Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Why should American football players have all the fun, practicing themselves into states of exhaustion not once, but twice on hot summer days like this one? Today I waited for the temperature to hit 90, then went out on a solo road ride. An hour and a half later ... well, OK: I wasn’t exhausted, but I could tell I had made an effort. True exhaustion never actually came, but I got fairly close to it late this afternoon at cyclocross practice. With temperatures still in the 90s, seven riders tackled the Royal Oaks Park course. We reduced our race simulation from the normal 6 laps down to 4 as a concession to the heat, and that was enough. I rode at the same pace as last week and I could have hung in there for 2 more laps, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.

And the rest of the week looks properly hot: real summer weather. I will be out there to take advantage of it. I may even double-up again, perhaps pairing a morning road ride with an evening mountain bike ride on Thursday or Friday. But it looks like there’s a big cooldown coming just in time for Labor Day. Next week’s cyclocross practice might take place in 60-degree weather, which would more closely approximate the conditions we can expect in the early races of the upcoming season.

Next week’s practice will be the last of the four to which I originally committed, but I’m pretty sure we will extend the series for at least one week and perhaps as many as four. There’s still fitness to gain and technique to refine. To that last point, we will reconfigure the course next week to force a dismount and run-up situation at the bottom of the big hill. Without any stairs at our disposal, it’s the best we can do. Time to remove those water bottle cages, everyone, but they sure came in handy today!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013 Reforestation Ramble

Mark Schindel leads me around the final right-hand turn. Time to make a late move …     (Julie Phelps photo)
This time last year I was celebrating a victory in my age group at the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico. With several successful Cat 3 (Citizens) races under my belt, I went there with high expectations. Racing today in Cat 2 (Sport), I had lower expectations but came away with my first Top 10 finish in my new category. Last Sunday at Franklin, I felt like I had Top 10 legs and today’s result is the best confirmation so far that I can be highly competitive at this level.

Some people refer to Suamico as a “roadie” course. Certainly, it’s one of the least technical courses in the series but it still has its challenges. As someone who rides frequently on the road, maybe I had a little advantage over some of the guys on the hills and on the open ski trails. And perhaps that little advantage explains my success against some riders who usually beat me. Today I finished ahead of six age-group rivals who began the day in the Top 10 on series points.

I still can’t beat Chris Harold (Activator), but neither can anyone else. Harold has won the 45-49 age group in all six WORS races he has contested this year, finishing today in 1:37:32.9. Scott Nickoli (J&B Cycle) was next at 1:38:41.4, followed by Larry Hipps (Team Pedal Moraine) in 1:39:50.7, Jeff Hatton (Titletown Flyers) in 1:41:18.5, Bob Zimmermann (Team Pedal Moraine) in 1:41:56.3, Robert Sleger (unattached) in 1:43:47.9, Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) in 1:44:20.2, and Todd Lindow (Ozaukee Bicycle Club) in 1:44:29.6. I took 9th in the 21-man field with a time of 1:44:51.7. Overall I placed 61st out of 151. Appleton’s Paul Schommer, 21, was first overall in 1:31:07.8.

Tactically, I had a very strong race. I started well and—now that I have some feel for where I belong in the pecking order—took care to dispatch a few guys who I knew would slow me down as we approached the first section of singletrack. I hit the hills hard and was good on the ski trails except on sandy corners, where some combination of tire tread, tire pressure, and bad lines always seemed to delay me and then to require a big acceleration on the exit. For much of Lap 1, I rode with Jody Arlen (Lucky Brake), a close rival whose wheel I was happy to follow through the singletrack. But I clearly had the advantage on the climbs and when I thought I saw a pair of teammates up ahead, I left Jody behind. Expecting to ride across to Mike Laufenberg and Bob Zimmermann, I found only Mike and a rider from another team. I followed Mike through the next section of singletrack, nearly having an over-the-bars moment when I took a bad line and was surprised by a big root, then left him behind when the trail opened up again. As the first lap ended I was feeling strong and confident. I knew that I was moving up through the field.

But Lap 2 began inauspiciously. I have been fighting some issues with my shifting, front and rear, and just as the new lap began I dropped my chain onto the bottom bracket and had to dismount to get it back on the chainring. Just a couple of minutes later the chain overshot the big ring and landed between the crank arm and my foot, but with equal measures of finesse and luck I was able to get it back on the big ring without stopping. These two incidents were worrying and probably contributed to the hatchet job I did on a transitional piece of singletrack that I didn’t get to see on Lap 1 and neglected to check out during Saturday’s pre-ride. Once on the other side of that, however, I was strong again. Back on familiar trails I continued to pick off riders. About halfway through the lap, I passed fellow West Bend racer Troy Sable (unattached) for the first time this season. Moments later I passed Jeff Wren. But Jeff got me back and took Lindow with him, and I couldn’t respond.

Late in the lap I was ragged but still thinking. With no age group rivals in sight, I resolved to preserve or improve my overall finish. Emerging from the last section of singletrack, I found myself with Mark Schindel (Big Ring Flyers), a big strong man on a fat bike. He provided excellent shelter from the headwind as we raced toward the final right-hand turn, and in those moments I saved enough energy to swing around him before the finish line. Schindel, 31, was the top Clydesdale finisher in the under-40 age group. At registration on Saturday I hopped on the scale just out of curiosity: 202 pounds. Technically, I could be racing as a Clydesdale but I keep telling myself I’m going to drop back under 200 pounds in the very near future.

