Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Not The Welcome I Expected

Last Friday the DNR opened the mountain bike trails in the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest. That’s 36 days later than the 2012 opening, thanks to a lot of rain and even some April snow. Unaware that the DNR had opened Greenbush and New Fane, last Friday I went to Glacial Blue Hills for my first hour of singletrack in 2013. Right away I was riding cleanly over a couple of areas that had been problematic for me last year, so I felt pretty good about things.

With temperatures in the 80s but very high winds, today I headed to New Fane. I was anxious to see those trails for the first time since last September. Apparently, the New Fane trails weren’t anxious to see me.

By definition, a "lap" should end where it started, right?
Nothing seemed amiss during my warmup lap, a 32-minute effort that mirrored my first timed lap last year. (By early summer I was routinely running 26- to 27-minute laps.) But a little more than a mile into my second lap I shifted into my spokes and brought the bike to an abrupt stop. I must have taken a rock strike somewhere along the way, bending my rear derailleur hanger. When eventually I went for the largest sprocket on my cassette, the chain overshot its mark and jammed itself so thoroughly that I literally had to carry the bike back to the parking lot. The rear wheel wouldn’t spin and I had no way to break the chain. The bike is in the shop now. I’m out a couple of spokes and a derailleur hanger for sure … maybe a chain and maybe the derailleur itself.

Whatever. I just want it fixed. Now that the trails are open, I need to become a regular visitor. The Red Eye Rendezvous in Wausau—which I still believe will be my WORS debut in 2013—is just 33 days away. At least the mountain bike isn’t my only bike. Looks like I’m going for a long road ride after work tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Cheesehead Roubaix Photos

Moroder Photography followed the riders around the Cheesehead Roubaix route on Sunday and took dozens of great pictures that really captured the spirit of the event.

Here’s Jessica Helmlinger of Belgianwerkx, showing the boys who’s the boss on Lovers Lane:

Bill Koehler of Belgianwerkx and Matt Kosloske of ISCorp set the pace on Willow Valley Road. I’m sitting in 25th position at this point of the ride:

I spy with my little eye, Quentin Gniot of Big Ring Flyers and Jeff Wren of Team Extreme at the Belgianwerkx rest stop:

Il Cammello in full effect! When I hit the rest stop I had consumed only half of the sports drink in my bottle. I topped off in Belgium and was almost empty by the end of the ride.

I need a more visually-appealing solution for my cuesheets. Clipping them to my shifter cable with clothes pins just ain’t cutting it:

(L-R) Matt Kosloske, Team Wheel & Sprocket's Wade Loberger and I weave our way through Waubedonia Park:

Is that a nervous glance over the shoulder? If I had been with the leaders on the approach to the final hill, I might have expected an attack from Team Pedal Moraine’s Jeff Melcher too!

When I arrived at the same point, all I wanted was not to lock up on the Congress Drive climb:

The 4th Annual Cheesehead Roubaix was a great day on the bike. Next year's ride could be even bigger after this year's riders share the photos and stories with their friends. If you want a taste of the Spring Classics of the European racing calendar, Cheesehead Roubaix is the ride for you. There's nothing else like it in southeastern Wisconsin.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

When All The Pieces Fit

Thanks to my friend and Team Pedal Moraine teammate Steve Cummins for the new Cheesehead Roubaix sign!
Today was one of the most perfect days I have ever had as a cyclist. The 2013 Cheesehead Roubaix was a great success. I couldn’t count all of the riders as they assembled in Newburg, but the turnout was easily more than double last year’s attendance … maybe even triple. That’s somewhere between 70 and 90 riders; I really don’t know for sure. Friends, teammates, rivals from mountain bike races and cyclocross, and strangers who soon would become friends rolled out of Fireman’s Park promptly at 9 a.m., bound for a grand adventure.

The signature feature of Cheesehead Roubaix—the dirt and gravel hill climb of Lovers Lane near Boltonville—was an early highlight. Moroder Photography was there to capture the action as the riders struggled to find good lines among the deep ruts in the road. Fans greeted us with cowbells and waved us on with Belgian and Lion of Flanders flags. At the summit we passed under a Dirk Hofman Motorhomes sign and caught a quick glimpse of the chapel of St. John of God before the high-speed descent of Highland Drive. There was no truce at the top this year; Lovers Lane had furnished the 2013 Cheesehead Roubaix with its first selection. The big group that had left Newburg about 30 minutes before was now strung out over a mile and a half.

