Monday, May 28, 2012

Self Improvement

Keep lookin' up!
This morning I competed in an unsanctioned time trial over a rolling 19.3-mile course in northwestern Washington County.  I placed 9th out of 11 racers, but my performance vis-à-vis the others isn’t the story.  The time trial mixed riders of different ages, abilities and equipment choices.  Some racers went full-aero.  I went, by necessity, with a standard road bike, wheels, helmet, shoes, etc.

The takeaway from today is that I’m faster than I was last July when I first competed on this course.  I finished then in 57:23.  Today I finished in 54:47, beating the old time by 2:36.  That’s a big improvement.  Some of it can be attributed to weight loss: I’m 5 pounds lighter than I was then.  (I’m 10 pounds lighter than I was on this date last May.)  And perhaps a little of that improvement can be attributed to familiarity with the course—it’s important to know where to go hard and where to conserve energy.  But the biggest factor by far is fitness itself.  I have more of it, the result of training with greater intensity.  The WORS races, the practice crits at Stocky’s, the spirited Thursday evening group rides … they all add up.  Diet counts for a lot too, and with that in mind I have been keeping a food journal since April 15.  Knowing that I have to record everything I eat makes me less likely to choose bad foods and beverages.  And, of course, rest is critical.  I did last year’s TT at the end of a 1,020-mile month and I was a bit fried.  This year I’m concentrating more on quality workouts followed by quality recovery, rather than stubbornly pursuing every last mile.

Getting adequate rest before next Sunday’s WORS race at Wausau should be easy, especially if we get the cloudy, 50-something-degree weather that the experts have predicted for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  That’s not how I would have liked to welcome June, but at least the weekend forecast is promising.  I’ll probably hit New Fane for some mountain biking skills practice tomorrow evening, then take a rest day on Wednesday.  Thursday might be a good day for a hard 1-hour road ride on my lunch break, then on Friday I might do a fast Eisenbahn ride to Campbellsport and back on the cyclocross bike.  On Saturday I will pre-ride at Wausau on a course I think will be a good match for me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hammering On Thor’s Day

I haven’t had a lot to say since the WORS race at Rhinelander on Sunday.  When I “went to press” with my race report I didn’t yet have any photos, so here’s one that shows me accelerating away from the starting line:

And they're off! Thanks to Michele Norman (wife of John Norman, racer #4021) for the picture.
On Monday I stayed away from my bikes and caught up on a lot of work around my yard.  It was a rest day for the Giro d’Italia too, and thus a very rare day off for me as both a cyclist and a cycling fan.  On Tuesday I did another criterium practice and again it was a great way to do intervals without the drudgery of counting minutes.  On Wednesday I played softball but the results were disappointing: after an Opening Day victory back on May 2, my team has lost three straight.

Today I went back to the Thursday evening group ride for the first time in a couple of weeks and finished with 37 miles at almost a 20 mph average.  The wind was howling out of the south, so the group of five worked together to set a strong pace down to the covered bridge near Cedarburg.  I didn’t start particularly well—I usually don’t—but I hung in there and my legs came around.  We didn’t follow the Covered Bridge Ride route with which so many local riders are familiar, and when a couple of the Team Extreme boys decided to go harder I was one of the three who couldn’t match their pace.  I tried, and for several miles I dangled in No Man’s Land, but eventually I sat up and finished the ride with the grupetto.

Tomorrow I plan to ride the 29er at New Fane.  I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much practice on singletrack, at least not for a novice mountain bike racer.  The weekend likely will be a time for long endurance rides … except for Memorial Day itself.  On Monday morning I plan to compete in an unsanctioned time trial, a good opportunity to put even more intensity into my training.  It also will be a good opportunity to compare my current fitness level to last year’s, as the TT will run on the same course that I raced last July.  The 19.3-mile course should take me nearly an hour to complete.  So, in terms of duration and intensity, the TT should be a good tune-up for my 12-mile WORS race at Wausau on June 3.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012 Crystal Lake Classic

Another successful WORS weekend!  I placed 3rd out of 16 in my age group and 6th out of 88 overall in the Citizens (Cat 3) race at Rhinelander.  Dirk Bjornstad won my age group with a time of 39:15.2, followed by Jim Steig at 40:04.2 and me at 41:01.2.  Nolan Steig won the overall with a time of 38:58.3.  To get that close to overall victory, a lot of things had to go right for me.  I didn’t ride a flawless race, but it was very near to the absolute best of my ability.

