Monday, January 28, 2013

Be It Ever So Humble

The bane of my existence is a shower surround that just loves to leak.
I will race in 2013 but don’t ask me when.  Not yet.  I thought my plans were coming into focus, but suddenly they are less clear.

On Friday my employer told me to prepare for a business trip in May.  If that trip happens—right now it’s just an idea—then I will miss the WORS race at Rhinelander.  This could be a blessing in disguise.  I was already expecting to do fewer WORS events this year and if Rhinelander is off my schedule then Iola probably is too.  Delaying the start of my mountain biking season until June might allow me to conserve enough energy, enthusiasm and money to make it through the cyclocross season that follows.  I don’t want to hit the wall again like I did last fall.

On Saturday my 20-year-old washing machine died.  There goes $750 and any remaining thoughts of driving down to Louisville for this weekend’s UCI World Cyclocross Championships.  Fortunately the races will stream live on the Internet and I will enjoy them from the comfort of my home.

And home is comfortable, much more so today than it was just a couple of years ago.  But it’s still far from the home it could be, and there are more big expenses on the horizon.  The demise of the washing machine didn’t catch me off-guard; it was one of several items at/near the end of its service life.  How much longer before I have to replace the kitchen oven (1995), the furnace (1995), the water heater (1999), the refrigerator (2001), or something newer that gives out before its time?  Even if I get through 2013 without any trouble from those aging appliances, there are other things around the house that require attention.

My wife and I bought our house in 2001 from the couple who built it back in 1972.  For a long time we simply enjoyed the benefits that came from the good choices they made during construction and subsequent renovations.  Now their paint is peeling and their carpet is worn.  Now we know that an annual outlay of 1-3 percent of fair market value is a good rule of thumb when budgeting for home repairs and maintenance, but for many years we fixed only what could no longer be ignored.  If you think upkeep is expensive, wait until you see the bill for neglect!  I’ve learned my lesson.  I started working from home two years ago and constant exposure to the flaws made them intolerable.  There has been steady progress ever since, and it must continue.

I spent freely on cycling in 2012 and—despite the promise of a pay raise this spring—I may exercise more restraint this year.  The equipment is in good shape.  Upgrades that would be nice aren’t really necessary.  Last year I did 12 mountain bike races but I don’t think I would feel cheated if I pared this year’s schedule down to these eight:

6/02    Red Eye Rendezvous @ Wausau (WORS)
7/06    Stump Farm 12 @ Suamico (WEMS)
7/14    Subaru Cup @ Mt. Morris (WORS)
8/04    Sunburst Showdown @ Kewaskum (WORS)
8/18    Alterra Coffee Bean Classic @ Franklin (WORS)
8/25    Reforestation Ramble @ Suamico (WORS)
9/08    Treadfest @ Lake Geneva (WORS)
9/14    Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane (WEMS)

With six WORS races I would still be part of the series during a transition year in which I must adjust to a higher level of competition and not worry about my standing in the points.  If in 2013 my main competitive focus is cyclocross, then this mountain biking schedule would be a solid component of my preparations.  And it wouldn’t break the bank … which is more than I can say for the house.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What Do You Want For Nothing?

On Facebook this week I participated in a discussion about NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the Tour Down Under.  Most of the comments were pretty negative.  The biggest complaints were that the 30-minute highlight shows contain only a few minutes of actual race footage and that the shows air in the middle of the afternoon when many people are at work.  I can’t refute the first claim; NBC is spending too much time on prior-day recaps, rider interviews and course profiles.

But I have mixed feelings about the second claim.  True, the mid-afternoon broadcast is inconvenient for a lot of people, but who doesn’t have a DVR or VCR option?  Record the program and watch it when you get home … if you’re still interested.  As plugged into cycling news as I am, it would be impossible for me not to learn the outcome of the stage long before the broadcast.  That’s because NBC is showing highlights of each stage 14-17 hours after they actually occur.  If you watch the highlight show this afternoon, you’ll see the race that happened while you were getting ready for bed last night.