I was among the last riders to leave Newburg but with a good showing on Lovers Lane I was able to catch some riders with whom I knew I could work. We quickly settled into a strong chasing group that steadily reeled in the leaders. It happened sooner than I expected, and it was almost perversely disappointing. I had done good work with Russell Jobs, Barry Zellmer and others. We earned the “catch,” but at the moment it all came back together the leaders inexplicably slowed as we passed north of Fredonia.

After crossing State Highway 57 we hit the second unpaved sector, and we hit it hard. I had climbed Lovers Lane well and I had worked to bridge a gap, but it was on Willow Valley Road that I knew I was going to perform well all day. I floated along at 22-23 mph and found myself near the front of the ride. I would stay among the leaders all the way into Belgium.

Belgianwerkx—the new bike shop in Mequon—sponsored a rest stop at the village park in Belgium. Riders stopped to grab snacks, refill water bottles, and use the bathrooms. This was the fourth edition of Cheesehead Roubaix but the first one to feature a rest stop. It was a much-appreciated addition.

The lead group reached the rest stop at 10:30 a.m., by which time the cloud cover still had not lifted and the temperature was only 55 degrees. Riders were anxious to resume, knowing that several more unpaved roads would appear in rapid succession. At about the 30-mile mark, I lost the leaders for good. I restarted well—never a certainty after a rest stop—but I simply wasn’t going the hang on in that strong company. Making the right-hand turn at the south end of Sauk Trail Road, I started to work my way back west with Barry Zellmer, a single-speeding Wade Loberger, and others.

That group picked up Matt Kosloske a few miles outside Fredonia as the day was warming rapidly under clearing skies. Matt was out of food and water, so I led him to a mini-mart at the top of the hill west of Waubedonia Park while the others continued without us. With a little caffeine and a few hundred quick calories, Matt made the sort of recovery you’d expect from an 18-year-old and followed me until at Mile 54 we caught a small group that included Belgianwerkx’s Nick Moroder and Jessica Helmlinger. Hitting the last gravel sector at Mile 56.5, I indulged a late surge of adrenaline before cruising to the base of the short-but-steep final climb, Congress Drive. For many riders, that hill was the sting in the tail of the Cheesehead Roubaix route. Appearing at Mile 61, Congress Drive is a great place to get a really bad cramp. I had felt a couple of twinges during the approach on Wausaukee, so I stayed in the saddle and spun up Congress in my easiest gear.

Last year on an almost-identical course I finished Cheesehead Roubaix in 3:52.28, an average of 16.3 mph. This year my total moving time was 3:25:16, an average of 18.4 mph. Light winds helped, as did the cooperation of other riders. My top speed was 33.8 mph on the Highland Drive descent. Total elevation gain was 1,099 feet and calorie burn—an imprecise stat based on effort and body weight—was something like 4,672. That’s a good workout, any way you slice it.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of the ride!  Let’s do it again next year.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Parking For Cheesehead Roubaix

This afternoon I met with the groundskeeper for Fireman's Park in Newburg, the start/finish location for Cheesehead Roubaix. He assured me that we're OK to park our vehicles on the blacktop and the gravel, but we need to stay off the grass. The Milwaukee River forms the northern boundary of the park and recent flooding has left the ground saturated. In the picture below, the best parking locations are shown in blue. The main lot is in the park itself; the smaller lot is at Newburg Village Hall.

Do not park right next to the fire department—there may actually be a fire and the volunteers who answer the call will need those spaces. It’s OK to enter/leave the park on the fire department’s driveway (see the green arrow). Right now there are barricades to discourage vehicles from using the park road (see the red lines), but the groundskeeper says those should be gone by Sunday. If we fill up the parking lots shown in the picture, then there’s still ample on-street parking within a block or two of the park.

Jay Road Is Open!

While painting the roads with turn arrows last Saturday, I noticed that a short section of Jay Road was closed by flooding. It has reopened. No detour will be necessary.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

News From WORS And The USGP

Late last week there was a lot of news for the Wisconsin cyclist and it wasn’t good. WORS announced on Thursday that its season opener in Iola would be moved to May 19 because the venue won’t be ready by May 5. There’s still snow on the ground and the area needs more time to clear up and dry out. If you were at Iola last May, then you know how badly we tore up the trails and the parking/camping area during a rainy weekend. The decision to postpone this year’s race is the right one, but some people within the WORS community are unhappy about the new date. May 19 was to be the date of the second race of the season, but right now Rhinelander has even more snow than Iola. WORS is betting that the venue won’t be ready even a month from now; tentatively it’s hoping to hold the Rhinelander race on May 26. All of this is unwelcome news to people who already have made hotel reservations and/or have secured vacation days from their employers. If May 19 turns out to be a nice day in Rhinelander, WORS is going to attract renewed criticism for rescheduling two races when it might have rescheduled just the season opener.