Because of my 4th place finish at Iola two weeks ago, I got a call-up today and started the race exactly where I wanted to be: front row, far left.  Two practice laps on Saturday proved to me that staying to the left was the best bet, and that I should lock out the suspension fork until I reached the singletrack.  As expected, the start was very fast.  Bjornstad and Steig quickly established themselves at the front.  I was among the leaders too, but as we hit the biggest hill on the course I had to get rid of a couple of guys who had started impressively but then flamed out.  I wasn’t delayed for long, but as Bjornstad and Steig hit the singletrack they had put 10-15 seconds into me and I never got back to their wheels.  I was OK in the singletrack, but not great.  An additional practice lap early this morning had given me some new confidence for that part of the race, but really I was just trying to limit my losses.  The leaders in my age group were now passing a lot of slower riders from the earlier waves.  When the course opened up again to reveal the second significant climb, I hit the gas hard and dropped several more of these riders before diving back into the singletrack.  Lap 1 ended with some flat doubletrack that brought us back to the gravel road.  Here I was untouchable, easily outdistancing all rivals except for Brad Jorsch.  On Lap 2, with only about ¼-mile to go before the big hill, Jorsch became the only person to pass me today.  But when we hit the base of the hill I recaptured my position and as we entered the singletrack I tried to put more riders from the earlier waves between us.  Jorsch hung tough, but I kept him behind me with another strong showing on the smaller hill at mid-lap.  When we hit the doubletrack, I again locked out my fork and shifted into the big chainring.  It was hammer time to the finish and I kept my 3rd Place by 1.9 seconds.

Jim Steig now leads the Citizens 40-49 category.  I’m next, followed by Jorsch.  (We were 3-4-5 at Iola and 2-3-4 today!)  Up next: the Big Ring Classic at Wausau on June 3.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Crystal Clear Objectives

Yeah, it was a perfect late afternoon for riding at New Fane.
Except for the mountain bike trails at Suamico, all of the courses on this year’s WORS schedule are new to me.  Getting information about them isn’t always easy—the descriptions in the official racer handbook only go so far—but this week the Internet has yielded some good intelligence on Sunday’s Crystal Lake Classic in Rhinelander.  Here is a description of the Citizens (Cat 3) course from race director Elvis Bauman: “Rolling logging roads traversing through the camp with nice smooth singletrack that will give the beginner biker a little workout but still have fun!  Our famous boardwalk area is a fun little ride through our ecology bog before you come to our final half mile of track.”  And when he says “track” he really means gravel road; the course begins and ends with it.  My race will cover two laps of the 4.24-mile course and the winning time should be around 50 minutes.

I want to win my age group on Sunday and I think I have a good chance.  Rumor has it that Michael Cudahy, who won at Iola, is upgrading to Cat 2.  I should get a call-up on Sunday and from my position in the front row I should have a clear shot at the fast gravel road start.  I’m comfortable on gravel and should be able to get a jump on most of the field.  The course is fairly flat but its biggest hill climb comes just 1.25 miles into the race and should be enough of a bump to create significant gaps if a large group is still together.  If I can be among the first riders to reach the base of the climb, then I should be set up well for the rest of the race.  Obviously, I’ll know a lot more when I do the pre-ride on Saturday, but this sounds like a good course for me.

Technical singletrack is still a great challenge for me.  I won’t have to face much of it on Sunday but I did put in a serious training effort today at New Fane.  I completed three full laps, finishing the last in a personal-best 27 minutes.  Tonight’s softball game didn’t start until 9 p.m., so I had a rare opportunity to ride on a Wednesday.  I consider riding well at New Fane to be a good gauge of my development as I mountain biker.  Today’s ride was a great confidence booster in advance of what I hope will be a successful weekend at Rhinelander.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Working For The Weekend

You better start from the start.
Cycling is the part-time job for which I receive no pay but immeasurably valuable benefits.  The timesheet this weekend?  On Saturday I put in 6 hours of volunteer time for Team Pedal Moraine at the Greenbush WEMS race, followed by a 1.5-hour solo ride in the evening.  On Sunday I spent 2 hours watching the Giro d’Italia, 2 hours riding solo, and 2 hours watching the Tour of California.