I have been watching the stages live thanks to streaming coverage on the Internet.   The picture quality isn’t as good as that of a cable TV broadcast, but I still get the Phil Liggett / Paul Sherwen / Robbie McEwen commentary.  And it all wraps up by about 10:30 p.m., which leads one to question why NBC doesn’t just air it in real time.  I suspect the answer is that cycling simply isn’t as popular with American audiences as NBC’s other live sports offerings, like hockey.  Would NBC have given us the Tour Down Under as a live broadcast if the NHL strike had continued?  I don’t know, but I am sure that it wouldn’t have given us each stage in its entirety.  Not even the Internet stream provides that.  Yesterday’s stage took a little more than 3 hours and finished, inevitably, in a bunch sprint.  If you saw the last 3 minutes, then you saw just about everything of interest.

Of course, in any bike race the decisive move can occur at any moment.  Sometimes a breakaway in the first kilometer succeeds.  But usually it doesn’t.  As fans, we know and accept that.  I’ve watched my share of boring bike races.  Moments of high drama are few and far between, but I keep watching because I’m looking at everything.  NBC knows that there aren’t many fans like me.  Most viewers are better served by a highlight show than by a live broadcast.  Or, at least, they’re better served by coverage that joins the race in progress, gives them highlights of earlier action, then takes them to the live finish.

Then there’s the question of American participation in the Tour Down Under.  Tim Duggan and Tyler Farrar were the only Americans to begin the race.  (Duggan broke his collarbone and dropped out of the race on Stage 3.)  Would NBC’s coverage be more robust if more Americans were in the race?  Does NBC assume that its American audience is not as interested when a race contains so few Americans … and no serious GC contender?  Difficult to say.  The Australian Open is also in progress and American audiences don’t seem to mind the absence of American men from the highest ranks of professional tennis.

But it’s not difficult to criticize NBC for a lack of information about its 2013 cycling schedule, now two weeks behind last year’s release date.  As the Tour Down Under approached, NBC mentioned it only sporadically on its website, on Facebook and on the air.  Next on the schedule are the tours of Qatar and Oman—races that will be over long before the broadcasts.  The Tour of Qatar will run Feb. 3-8, but the highlights won’t air until Feb. 17.  The Tour of Oman will run Feb. 11-16, but the highlights won’t air until March 3.  After that, who knows?  Paris-Nice begins on March 3, so maybe the Oman highlights will just be an hors d’oeuvre before we finally get some live coverage.

Friday, January 18, 2013


(L-R) manager Nick Moroder, local cyclocross legend Patrick Brock and store owner Bill Koehler
On Monday a new bike shop opened in Mequon and this evening I got to see it for the first time.  Simply put, Belgianwerkx is like no other shop in the area.  From the understated and elegant presentation of the sales floor to the cutting edge Retül bike fit studio, Belgianwerkx offers superior equipment and services for cyclists who take their sport seriously.  Jeff Wren and I spent an hour learning the basics of the amazing Retül technology and lusting for the gorgeous road and cyclocross bikes from Cannondale, Focus and Ridley.  Belgianwerkx is also a retail partner for made-to-order Seven bicycles, passing a customer’s Retül measurements to the manufacturer to ensure a perfect fit.  Impressive stuff … and surprisingly affordable for the level of equipment and expertise on offer.

