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  Last weekend’s mixed emotions have been replaced by this weekend’s undeniable realization that I am burned out.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.