But that’s nothing compared to the time I invested in cycling last weekend, which in turn will pale in comparison to the time I invest next weekend.  The Crystal Lake Classic—WORS race number 2 of 12—is 208 miles from home.  I’ll head to Rhinelander on Saturday for the pre-ride, camp overnight, then race on Sunday—a 30- to 36-hour period during which my whole existence will revolve around the race and the activities that support it.

The training plan for this week is pretty specific: I need to work on my start.  The Rhinelander course begins with a fairly long stretch of gravel road before the first section of singletrack.  In theory, that should be a good fit for me.  Time to lock out the suspension fork and see what kind of sprint I can produce on a 29er.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Addition By Subtraction

There’s an old joke about sculptors, one that has been around long enough to be applied to different artists but probably started with Michelangelo.  In that variation, the pope marvels at a newly-created masterpiece and asks Michelangelo how he derived something so wonderful from a block of stone.  Michelangelo replies, “It was easy: I just chiseled away everything that didn’t look like David.”

A complete fabrication, clearly.  But there’s some kernel of wisdom in those words, so the joke persists.

Today I revisited my cycling calendar and chiseled away everything that didn’t look like it was going to help me with my competition goals.  Gone is this Saturday’s WEMS race, the Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge.  I will be at Greenbush as part of my volunteer commitment to Team Pedal Moraine, but I won’t be in the race.  Treating the race as a hard practice would be worthwhile in my pursuit of greater success during the WORS season, but I don’t have series ambitions in WEMS and the team really needs every volunteer it can get to ensure the event runs smoothly.  For now, the WEMS races at Suamico (July 7) and New Fane (Sep. 22) are still on my calendar.  That’s largely because they are on courses where I would expect to perform well.  I don’t ride well at Greenbush, and a bad performance there could be a confidence killer.  The risk outweighs the potential reward.

Also gone are most Washington County Bicycle Club rides, many of which fall on WORS weekends.  To be successful in WORS it’s almost mandatory to do the Saturday pre-ride before the Sunday race.  Being new to the series, I’m seeing most of these trails for the first time.  There’s no doubt that pre-riding Iola helped me in that race.  Road rides of the long-steady-distance variety still have their place, but the training benefit of a WCBC ride is something I can easily replicate on my own schedule.  It looks like my competition schedule will have a four-week break in late July and early August.  That will be a good time to enjoy club rides.  I will need to recharge the batteries before cyclocross season begins.

So, the Bryce Master Time Trial in Harvard IL on Aug. 4 is out.  It would be a good tune-up for the Kirke Vei TT on Aug. 18, but I don’t really want to pay the registration fee and buy a one-day ABR license for a race that I would consider just a practice.  From a training perspective, I can get just as much out of a self-timed TT on roads close to home.  And after all, Kirke Vei itself is really just a hard training ride.  Last year I believe it helped to prepare me for the ’cross season but this year its benefits won’t be as obvious; WORS races should ensure that the legs are sharp when September rolls around.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

2012 Iola Bump & Jump

Mother Nature really tried to ruin the WORS season opener today at Iola, but I rode a strong race and now feel very confident that I’m making progress as a mountain biker.  I took 4th place out of 17 men in the Citizens (Cat 3) 40-49 field, earned my first cycling award and got to share the podium with race winner Michael Cudahy and the rest of the Top 5.


Overall I was 28th of 109, and early in the race I knew I was having a good run because nobody was passing me and I was catching the younger guys who had started ahead of my age group.  The start of the race was delayed for an hour by rain as an already-soft course became a quagmire.  A couple of the steepest hills proved unrideable—not just for the Cat 3s, but also for the Pro/1/2 racers who competed later in the day.  I was already mud-caked early in the first lap, but I wasn’t cold and I didn’t let the rain bother me.  But I did let the rain influence my eyewear decision: I had to choose between glasses that would be streaked with rain throughout the race, or naked eyes that occasionally would take an uncomfortable mud bath.  I hate to ride without eye protection but today it was the right call.

