Sunday, June 30, 2013

ToAD Comes To An End In ’Tosa

Zero laps to go. See you in 2014!

We’re so lucky to have the Tour of America’s Dairyland! But all good things must end and I was in Wauwatosa this evening to watch the sun set on the 11-day series. For the next three weeks I guess I’ll just have to settle for the Tour de France when I’m not working on my own racing ambitions.

Early this afternoon I did a fast Eisenbahn State Trail ride on my cyclocross bike, going all the way to Eden for the first time this year.

I used my Garmin to take split times over a few key segments:

Not a bad effort on a trail that is mostly gravel.
Split 1 was the segment from my house to 2nd Street in Kewaskum. Split 2 covered the next segment to Main Street in Campbellsport. Split 3 covered the segment from there to the end of the trail in Eden, and Split 4 was the return to Campbellsport … made slightly longer by a quick detour to the picnic shelter at Eden where I slurped down a Hammer Gel. Split 5 got me back to Kewaskum and Split 6 got me home. Split 7 was a short cool-down around my neighborhood.

I frequently do TT efforts between my house and Campbellsport, always shooting for less than 1 hour in each direction. Today’s time over those segments was 57:00.3 up and 53:35.2 back. I had never before recorded my times on some of those other segments, so now I have additional data to motivate me in future efforts.

So, we’re halfway through 2013 and I have done 76 rides for a total of 2,059 miles, an average of 27.09 miles per ride. That compares to 97 rides, 2,474 miles and an average of 25.51 miles by June 30 last year. You can blame our crappy spring for the deficits. In fact, I’m still waiting for properly hot summer weather to arrive. But I am still confident that I will achieve this year’s mileage goal of 4,570. That’s the number I need to reach 40,000 miles in my 10 years as a serious cyclist.

There should be many excellent opportunities to ride during the upcoming week. I have to work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but then I get to enjoy a long Independence Day weekend.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Images From Downer Avenue

My favorite venue in the Tour of America’s Dairyland is Downer Avenue in Milwaukee. That’s my old neighborhood: I used to live at the corner of Bradford and Prospect. ToAD didn’t exist at that time. Its predecessor—the International Cycling Classic, or “Superweek”—did, but I wasn’t into cycling when I lived on the East Side.

Today I was into the pro women’s race, won in beautiful solo style by the beautiful Alison Tetrick:

There's plenty of time to wave to the crowd.
I also was into the bike shop owners’ tricycle beer keg pull, won with dashing style by the dashing Bill Koehler of Belgianwerkx …

It's got to be that Giro Air Attack helmet!
and completed in good time by the good-time Russell Jobs of DreamBikes:

Rockin' the old-school helmet!
Ricardo Escuela won the pro men’s race to tighten his grip on the leader’s jersey with just one race remaining. I plan to be in Wauwatosa on Sunday to see the finale.

Former Team Pedal Moraine road racer Jadon Jaeger, now of Belgianwerkx, survived a bizarre incident in the men’s Cat 4/5 race and appears to have a lock on the leader’s jersey in his classification. Jaeger’s race was neutralized when an advertising scaffold crashed onto the course. I wasn’t there to see it, but here’s a picture from Jaeger’s page on Facebook:

Sounds like there weren’t any serious injuries to racers or to people in the crowd, and after lifting the scaffold from the course the race was allowed to resume. The incident was oddly similar to what happened at the Tour de France today. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, huh?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Grand Départ

Tomorrow the 100th edition of the Tour de France begins and I remain hopeful that it will be less predictable than last year’s snoozer. I think Team Sky’s Chris Froome is going to be the man in yellow on the Champs-Élysées. However, I would prefer to see an American victory, and our best prospects are Tejay van Garderen and Andrew Talansky. But van Garderen will begin the Tour in the service of BMC leader Cadel Evans, and Talansky, making his first Tour appearance, probably just needs to follow his more experienced teammates before he can mount his own challenge next year.