All of that begs the question of why the series holds its first two races in Iola and Rhinelander instead of in Lake Geneva and Franklin, the southernmost race venues. Rhinelander is about 250 miles north of Lake Geneva. Of course it’s more likely to be compromised by a late blast of winter weather. I guess the wildcard with Rhinelander is that the venue is a busy Boy Scouts camp whose facilities are booked solid during the summer. To hold a WORS race there probably demands a weekend during the school year, but why May and not September? The answer might come down to the availability of race director Elvis Bauman and his volunteers. They do a great job and the Rhinelander race—if it still existed at all—wouldn’t be the same without them.

So, it’s wait-and-see time for everyone in WORS and that includes me. I still believe my first race in this year’s series will be at Wausau on June 2, but that’s far from certain.

On Friday the USGP of Cyclocross announced that it would disband, effective immediately. You might remember that only a big injection of cash by Trek kept the series afloat in 2012, so Friday’s news didn’t come as a huge shock. But it certainly is disappointing that the premier professional cyclocross series in America couldn’t attract enough sponsors to sustain itself, especially in the afterglow of a successful UCI World Championship weekend earlier this year. The sport continues to grow here but it hasn’t found a way to monetize its fanbase. USGP officials said on Friday that they expect the local organizers to hold races in Sun Prairie, Fort Collins CO, Louisville KY and Bend OR as scheduled … just not under the auspices of the USGP. We’ll see whether those races operate as independent events or get folded into other series.

The Wisconsin Cycling Association historically has not scheduled cyclocross races on the same weekend as the Planet Bike Cup in Sun Prairie. Will that weekend now be part of the WCA series? Time will tell. If it is, then I expect to be there with a number on.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cheesehead Roubaix Reconnaissance

This was a long day. It began with a bike ride. The discerning reader will notice that the 37-mile route Jeff Wren and I followed contained several miles of the 2013 Cheesehead Roubaix:

By following this route, Jeff and I were able to check out the condition of Cheesehead Roubaix’s first and last unpaved sectors. The infamous mile-long climb up Lovers Lane proved as challenging as ever. This picture was taken from the end of the climb and doesn’t even hint at the muddy, rutted horrors we had endured just moments earlier:

The last unpaved sector—that pretty combination of Blue Goose Road and St. Augustine Road southeast of Newburg—was rougher than we had found it a year ago. That would become a theme as we drove the entire route after our bike ride ended.

With cuesheet in hand, we made sure of the instructions and painted the CR symbol and directional arrows along the route. Everything was going … er, swimmingly, until we had to detour around a flooded section of Jay Road:

It was an easy and intuitive detour: one mile south, left turn, one mile east, left turn, one mile north to rejoin the route. But I don’t think any of that will be necessary on the 28th; the road appeared to be passable on a bicycle today, and unless we get a lot of additional rainfall we should be OK.

If you’ve seen the Cheesehead Roubaix cuesheet, then you know that I rate the unpaved sectors just like they do for the cobblestone sectors of Paris-Roubaix. Today I increased the difficulty ratings for Willow Valley Road, Clay Ridge Road, Sauk Trail Road, and St. Augustine Road. All four are significantly worse now than they were a year ago. Sauk Trail Road went from a relatively easy two-star sector to a washboarded, potholed, rutted four-star mess.

That said, everything is rideable. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. There were bike tire tracks all over the place. People are pre-riding the Cheesehead Roubaix route! How cool is that?

This week I made some adjustments to the route, and that means there’s a new cuesheet, map, elevation profile and Garmin GPS file today. If you’re coming to Cheesehead Roubaix—and why wouldn’t you?—then please get the new files here. The adjustments to the route became necessary when Belgianwerkx announced that it will sponsor a rest stop in Belgium! The shop is pulling out all the stops with food & drink and top-notch mechanical support. The Village of Belgium assures me that the bathrooms at the park will be open for us, so stop, enjoy a few moments’ respite, and let the Belgianwerkx staff know how much you appreciate their support. You may even see this guy turning a wrench, unless he’s turning his own pedals somewhere out on the route:

Spotted this evening at the intersection of Alder and Jay ...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What’s Wrong With Andy Schleck?

