to the fitness I want before the WORS race at Iola on May 6. There won't be an opportunity to ride on Friday or Saturday. I'm already watching Sunday's weather forecast, hoping for a chance to rediscover my home roads for a few hours.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pedal Fest 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Finding A Little Rhythm

I'm feeling like less of a Jerk with every ride on the new mountain bike.
There is a lot of stuff at Glacial Blue Hills that I either can’t ride at all or can’t ride well.  Even the best mountain bikers in West Bend continue to find it challenging despite frequent visits.  They tell me that if I can learn to ride well at “Blue” then I will be able to ride well anywhere, and I believe them.  There’s almost no flow to the place, as if an insane giant had collected pieces of other trails and then carelessly dropped them.  I don’t mean to disparage the efforts of the trailmakers—I know many of them as friends—but the physical geography of Glacial Blue Hills simply defies order.

Today I spent 90 minutes at the park, covering most of the trails at least once and some of them several times.  And I finally found a little loop that I really like.  It’s not long and it’s neither the easiest nor the hardest section in terms of technical difficulty.  But it flows.  It makes sense to me.  I can do it again and again, working hard all the while without huge peaks or valleys in the effort.  It’s the loop highlighted in red in the map below.

I rode it only in a counter-clockwise direction today, but I’m sure it would work clockwise too.  And on a future visit I will try to add an adjacent loop to form a 19-20-21 “Figure 8.”

Maybe that’s the only sensible way for me to approach these trails: shooting for mastery of one or two segments at a time, rather than trying to get my head around the whole thing.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Fool’s Errands

Nobody calls him "Sissy."

I was up early today to watch the Ronde van Vlaanderen, first on the Internet and then on TV when the NBC Sports coverage began at 7:30.  That would have been a good  enough start to the day, but I also had some very encouraging stats to plug into my Workouts.xls file.  My weight is down 7 pounds from where it was at the beginning of April 2011 and my resting heart rate is a mere 45 beats per minute.  Those are two good indicators of improving fitness.  And my blood pressure was a healthy 105 over 53.

Today’s ride was a really positive experience too.  I accepted a last-minute invitation to accompany a group of five triathletes for a briskly-paced Covered Bridge Ride.  It was a strong group, only a couple of whose members had ridden with me before.  Hopefully I did enough work on the front to merit a future invitation.  Despite my 7 pound weight loss, I’m still a substantial wind blocker for people who usually aren’t allowed to draft.

On Saturday afternoon I did a solo ride to close out a brilliant March.  I finished the month with 516 miles, a personal record that shattered the old mark of 350 set in 2010.  March was my fourth-consecutive month with a personal record for mileage, but I don’t have the same expectations for April.  My April mark is 650, also set in 2010, and it’s unlikely to fall because I plan to spend a lot more time on the mountain bike as I prepare for the WORS season opener in Iola on May 6.

The week ahead will be unconventional.  Tomorrow, on what should be a rest day, I will do a training ride.  I’ll ride again on Tuesday unless we get rain.  Wednesday will be consumed by preparations for Thursday’s departure for Pennsylvania.  I will arrive in suburban Philadelphia on Friday, hopefully in time to do a short ride.  And then on Saturday I will do the Fools Classic, a very hard training ride that should reveal all the holes in my form.  Today was the registration deadline and with sun and 60s in the forecast I pulled the trigger.  The Fools Classic isn’t a race but I’m sure many of its participants will treat it as one.  I will try to run with the big dogs for as long as I can.