Talansky and his Garmin-Sharp buddies will be an interesting team to watch during the next three weeks. They will do well in the team time trial and they won’t be wasting energy on a sprinter who (sorry, Tyler) just doesn’t match up well against guys like Cavendish, Sagan, Greipel and Degenkolb. Jonathan Vaughters knows that Talansky, Dan Martin and Rohan Dennis are the future, Ryder Hesjedal is a somewhat-inconsistent present, and Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson have already reached as high as they can. But with a whole team of good-but-not-great GC men, Garmin-Sharp should be in a lot of breakaways. Throw a bunch of guys at the front of the race and see who sticks. When your team doesn’t have the firepower of a dominating squad like Team Sky, I like that strategy.

Ordinarily at this point I would ask you to predict the winner by voting in the poll on the right-hand side of this page, but there won’t be a poll this year. I don’t think Blogger’s poll app works especially well. But feel free to use the Comments section. Froome is the favorite, but there are good arguments to be made for a handful of others.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I Meant To Do My Work Today

This is getting stupid. Seems like every time I have mountain biking in my plans, the weather takes a bad turn. Last Friday I went to New Fane and found it too soft from a recent rain and, in a few places, still covered with puddles. I’m a good boy: I don’t practice on wet trails. I sat in the parking lot until my Team Pedal Moraine friends arrived and we spent two hours on trail maintenance, so the evening wasn’t a total loss.

This Tuesday wasn’t a total loss either, but wet trails again forced me to abandon my mountain biking plans in favor of a 50-mile solo road ride. I had good legs, and that solo ride set me up for a good performance on Wednesday. I decided to do the Ozaukee Bicycle Club ride from Cedarburg and I felt great, but less than 2 miles into the ride I hit a patch of bad road and my frame pump rattled loose. It should nestle under the top tube by spring tension alone, but it’s not a perfect fit and I try to secure it with a strap. After a couple of potholes, that strap was the only thing keeping the pump off the ground. I had to stop to reattach it before it got caught up in my wheels! Stopping on an OBC ride means you will never catch the front of the group again, but I had no choice. It didn’t take long for me to resume but I couldn’t close on the leaders. I worked hard, though, hoping that I could catch a straggler or two as ride cohesion broke down. At Mile 9 I finally caught a lone rider with TT bars on his road bike. I passed him and at first I thought he couldn’t lift his pace to match mine. I wanted nothing more than to work with this guy to bridge the gap to the next straggler and form a gruppetto that would stick together to the end. Hell, I didn’t know the route! With the leaders literally out of sight, I was just guessing. Fortunately I had found a new partner and together we reeled in a third rider just south of Port Washington. By that point I had recovered from the time trial effort that brought me back to the tail end of the ride, so I did most of the work on County Highway LL to Belgium. There we decided to ad lib our return route to Cedarburg, staying mostly on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. Again, I did most of the work and I felt strong. It turned out to be a good ride in good company, but I’m left wondering whether I had the legs to stay with the leaders. From now on, I will rely on my CO2 device for such rides.

With two good road rides under my belt, I went back to New Fane this evening for some badly needed singletrack practice. And on my warmup lap, things were going pretty well. My lap time of 27:52 was right in line with the times I have been posting and I expected to be faster on the next one. Then this happened:

The timing couldn’t have been better: I had just returned to the parking lot. Still, it was disappointing. The thunderstorm blew in quickly and probably was gone before I got back to West Bend, but it dumped so much rain that the trails must have been compromised. And I’m still a good boy, so I’ll try again tomorrow.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Time Takes Time

Sometimes you have to march to the beat of your own drum.
On Wednesday afternoon I did an Eisenbahn State Trail ride to Campbellsport and back. I might have chosen to ride with the Ozaukee Bicycle Club, but I didn’t. After work I had 4.5 hours of daylight with which to complete a ride and to cut the grass in the back yard. Both of those things had to be done, in that order. Switch the order and I could have made the OBC ride but with diminished energy. That’s no way to train. I pushed the pace on my Eisenbahn ride and got a really good workout, and it didn’t matter that I was a little fatigued while I was mowing my lawn.