“Arrière de la Course” is French for “You suck.”

Spoiler alert: Andy Schleck did not win Flèche Wallonne this morning. In fact, Andy hasn’t won anything since July 2011 when he captured Stage 18 of the Tour de France. As you might expect, that was a high mountains stage. But today Andy was dropped on a hill … and not even the super-tough final ascent of the Mur de Huy, but on a much easier climb. He eventually finished in 86th place, 4:35 behind the winner.

I won’t tell you who the winner is, just in case you feel like watching the American television broadcast next Wednesday morning, 1-2 a.m. CDT. Thanks for nothing, NBC Sports.

Today’s pack-fodder finish is another in a long series of poor performances—including several DNFs—for a guy who has been on the Tour de France podium in three of the last four years. So, what’s wrong with Andy? Cycling forums and news sites abound with theories. Vote in the poll on the right side of this page and we’ll see if we can figure this out. I think the answer is some combination of the choices I’m presenting, rather than just one. Choose as many as you think apply, or comment to this post with your own suggestions.

Friday, April 12, 2013

High Water And Low Miles

The swollen Milwaukee River has overrun the boardwalk at Quaas Creek Park.

I saw a break in the rain today, so I hopped aboard the cyclocross bike and explored the park paths and trails of West Bend.  I visited a few places I hadn’t been able to reach for a long time due to snow cover.  But now that almost all of the snow is gone, flooding is a big problem.  In Quaas Creek Park, both bridges are impassible.  Much of the trail system in Riverside Park is submerged.  The Riverfront Parkway is flooded beneath the Eisenbahn State Trail bridge.  More rain—and maybe a little snow—is coming, so it will be a while before these areas become accessible again.

An already ridiculous sign is made ironic by Quaas Creek.

I cut through Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area for the first time this year, but I stayed away from the singletrack.  Not only did I have the wrong bike for that kind of riding, but also I expected the trails to be too soft to ride.  On the two-track park road the surface was nice and firm.  A couple of fallen trees gave me a little ’cross practice.  Otherwise the trail was an easy ride from County Highway D all the way down to Beaver Dam Road.

Miles are coming hard.  Today’s ride was just my second this month.  (I don’t count the indoor trainer sessions.)  On April 14, 2012, I did my 40th ride of the year and reached 1,000 miles.  This year I have done 20 rides for a total of 460 miles, so I need 40 miles this weekend just to have half of my total from a year ago!  My legs don’t feel like they switch on until about the 1,000-mile mark, so I’m anxious to get there.  But that won’t happen this month.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Making Plans For Music City

On Monday I learned that a proposed business trip to Nashville has been approved and funded. I will be there May 20-24, inclusive. The trip will be an interesting opportunity for me professionally, as I will be meeting some coworkers with whom I have collaborated via telephone and email but not yet in person. It’s a trade show, basically, with activities to keep us busy on Tuesday the 21st, Wednesday the 22nd and Thursday the 23rd for most, but not all, of the day.

You’ll never guess how I plan to use my free time.

I’m going to drive down so that I can take a bike. I’ll use Monday the 20th and Friday the 24th as vacation/driving days. I should arrive in Nashville by late afternoon on the 20th, with plenty of remaining daylight for a bike ride. Business is scheduled to conclude by 5:30 p.m. on the 21st, by 6:45 p.m. on the 22nd and by 3:15 p.m. on the 23rd, giving me plenty of time for after-work rides. Sunset will be at 7:52 p.m. Of course I checked; I’m geeky like that.

Nashville isn’t completely new to me. I lived there for six months in late 1993 and early 1994. I worked for a different company at that time and relocation was part of the deal. In just 50 weeks I moved from Milwaukee to Nashville to suburban Chicago and back to Milwaukee again. It was stupid. Expecting my time in Nashville to be short, I didn’t even bother to unpack a lot of my stuff. And I never really got to know the city. I learned its highway system, but little else.

In May I will get to see Nashville through the eyes of a cyclist and I think that will be a great experience. With my racing season scheduled to begin in early June, those rides also will be critical to my preparations. I don’t yet know Nashville by bicycle but I do know that there are plenty of hills to climb, and that’s a good thing.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Brilliant Paris-Roubaix

Fabian Cancellara was expected to win Paris-Roubaix today … and he did, but the race didn’t follow the script that many were predicting. There was no winning move with 15 kilometers to go, followed by an individual time trial and a lap of honor around the velodrome. Today’s victory looked nothing like Cancellara’s dominating performance in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. If the Ronde were a triumph of Cancellara’s legs, then today we saw a great champion win with his head. Cancellara knew when to go hard and when to conserve energy. By a combination of his own tactical mastery and the misfortune of the riders behind him, Cancellara eliminated everyone but Sep Vanmarcke. When a last attack failed to shake Vanmarcke with 4 kilometers to go, Cancellara resigned himself to a sprint finish. As the pair entered the velodrome, Vanmarcke took the bait and went to the front. Cancellara powered past him just before the line to win Paris-Roubaix for the third time.