Belgianwerkx is new but it’s already making an impact on cycling in the area.  Sounds like there might be a Monday shop ride (recovery pace) for the racer crowd this spring.  The shop will sponsor the Giro d’Grafton criterium in this summer’s Tour of America’s Dairyland.  In the fall, the shop will sponsor a Masters cyclocross team.  And despite an absence of mountain bikes from its retail lineup, the shop is already working with the volunteer group that will build a new Ozaukee County trail system later this year at Pleasant Valley Nature Park.  It’s a great start.  Wishing you all the best, guys!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Presenting The 2013 Cheesehead Roubaix

If you have to ask ...
Cheesehead Roubaix returns to southeastern Wisconsin’s most primitive roads on Sunday, Apr. 28, departing Fireman's Park in Newburg at 9 a.m.  Designed as a challenging metric century in the style of races like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, this ride will test your fitness as the new racing season begins.  Be prepared to fight brutal headwinds as you traverse a route that features more than 10 miles of unpaved public roads.

Go here to download your copies of the cuesheet, elevation profile and map.  There’s also a data file for GPS devices.

As in years past, Cheesehead Roubaix is free of charge and there’s no SAG.  I provide the route and a time for people to meet.  You’re on your own for food, water and mechanical support.  Registration is not necessary but if you plan to attend please let me know on the Facebook events page or in the comments below.

Now in its fourth year, the ride features a very slightly altered course from previous editions.  I think you’ll love it.  See you 15 weeks from today!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

13 For '13

To the person who plowed the old Woodford Drive bridge: Thanks! ... And, why?
It wasn’t much of a ride, but it was a ride.  I took the 29er out for a 13-mile spin on my lunch break today, mostly sticking to the Eisenbahn State Trail but making occasional forays through city parks and quiet residential areas.  Last year I did my first ride on Jan. 5, but I didn’t do another one until Jan. 10.  Tomorrow’s weather should be nice enough to allow me to get ahead of last year’s pace … unless high winds keep me sidelined, as they did on Monday.  Whatever: any outdoor miles in January are bonus miles.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Clydesdale In Winter

I have known for a long time that my bathroom scale is wildly inaccurate.  Perhaps I have kept it only because it flatters me.  Last Friday, for example, it said I was a full 10 pounds lighter than what I know my true weight to be.  And I know my true weight because earlier on Friday I had my annual physical exam at the doctor’s office.  I trust the accuracy of the doctor’s scale, especially since it confirmed the readings I have been taking on each visit to Planet Fitness.  I don’t know that anything can be done for the bathroom scale.  It’s old and wasn’t very nice even in its youth.  I really use it only to see whether I am gaining or losing; I think it is accurate enough for that, at least.

My current weight is 202, down 1 pound from last January’s physical exam.  And that’s 3 pounds less than the 205 I posted at the end of 2010.  What the doctor doesn’t see is that I’m something like 8 pounds heavier at this time of year than I am in the middle of summer.  Every year I tell myself not to gain weight over the holidays, and every year I fail.  I guess if there’s a silver lining, it’s that I’m slowly reducing the severity of my winter weight gain.

As I move up to Cat 2 for mountain biking, it’s tempting to retain just enough weight to race as a clydesdale.  I’d be one of the “little” guys, a comparatively trim 200-pounder floating away on every hill.  But in the summer I would always be eating my way up to 200 pounds.  And I wouldn’t be approaching my full potential as an athlete.  And WORS isn’t the be-all, end-all.  Being fast for a big guy will bring no reward in most of the other events I’m considering.

WEMS, for example, has no clydesdale category.  Its results are based on race duration and on gender, without regard for age or ability.  Being one of the oldest racers will be enough of a handicap; I don’t need to be one of the heaviest too.  WEMS announced its 2013 schedule today and I’d really like to do at least 3 of the 9 events.  I’m looking at the Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge (Greenbush) on May 11, Stump Farm on July 6, and the Northern Kettles Fall Epic (New Fane) on Sep. 28.  Then, as the road and mountain biking seasons wind down, the cyclocross season hits its stride.  In that arena where power-to-weight is so critical, I’ll definitely want to be as light as I can be.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Not Saying I Will ...

... but I am saying I might.  While going to the gym has been fun, it's a poor substitute for getting outside.  I haven't had any time in the saddle since Dec. 14 and I'm really looking forward to those first filthy, frigid miles of the new year.