Thursday, August 30, 2012

Life Offline

Getting ready to ride through the northern Kettle Moraine on a gorgeous Monday ...
On Monday my Internet service went down and it wasn’t restored until earlier this evening.  So, today I finally learned who won the US Pro Cycling Challenge and the last three stages of the Vuelta.  I’m frighteningly dependent on the Internet and being without it really sucked, but the timing could have been much worse.  I work from home and absolutely need a reliable, high-speed connection for my job, but this week I’m on vacation.

My wife’s sister and brother-in-law visited from California this week.  I took Glen up through New Fane to Dundee and then back through Beechwood on Monday afternoon to give him a taste of the northern Kettle Moraine.  He was effusive in his praise of our roads and our landscapes, and his enthusiasm served as a good reminder that we shouldn’t take for granted those “standard” cycling routes that are so familiar to us.  On Wednesday morning we rode together again, this time exploring the parkways of Milwaukee County.  There was nothing familiar about those, but they proved a very nice way to get around.  We also rode the Hank Aaron State Trail to Miller Park before heading south on city streets to our start/finish at my wife’s parents’ home in Franklin.

I didn’t see Glen or Jennifer on Tuesday, and without Internet/TV/phone service it was a quiet day until cyclocross practice began at Royal Oaks Park.  We had six participants this week, including two riders we hadn’t seen at practice before.  With the WCA season scheduled to begin on Sep. 8, hopefully we will have a big turnout next Tuesday as racers make their final preseason preparations.

Today was an overdue rest day for me.  Tomorrow I plan to do a long, solo road ride to bring August to a close.  Then it’s back to training with another road ride on Saturday, a short effort on Sunday, and a time trial test on Labor Day.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012 Reforestation Ramble

That's me on the top step, happy.
Last year the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico convinced me that mountain bike racing can be fun.  Today it was the venue for my first-ever victory.

I went to Suamico full of confidence.  I knew my fitness was good and that the course’s many open ski trails suited my style of racing.  I didn’t know that the Cat 3 (Citizens) men’s 40-49 age group would leave the starting grid first.  Combined with the call-up I earned by being in second place on points in the series, that put me on the starting line with nothing but open trail in front of me.  What an advantage!  I got off to a great start and for the first 3 miles was threatening to run away from the field.  Hitting the first section of singletrack slowed me down, though, and brought series leader Jim Steig back to my rear wheel.  He was content to stay there, and mile after mile we worked together to stay ahead of the others in our age group.

At the halfway point of the race, Jim’s son Nolan Steig caught us.  We immediately yielded the trail to allow Nolan to run free.  He’s trying to wrap up the series championship in the 15-16 age group and finished today with the best overall time, 55:31.3.  I think springing Nolan was “job done” for Jim today, as he didn’t seem interested in overtaking me.  If he had made a late move in the singletrack, he probably would have ridden away.  Out in the open, I might have had the advantage.

But there was another rider who wasn’t reading from the script that Jim and I were following.  Robert Hoefert made a last-minute bid for victory by passing Jim and me on the fast finishing straight.  But he misjudged the distance to the line and when I saw his body relax I kicked one more time and beat him by a foot or two.  The official results listed my time at 59:13.0 and his at 59:13.2, but it may have been closer than that!  Jim Steig was third in 59:15.1, followed by Jon Mathews (1:00:02.7) and Brad Jorsch (1:00:54.1).  Steig continues to lead the age group by an insurmountable margin.  I extended my lead over Jorsch to 1333-1272, making it nearly impossible for him to catch me for second place with just three races remaining.

Hoefert was gracious in defeat, perhaps even amused by his mistake.  He said that when he thought he had crossed the finish line he heard me take two huge breaths and knew he was screwed.  I was making a final burst as he was winding down and there was no time for him to react.