The course at Iola is an interesting mix of hills, technical singletrack, flowy singletrack and short open sections that connect the rest of the pieces.  I did a pre-ride on Saturday evening to get acquainted with the course and I knew where I would be fast and where I would be challenged.  Throughout the race I picked really good lines, particularly on the hills.  I rode up several hills that forced other riders to walk.  I felt strong all day, and there’s nothing like passing people for motivation.  My biggest obstacle was mechanical: the mud took an awful toll on my drivetrain.  Near the end of the first lap I had to get off the bike after dropping my chain.  I dropped it 3-4 more times on the second (final) lap but was able to shift it back onto the little ring without dismounting.

I’m really pleased with my first race of the year but I can’t help but wonder how I might have performed if I had gotten adequate sleep on Saturday night.  I spent the night in a tent just a few hundred yards from the finish line.  It was my first camping experience in something like 25 years and I was uncomfortable.  I maybe got four hours of sleep overnight … and not in one contiguous block.  That’s something for me to sort out soon, as camping might be in my plans again if I go to Rhinelander for the next WORS race on May 20.

Carpool partner Jeff Wren poses next to the muddy track that served the makeshift campground.

Friday, May 4, 2012

It’s Giro Time

The Giro d’Italia will begin tomorrow.  Who’s your pick to win the general classification? has listed its top 10 potential winners, so I’ve given them to you as a poll in the right-hand column of this page.  I’ve also provided a “someone else” option for the Christian Vande Velde fans.  (If you want my advice, Geraint Thomas is the better “outsider” choice.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Starting On The Right Foot

Shimano M087L
Softball season began this evening with an 11-3 victory for my team.  I hit the ball hard in all four of my at-bats, finishing with two singles, a run scored and an RBI.  And it was a busy night at first base, where I was on the receiving end of a lot of throws.  It was a good team effort with contributions from everyone.  But I’m a little concerned about the way my knees felt … kind of unstable, especially the right one.  That might just be because I’m so unaccustomed to running, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Recently I told you that Wednesdays would be off my cycling calendar for a while, but this afternoon’s weather was too beautiful to resist.  A new pair of cycling shoes arrived with today’s mail and I just had to try them out.  Just a year ago I bought a pair that I thought would be my go-to racing shoes for a long time to come, but I kind of fell out of love with them.  Unlike those, the new shoes have a ratcheting strap.  I think that’s a great feature, maybe even a must-have for all future purchases.  I did a 21-mile test ride after work and was happy with the fit and the cleat placement, but I’ll be sure to wear these 2-3 more times before Sunday.  I believe in the axiom: Don’t race with untested equipment.

All of a sudden there are just three more days for me to work out my body, my gear and my strategy for the WORS season opener at Iola.  I’ll get there mid-afternoon on Saturday, check in with the organizers, get my series number plate—4025, assigned to me randomly but also the last four digits of my phone number when I was in high school—and then spend a couple of hours practicing on the race course.  I will spend Saturday night in a tent at the race venue, then get up early on Sunday to eat breakfast and to warm up before my 10 a.m. race.  Between now and my departure for Iola, I’d kind of like to get a chainstay protector for my 29er and a new pair of gloves … I would even be willing to go against the axiom cited above in the case of these niceties.  Of bigger concern is my training: I haven’t been on the mountain bike since April 21.  I think I will take it out tomorrow to get reacquainted.  If I break the chain or knock a wheel out of true, then I’ll still have time to get it fixed.  On Friday I’ll probably hop aboard the ’cross bike for a long cruise on the Eisenbahn.  At Iola, the winning time in my group should be under one hour.  I’m not worried about my endurance, but I will need a fast start (not my forte) and I will need to handle the bike well on the singletrack.  Tomorrow’s practice is important.  Saturday’s practice is everything.  If I’m going well on Saturday, then look out for 4025 on Sunday.