On Thursday I worked through my lunch break to create a little extra time at the end of the afternoon for another solo ride. I might have chosen to ride with the group from the high school parking lot, but I didn’t. I really wanted to catch the opening day of the Tour of America’s Dairyland.

On Saturday afternoon I rode alone again. I might have chosen to ride in the morning with the Washington County Bicycle Club, but I didn’t. The club’s 54-mile ride included a lunch break and probably took the group something like 5 hours to complete. I had other commitments and simply didn’t have that much time to give. My 1-hour solo ride probably conferred just as much training benefit anyway, because I was able to ride faster than I would have with the club.

I am having a big re-think about the way I use my time, and group rides are taking a beating in that internal dialogue. It’s usually true that I would be better off doing my own thing. On weekdays, starting my own ride at 4 p.m. means warmer temperatures and no worries about running out of daylight. On weekends, being able to pick my own time allows me to ride when the weather is most to my liking. At almost any time, riding solo creates an opportunity to address specific training needs in ways that would be incompatible with group riding. There are many benefits to group riding, of course, but when you look at my upcoming race schedule they are not the benefits I really need. More time riding singletrack and more TT efforts will pay larger dividends.

Since mid-April I have been averaging about 8 hours of saddle time per week. That’s not bad, but I would like to increase my training volume in what remains of June and throughout July. The only practical way to do that is to start as early as I can on those weekday afternoons. I’m not saying that all group rides are off my calendar, but they aren’t automatically on it either. I know the plan I want to follow. If rain wipes out my singletrack practice on Tuesday, then I will make up that workout on Wednesday or Thursday. I haven’t really been training for the kinds of races that I have been doing. Time to start.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Entertaining Start To ToAD 2013

Early action in the pro men's race.
The Tour of America's Dairyland kicked off today in Shorewood. This evening's criterium was the first of 11 stages that will decide an overall champion. There are nine crits and two road races, and the first four days of the tour are part of the National Criterium Calendar.

Frank Pipp of Bissell Pro Cycling was the biggest star and the most diligent worker in a three-man breakaway that dominated much of the race.

Fan favorite Rahsaan Bahati rejoined the pack after a mid-race mechanical, but he didn't figure in the sprint.
But as so often happens in cycling, the breakaway was doomed to fail. As soon as the powerful UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team decided to drop the hammer, the breakaway was quickly eliminated.

These guys were flying!

In the end, UnitedHealthcare was just too strong. No other team could match its power or its organization as it swept the top three places, making Jake Keough the first wearer of the yellow jersey. Hilton Clarke took second place and Luke Keough was third. Earlier this month, Luke Keough won all three stages of Tulsa Tough. The "Blue Train" is simply on fire right now.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wondering About Watts On A Wednesday

Many of my friends and teammates train with devices that measure the wattage they generate while riding. I don’t have a way to measure my power output and usually I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, but today would have provided a textbook example of why wattage is such an effective way to gauge effort.

My ride was an out-and-back Eisenbahn State Trail time trial, of sorts, on my cyclocross bike. It was my first ride on the ’cross bike since May 28. On that occasion I did the same workout, reaching my turnaround point at Campbellsport in about 57 minutes and making the return trip in about 56 minutes. Today I used the Lap function of my Garmin to get more detailed splits: 53:53 out, 56:32 back. So, overall I was a little faster today and there’s nothing wrong with faster, but that’s not the interesting part of the story.

The interesting part of the story is that I worked far harder to average 16.5 mph on the return trip than I did to average 17.4 mph on the way out. How can that be, especially when you consider that the return trip is slightly downhill? The answer is wind: at a fairly constant 10 mph it pushed me to Campbellsport and then fought me every inch of the way home. I know I worked harder on the return trip but I can’t prove it to you. Speed, in this case, is not a reliable indicator of effort. Even heart rate, if I had bothered to record it, might not have fully explained the apparent drop-off in my performance after the turnaround.

But wattage never lies. It knows the difference between a guy who’s riding his guts out to go 30 mph on his own and a guy who’s soft-pedaling at 30 mph in the draft of the peloton. Without real power numbers from today’s ride I turned to a couple of online calculators. Using the stats that I do know, I estimated that the return trip, while slower, required about 22 percent more effort. That feels right. For what it’s worth, I spent a lot of time in the drops on the way home today, trying to reduce my aerodynamic profile.