Heather Liepert, Brittany Nigh and Jeff Melcher also won their classifications today, and several more Team Pedal Moraine racers finished on the podium.  Morning rain changed the character of the course somewhat, but didn’t ruin the race.  And that final sprint is something I’ll remember for a long time.

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 Subaru Cup

I wasn’t asking for a lot on Sunday as I arrived at the Nordic Mountain ski area near Mount Morris for the Subaru Cup, the eighth race on the WORS calendar.  All I really wanted was to extend my advantage over Brad Jorsch in the battle for 2nd place overall behind series leader Jim Steig, who has an insurmountable points lead in the Cat 3 (Citizens) 40-49 age group.  But with support from teammates and friends at almost every turn, I got a lot more from the race than a mere defense of my series standing.

I had almost no sleep overnight and was a bit lethargic as I completed a slow practice lap before checking in at the registration desk.  Then I turned in a faster practice lap and felt a little better about things as I lined up for the start of the race.  My pre-ride had assured me that the course offered no major technical hardships and that my climbing ability would again prove useful, just as it had at Sunburst, Crystal Ridge and Iola.

The start was modest, not an all-out sprint.  Racers knew that it wouldn’t be long before they had to start climbing.  In pretty short order I was in a leading group that included Steig, his teammate Paul Baltus, and Ernie Huerta, from whom I expected a strong result.  But while climbing early in the lap, Huerta got too close to the loose edge of the trail and crashed.  Steig and Baltus remained ahead of me.  Jorsch didn’t have an especially good start and was losing ground.  Knowing that two of my main rivals were behind me, I tried to match the pace of the JVC/Michael’s teammates.  That task quickly became more difficult as we caught the slower riders from the 30-39 age group, which had started 1 minute ahead of us.  Steig was getting away and it looked for a while like he was taking Baltus with him.

But I rode really well on the second half of Lap 1, and at the start of Lap 2 I was right behind Baltus.  Steig was out of reach by now, but Baltus appeared to be struggling.  I passed him on a short climb and slowly opened a gap.  Then I spent most of the lap reeling in riders from earlier waves, putting them behind me as a shield against a late charge from a series rival.  I got a little ragged toward the end and had to hop off the bike twice in the span of about 500 meters to recover from bad lines in the singletrack.  Steig completed the course in 36:15.5.  I was second in 38:10.1, followed by Dave Howell (38:23.0) and then Huerta (38:35.5), who recovered well after his crash.  Baltus was next at 38:45.4, followed by Jorsch at 39:17.9.

In the Best 7 format that WORS uses to determine the series champion, Sunday’s result replaces my 9th place finish at CamRock.  Jorsch replaces his 12th place finish at Crystal Ridge.  If I’ve done the math correctly, I extended my lead over him by another 7 points and we now stand at 1,305-1,263.  Mathematically, he still could overtake me, but my success on Sunday makes it much harder.  And I expect to do well next Sunday in the Reforestation Ramble at Suamico.  With a good race there I might be able to skip the remaining three WORS races and concentrate on the early races of the WCA cyclocross season.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Ugly Exit

I played my first season of slowpitch softball in 1982 and over the last 30 years I put together a nice career that included two league championships and innumerable great memories.  But this season had a different feeling about it almost from the start … a dark feeling.  Even when my team won, even when I played well, I just wasn’t enjoying myself.

Tonight my team lost in the playoffs and I played poorly.  This isn’t how I wanted the season to end, and it certainly isn’t how I wanted my softball career to end.  But I think this is what I will live with, because I’m pretty sure I’m done.  The game that was so good to me for so long turned into little more than a weekly obligation that took me away from what I really wanted to do: ride the bike.  And it introduced what ultimately became an unacceptable risk of injury, sometimes realized.  I’m still feeling the effects of a shoulder injury I sustained three weeks ago, and I’m very lucky that it didn’t compromise my cycling ambitions.