Spare a thought for Vanmarcke, who was absolutely heartbroken in the moments after the race and on the podium. One of the things that makes cycling special is the extreme range of emotions that the riders experience. Paris-Roubaix is perhaps the sport’s greatest one-day test. Every edition of the race is the emotional equivalent of the Super Bowl, the 7th game of the World Series, or the Indianapolis 500. In a long career, even a great athlete might get just one realistic chance to win. Vanmarcke, winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012, is just 24 years old. If there’s any justice, then he will be back.

Spare a thought, too, for Stijn Vandenbergh, who was riding brilliantly with the leaders until a crash spoiled his day. Vandenbergh finished in 20th place. Watch this video and you’ll be convinced that the only way he was able to finish at all is because his helmet saved him from a serious injury. Former cyclocross world champion Zdeněk Štybar also got entangled with a spectator on the cobbles of the Carrefour de l'Arbre. As he had done earlier in the race, he displayed superior bike handling skills to keep himself from crashing. Unfortunately he couldn’t recover from the lost momentum as Cancellara and Vanmarcke rode away. Štybar eventually finished in 6th place.

A Not-So-Brilliant Me

Whether on the trail or off, there's still snow and ice in the shade.

I developed a cold last weekend and was on the sidelines until this afternoon. I waited for sunshine and the warmest temperatures of the day to ride the Eisenbahn State Trail to Campbellsport and back. Headwinds, a soft trail surface and my still-below-average health added up to a 14 mph average over 35 miles. During the summer I routinely complete that ride at 17-19 mph. I've got some training to catch up on this week, but the weather forecast is still an endless string of insults. Back to the trainer, probably.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pedal Fest 2013

Pedal Moraine
1421 S. Main Street, West Bend, WI 53095      262-338-2453

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Team Extreme Race Series Begins

Frigid conditions and an unexpected course change didn’t dampen the spirits of the 28 riders who participated in this evening’s Team Extreme Race Series practice criteriums at Washington County Fair Park.

For the first 12 minutes in each of the two races, the peloton held together … more or less. Here’s what “less” looked like in the early moments of Race 1:

And here’s what “more” looked like in Race 2:

Team Pedal Moraine’s Jeff Melcher was the easy winner of both races:

Team Extreme’s Jeramey Werbelow—fighting a cold—still packed enough punch to sprint for second place in each race:

Bill Koehler of Belgianwerkx pinched his own thighs in what I can only guess was a misguided attempt to recreate Peter Sagan’s podium girl incident:

John Norman of Team Extreme got a “fast pedal intervals” workout on his cyclocross bike:

The series will resume on April 16, hopefully in more spring-like weather conditions!

Monday, April 1, 2013


Baseball no longer thrills me the way it once did, but to the extent that I remain a fan at all I remain a fan of my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. Today was Opening Day 2013 at PNC Park. Everyone says it’s a beautiful stadium, but I still haven’t visited. When I came into the world, the Pirates occupied Forbes Field, but I never saw a game there. My memories of the Pirates are memories of Three Rivers Stadium.

For all of their troubles in the last 20 years, the Pirates were once a great franchise. In my lifetime they have won two World Series titles and nine division championships. And they have had great players, including five NL MVPs and eight NL batting champions since 1965. But in that pantheon of heroes there is one name that stands apart, not just for the excellence of his playing career but also for the excellence of his character: Roberto Clemente.

When Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972, the sadness in southwestern Pennsylvania was so profound that even I, at 7 years old, could sense it. But many years would pass before I could truly appreciate the loss. It should be said that during his playing career Clemente wasn’t universally adored in Pittsburgh. To some extent, his death—and the manner in which he died—was necessary before his critics could overcome their prejudices.

Forty years have passed, but Clemente’s legacy is very much alive. To honor Clemente’s memory I will proudly wear the number 2121 in this year’s Wisconsin Off Road Series. I requested the number weeks ago when I submitted my series registration, but I didn’t learn until today that the number is mine. Sometimes a number is just a number. This time it’s something more.