Devices that measure power are becoming more affordable but I’m still not seriously tempted. Given the types of races for which I have been training over the last three seasons, the biggest bang for my buck continues to be weight loss. For me, power is less of a concern than power-to-weight. And in that equation, weight should be the easier factor to influence.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Little Number Crunching

The cover of a homemade birthday / Father's Day card from my mother-in-law.
After back-to-back race weekends, this was an “off” weekend … which means that I merely trained instead of pinning on a number. I did solo road rides: 36 miles on Saturday and 40 miles today. They were solid efforts, but it was Friday’s mountain bike practice that really got me thinking in greater detail about some recent performances.

I did two full laps at New Fane on Friday, completing them in 27:27 and 26:42, respectively. Those training laps compare very favorably to my race laps from last September’s Northern Kettles Fall Epic on the same course: 27:30, 27:45, 26:55, 26:25 and 26:43. And they were an improvement over the 28:35 and 28:39 that I recorded on Tuesday. With three more months to improve both fitness and skills, I could have a pretty nice race on Sep. 14. Shaving 2-3 more minutes from my lap times would greatly improve my place in the final standings. I don’t have series ambitions in WEMS, but I want to perform well on the “home turf” of New Fane.

So, what about my performance at the WORS race in Wausau on June 2? Finishing my first Cat 2 (Sport) race in 119th out of 180 overall and 14th out of 18 in my age group didn’t impress anyone. Given my high finish at Wausau in Cat 3 (Citizens) last year, did this year’s race demonstrate a decline in my fitness? I don’t think so. My time for three laps was about 1 hour and 26 minutes. This year’s Cat 3 race ran on the same course but did only two laps. To keep the math easy, just assume that I completed each lap at the same speed and multiply my time by two-thirds to get the time in which I might have finished if I had raced as a Cat 3: about 57 minutes. That would have given me 4th place in my age group and about 30th of 144 overall. I think I would have been even quicker knowing there were just two laps to complete. My actual lap times, if I had them, probably would reflect accumulating fatigue in Laps 2 and 3, and also some conservation of effort in Laps 1 and 2 to ensure completion of Lap 3. And unlike last year, I didn’t pre-ride the Wausau course. The race on June 2 was my first time on mountain bike trails since April 30, when I damaged my 29er in practice. (Pre-riding at Suamico before the WEMS race on June 8 probably would have kept me from over-shooting a few turns, but in such a long race those little detours didn’t amount to much.)

In the week to come my normal schedule will be disrupted by social commitments, so I’m hoping to string together some shorter, harder training efforts. I should be on the mountain bike both Tuesday and Friday, on the road bike with the Ozaukee Bicycle Club on Wednesday, and on the road bike for brief solo efforts early on Thursday and Saturday. Tomorrow looks like a good day to rest, whether or not the rain comes. Next Sunday might be a good day for a long road ride. So far in 2013, my only ride over 45 miles is the 63-mile Cheesehead Roubaix, way back on April 28! The Washington County Bicycle Club Century is just five weeks from today and a few long rides between now and then would be good preparation.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Plans For ToAD 2013

The Tour of America’s Dairyland is just one week away and again this year I am looking forward to it not as a racer but as a spectator. After work next Thursday I plan to be in Shorewood for the women’s (5:25 p.m.) and men’s (7 p.m.) pro races. The first four days of ToAD are part of the National Criterium Calendar and should attract most of the top domestic professionals. I will be in Grafton on Saturday the 22nd for the pro races at least and maybe for some of the amateurs. Belgianwerkx is hosting the Giro d’Grafton this year and there will be lots of familiar faces on the course, in the crowd, and among the volunteers. On Tuesday the 25th I hope to attend the Schlitz Park Criterium in Milwaukee. The pro men start at 6:30 p.m., so I can easily get there in time after work. On Saturday the 29th, the Downer Classic will be a great party, as it is every year. But this year the Downer Avenue crowd may have some real competition to the west: during the ToAD finale on Sunday the 30th I will be hanging out in Wauwatosa with friends who definitely know how to have fun.