It’s kind of funny: I’m abandoning softball for the sake of cycling but originally I got into cycling because of softball.  Once I reached my 30s I needed to strengthen my legs to keep playing ball.  I was having all sorts of overuse injuries, so in 2003 I bought a mountain bike just to ride around town for a couple of hours per week.  The overuse injuries went away and I enjoyed several more productive seasons.  And I’m still physically capable, but my heart isn’t in it.

So, if this is it, I leave softball with some pretty solid career statistics.  If you read my blog regularly, then you know I love cycling stats.  Well, long before I ever turned a pedal in anger, there was softball:

GAMES    AT-BATS    RUNS    HITS    RBI    2B    3B    HR    BATTING AVG.
343      1,026      309     503     309    118   14    25    .490

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Only Way Out Is Through

Lately I have been a lot busier than usual with a couple of special projects at work and a daunting “Honey, Do” list at home.  And this week things don’t get any easier.  Here’s what I have on tap:

Monday:  I’ll start work a little early because I have a mid-afternoon dentist appointment.  If the weather forecast is correct, then I won’t have to worry about riding my bike.  Looks like it will be a good evening to continue remodeling in the family room.

Tuesday: It’s yet another election day and I will do my civic duty but without enthusiasm.  I’ll be saving my energies for the debut of cyclocross practice at Royal Oaks Park.  All the cool kids will be there and you want to be cool too, right?  Starts at 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Win or lose, it’s the end of the softball season.  My team plays at 6 p.m. and, if we win, at 8 p.m. for the league championship.

Thursday: I may actually get a chance to do the Thursday evening group ride for the first time in several weeks.  And it’s trash day … normally not a cause for celebration, but this week I’m getting rid of some truly horrid old carpeting.

Friday: I will skip the official pre-ride for the Subaru Cup—scheduled for this day between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.—to ride instead at New Fane.  I just can’t justify the drive when gas is $4 a gallon and I’m going to have another opportunity to pre-ride immediately before the race next Sunday.

Saturday: Probably a big day for yard work and other chores like cleaning out the garage and painting trim around doors and windows.  But I should have an opportunity for a long-ish road or Eisenbahn ride.  I won’t touch the 29er, though, as I can’t risk breaking it right before …

Sunday: The Subaru Cup.  I plan to leave home at about 5 a.m., arrive at Nordic Mountain at about 7 a.m., pre-ride 7:30-8:30, then race at 9 a.m.

If I get everything right, then the following week will be a breeze and I don’t want anything to distract me from what I expect to be a great race at Suamico on Aug. 26.  Then comes vacation, then comes the cyclocross season and the comfortable routine of autumn.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Blog Post Of August 9, 2012

How’s that for a catchy headline?  Makes you want to read more, doesn’t it?  On this very rainy day with a high temperature of 64 degrees, there isn’t much to say.  But I do have a little news.

On Monday I got back on the mountain bike for the first time since the WORS race at Sunburst on July 22.  I did two full laps at New Fane, plus a lap of Loops 1 and 2.  No personal records this time, but good training nonetheless.  I needed some time on the singletrack.  At the end of my practice session I joined several other racers from Team Pedal Moraine—and a few other folks—for some trail work.  Much of Loop 1 is native prairie and it was badly overgrown.  Not anymore!  It’s amazing what three professional-grade weed whackers can clear in about an hour.  My teammates and I will continue to keep things rideable at New Fane in advance of the WEMS race there on Sep. 22.  I was thinking about doing the solo 3-hour option but now I’m considering an invitation to join a teammate for the 2-man, 6-hour race.