And speaking of fun … this year one of the series jerseys is sponsored by PEZ Cycling News. I have been a fan of PEZ’s “Daily Distractions” for a long time. If you’d like to see why, then click here. Hopefully the prospect of becoming a Daily Distraction will encourage the right sort of people to attend ToAD!

Monday, June 10, 2013

These Are The Good Old Days

That’s me at the front of this small pack. The really fast guys are long gone!
Thirty years ago today I graduated from high school. Back then I had good size, reasonable speed and more agility than you might expect, but I failed to distinguish myself as an athlete. My few moments of greatness as a baseball player in the summer youth leagues were widely dispersed. For my alma mater I earned just one varsity letter: cross-country running, 1981. To my enduring shame, I quit the team as a senior. I had neglected to train properly over the summer of 1982 and the combination of shin splints and poor race results that followed was embarrassing. When high school ended, my athletic and academic records mirrored each other: I was a kid with plenty of natural gifts whose full potential was left unrealized due to a lack of discipline.

In the two decades that followed I enjoyed softball but it didn’t demand much training. I was a player but not an athlete. Cycling brought me back to athleticism as a way of life, tentatively in 2003 and then earnestly in 2004. Since committing myself to the sport, each year has had its triumphs. I think I’m still on the way up, with bigger and better achievements ahead. And there are so many different ways to enjoy cycling that I expect to find new challenges far into the future.

I thought a little about the past today but I didn’t long to return to it. That’s not just a mature acceptance of a reality I cannot change, it’s also an acknowledgment that what I have now is very close to what I want. So much of my satisfaction with life comes from my family, and they don’t get enough credit in these blog posts. But what I make of myself by myself for myself, I make on the bike.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

2013 Stump Farm 100

For me, the “Stump Farm 100” was really a Stump Farm 30, but the 30-mile race was all I wanted on Saturday in Suamico. I have nothing but admiration for the 60- and 100-mile racers; my comparatively short race was hard enough.

With a time of 2:07:24, the winner of the 30-mile men’s race was Drew Wilson of Rochester MN. Wilson is 30 years old, a USA Cycling Cat 1, and no stranger to the podium in mountain biking, road racing and cyclocross. In an “open” race—WEMS doesn’t separate riders by age or ability like WORS does—there was never any doubt that I would finish way down the list. I placed 23rd out of 39, with a time of 2:37:25.

All things considered, that ain’t bad. But it would have been nice to be more competitive with the other Washington County guys: Chris Tamborino of Expo Racing was 11th in 2:23:33 and Jeff Wren of Team Extreme took 16th with a time of 2:28:41. Jon Nehring, my Team Pedal Moraine teammate, was 31st in 2:45:15. April Dombrowski of Team Pedal Moraine was the women’s 100-mile winner.

My performance was an accurate indication of where I am at this point in the season: good on open terrain, a pretty fair climber but still sorely lacking in the singletrack, and durable but not especially fast.

At least I didn’t crash. On Friday at Tulsa Tough, a three-day criterium series in Oklahoma, Erica Allar did. Spectacularly. But it wasn’t her fault. Allar was just seconds from the finish line, sprinting for no worse than third place and probably the victory when she clipped a line of male racers who were staging for their race. I was outraged. There’s no way those guys should have been on the course while the women’s race was still in progress. And even though Allar was obviously hurt, it took a while for medical personnel to reach her. In fact, the race announcers had to use the public address system to appeal to them on Allar’s behalf. It is inexcusable that such a high-profile event would not have medical personnel just a few feet away from every critical point along the course.

I didn’t think Allar was going to get up, and I certainly didn’t expect her to continue in the series. But on Saturday she not only returned to the starting line, she finished in third place and was all smiles on the podium despite stitches in her face and knee, and plenty of road rash.