On Tuesday WORS announced its schedule for 2013.  I’ve never seen it come out so early, and I won’t be surprised if a couple of these dates change before the new season begins.  It’s way too soon to know what my own ambitions will be, but here’s the schedule as it stands right now:

05/05 Iola Bump & Jump @ Iola
05/19 Crystal Lake Classic @ Rhinelander
06/02 Trek Classic @ Wausau
06/16 Battle of CamRock @ Rockdale
06/30 Chippewa Valley Firecracker @ Eau Claire
07/14 Subaru Cup @ Mt. Morris
08/04 Sunburst Showdown @ Kewaskum
08/18 Alterra Coffee Bean Classic @ Franklin
08/25 Reforestation Ramble @ Suamico
09/08 Treadfest @ Lake Geneva
09/22 Bear Paw Rock & Roll @ White Lake
10/06 Wigwam MTB Challenge @ Sheboygan

No real surprises there.  But the announcement of the WORS schedule gives me some idea about the scheduling of my own event, Cheesehead Roubaix.  I’m thinking Sunday, Apr. 28, one week before the WORS season opener … just like this year.  It’s not a decision I need to make yet, but keep that date in mind.

On Wednesday my softball team won and secured its spot in next week’s playoffs.  Unless there’s a rainout, next Wednesday will be the end of the season and I’ll have one more weeknight available for cycling.  Maybe I’ll give that killer Ozaukee Bicycle Club ride a try before summer is over.

Finally, today I restored order to my home office.  There’s still a lot of work to do on the rest of the house, but the home office is standing tall!  The new carpet has already made a big difference and there are a few more refinements to come.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cyclocross Comes To West Bend!

Well, cyclocross practice comes to West Bend, starting at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday, Aug. 14, at Royal Oaks Park, 1000 Auburn Road.  A few of the boys got together this evening and worked out two 1-mile options.  With a couple of strategically-placed PVC barriers and a few cones and flags to weave around, Royal Oaks is going to be a great practice venue.

In the photos below, the red marker indicates the start/finish.  We envision the course running counter-clockwise from that point, but it could be reversed for variety.  The white square shows the point at which the two course options diverge.

Option 1 takes a hard left turn and the trail climbs to the northeast before another left turn takes the riders to the top of the sledding hill:

Option 2 continues down to the base of the hill, then traverses the bottom, then turns left to climb a tricky little piece of singletrack that for some riders might turn into a run-up before things level out a little:

There’s a short section on which there will be two-way traffic, but the trail is 10-12 feet wide and will easily accommodate riders traveling on opposite sides of the safety cones we will deploy.  The course enters the woods on a short-but-testing asphalt trail, then turns left abruptly onto a wood-chipped trail.  These trails get few visitors on a typical Tuesday evening, but we will have to be on guard for other users.  Out in the open the sight lines are very good and there should be no conflicts.

Join me next Tuesday and let’s see how this works with a group.  We will continue to look for ways to improve the course but I think these two options—which may turn into Lap 1 and Lap 2 when we do a race simulation—give us a great starting point.  If next week's practice session is a success, then we'll keep the party going every Tuesday until waning daylight gets us in late September or early October.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cyclist, Interrupted

I'm barely able to rule my petty fiefdom with the home office in this condition!
Later this month my wife’s sister and brother-in-law will visit from California.  As soon as they leave, my mother will visit from Pennsylvania.  And as if those visits weren’t enough to spur us into action, the City of West Bend wants to send an assessor around to look at the house.  It’s time to address some problems that we have been living with for a long time.  First and foremost: the worn-out and stained carpet in our home office and family room.  Removing the old carpet, pad and tack strips has been nasty work, but the “demo” is now done in the office.  It will be several more days before the office is back to normal … and by that time we’ll be hard at work in the family room.  We have several other projects in various states of completion.  We didn’t intend to have so many things happening simultaneously, but here we are and the only solution is to see everything through to the finish.

I’m still cycling, but I’m more than a little distracted by what’s happening at home.  The big news since my last blog post is that I got the OK from the city’s parks department to hold cyclocross practices at Royal Oaks Park.  Some of the guys will meet there at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday, Aug. 7, to discuss course layout options.  If you have input or are just curious, come on over.  The first real practice will be on Tuesday, Aug. 14, probably at 5:30 p.m.  The start time will be one of the items of discussion when we meet next week.