Erica Allar looks on as Theresa Cliff-Ryan accepts the leader’s jersey.
My photo editing software has an effective correction tool for red eyes, but nothing for black eyes.

Doing two races in the last week showed me where I am with my fitness and with my skills. I now have a big break before my next mountain bike event, the Subaru Cup on July 13-14. During the next five weeks I will continue to work on my fitness, of course, but improving my skills in the singletrack is just as important. I need to get back to at least once-a-week workouts on the mountain bike, and not just at New Fane where I can ride lots of clean laps without really being tested.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Simple Lines, Intertwining

Tapping out the beat: the late, great Eric “Stumpy Joe” Childs.
When tomorrow comes I will be off to Suamico for the Stump Farm WEMS race. And I can’t think of “Stump Farm” without thinking of Eric “Stumpy Joe” Childs, Spın̈al Tap’s second drummer. You might remember that he died tragically, choking on vomit that may not have been his own. Stumpy Joe’s connection to mountain bike racing is uncertain at best, like so many details of his life, but I’m sure he would appreciate the spirit of any endeavor in which otherwise rational people assume the risk of serious injury or death and pay $30 to nullify the legal recourse they or their survivors might otherwise seek should misfortune befall them.

These are still early days in my 2013 racing program but I need to push myself a little harder. There is no training like racing and tomorrow’s race will be more about the exercise and the experience than it is about my place in the results. Becoming familiar with the trails during three laps tomorrow will be valuable preparation for the Reforestation Ramble on Aug. 25, a race in which I really want to do well. Still, tomorrow’s race is a competitive event and I will do my best, but my preparation for it has not been ideal.

My training week began on Monday with a much faster than expected ride at Belgianwerkx. I had good legs, so I didn’t mind hitting the gas from time to time even though I was coming off a WORS race on Sunday. On Tuesday I took something of a belated rest day: 30 minutes of singletrack skills practice at Glacial Blue Hills. Wednesday was a washout. I might have joined the Ozaukee Bicycle Club ride, but I considered the risk of rain too great. On Thursday I did a 35-mile road ride at an average moving speed of 18.1 mph. And earlier today I did this 18-mile ride on my 29er:

That’s a route I usually would do on the cyclocross bike, but I wanted to see how it would feel on the much heavier mountain bike. I felt slower but the actual numbers weren’t too bad, especially when you consider I wasn’t making a maximum effort on the afternoon before a race. My fitness is just OK right now. You’ll get an honest account of my performance at Suamico, whether it be good or bad.

But hey, enough of my yakkin’ … What do ya say? Let’s boogie!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

2013 Red Eye Rendezvous

Immediately after my first mountain bike race of 2013 I told my teammates that today in Wausau was humbling, but not humiliating. Hours later, that description is still holding up. I was 14th of 18 in my age group and 119th of 180 overall. Chris Harold was today’s winner in Sport (Cat 2) for men 45-49 with a time of 1:15:06.6. (Harold also was the age group winner of my first-ever WORS race back in 2011.) Today I finished in 1:26.07.7.

Overall, the best time was 1:11:22.3 by Jonathan Kloppenburg in the 30-34 age group. That means I was almost 15 minutes behind the fastest guy, or about 1 minute per mile. I have a lot of work to do before I can think about overall victory. Even an age group victory seems too ambitious at the moment, but I don’t think I’m that far away from podium contention. Jeff Wren, Jeff Hatton and Troy Sable—all riders with whom I have been very competitive in cyclocross—finished together today in 6th, 7th and 8th places, respectively. Jeff Wren was just 4.5 seconds away from the last podium spot.

I hadn’t ridden singletrack since April 30 and I didn’t get to pre-ride the course in Wausau, but fortunately I remembered most of it from last year when I nearly won the Citizens (Cat 3) race. I think I was probably as good in the singletrack this year—the Wausau course isn’t especially technical—but against stronger competition, that just wasn’t good enough. I was good enough at the start, on the open ski trails and on the climbs. I did beat more than a third of the field, after all. While that’s a far cry from the high finishes I enjoyed in 2012, it is evidence that I belong in Sport. But now I have to raise my game to the new standard.