So, a fun and modestly successful weekend of mountain biking now leads into a week of vacation. With no responsibilities to my employer until Sep. 3 and no races next weekend, I’m looking forward to a week of Vuelta webcasts, cyclocross and mountain bike practice sessions, and lots of miles on the road. But tomorrow may be a rest day to set up the remainder of the week, and the mountain bike has another date with the mechanic to fix not just the shifting issues but also the rear spoke that popped late in today’s race.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Like A Bull In A China Shop

At the trailhead ...
Curious about how the new mountain bike trails in Ozaukee County are evolving, today I returned to Pleasant Valley Park for the first time since July 7. On that initial visit I checked out the Beginners loop, and today I got to see how it and the recently-completed Intermediate loop fit together. For me, the ride was slow! These trails will definitely reward smooth riders who keep a steady tempo. That’s not me, at least not on a mountain bike.

During an hour-long exploration of the park I completed three laps of Beginner/Intermediate, getting a little faster from the experience:
But I don’t know if I ever will regard Pleasant Valley Park as a place to go fast. Maybe I shouldn’t try to; maybe I should remain an infrequent visitor even when the entire system is complete. (I hear there are some really cool features planned for the Advanced loop.) New Fane is my principal training area and a race venue where familiarity is rewarded. Maybe I should use these new trails like I already use Glacial Blue Hills: a change-of-pace venue that forces me to use skills I might otherwise neglect, and a place where I haven’t memorized every rock and root.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

If You’re Gonna Do It, Do It Right

Today in California the company behind Bell and Giro bicycle helmets won a lawsuit in which the plaintiff claimed his injuries from a 2010 crash were due in part to a design flaw. Attorneys for Easton-Bell Sports argued successfully that the injured man was not wearing his helmet properly at the time of his accident. Specifically, they argued that the helmet was worn too high, as seen here in the lower left picture:

I see children and adults wearing bike helmets in that manner all the time. They might as well not even wear a helmet. Get it right, folks: straight and level, and tight enough that it stays in place. You don’t want a loose-fitting helmet that shifts in a crash or obscures your vision by sliding forward. If you don’t know how to adjust your helmet—or your child’s helmet—I promise that any local bike shop will be happy to help you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Scenes From Cyclocross Practice #2

We had nine riders at Royal Oaks Park for Tuesday evening cyclocross practice, including a couple of new friends who drove all the way from Wauwatosa. With the temperature still above 80 degrees as we began, we worked up a good sweat this week.

John Beiswenger clears the barriers before heading into the woods.

But we broke more than just a sweat. John snapped his chain early in our practice race, and Ian "The 'Cross Examiner" Prust had to stop due to a saddle issue.

Here's Ian warming up, bike still intact.

The rest of us avoided major mechanical issues. I need new brake pads before next Tuesday, but otherwise the bike is working OK.

Jeff Wren may have a minor chain/derailleur issue ...

but here is the picture that Jeff doesn't want to see:

I completed our 6-lap practice race ahead of Jeff even though I had to stop twice. (Six laps should take nearly 30 minutes, the duration of the Masters Cat 4 races in the WCA series.) Near the end of the first lap I clipped one of the flags that mark our off-camber zig-zags, and on Lap 5 I got tangled in the barriers just before the woods. Each time I stopped to repair the obstacles, and each time I had to close the gap Jeff had opened. Jeff has beaten me in all six of the mountain bike races I have done this year, so it's good to put some doubts into his head about cyclocross supremacy. Again: it's a friendly rivalry, but it's still a rivalry! We'll be back for more next Tuesday.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013 Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic

Don't worry, they're clean now.

WORS returned to Franklin today for more great mountain bike racing. We used to know the venue as Crystal Ridge Ski Area, but under new management it now is called The Rock. We used to know the race as the Alterra Coffee Bean Classic, but now the name is the Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic. The new names may take some getting used to, but the new course was an instant hit.

I expected more climbing. After all, the hill is still there even if it now is used for downhill mountain biking instead of downhill skiing. What I got instead was a very balanced course where climbing was still important, but so was the ability to hammer over open terrain and to be smooth in the singletrack. After a good pre-ride on Saturday, today I felt very comfortable as I rode to 16th place out of 34 in my age group, 95th of 195 overall in the men’s Cat 2 (Sport) class.

In a large field of riders there was traffic congestion right from the start. Teammate Bob Zimmermann and I were bottled up behind several riders going into the first climb. On the loose and twisting descent that followed, Bob got free. I wasn’t able to follow but I was still in a pretty good position when we hit the first section of singletrack. The Alpha Trail was a real delight to ride today, so fast and flowy that even I was urging the guys in front of me to pick up the pace.

Running along the edge of the Root River, the Alpha Trail was the lowest part of the course. We climbed away from it with a succession of switchbacks. It was a completely different experience than last year’s Craters of the Moon climb, and one that suited me well. Soon thereafter came a mad dash across an open field toward O’Malley’s Woods. This was a popular place to get around slower riders or to grab a drink. O’Malley’s was tight and twisty but I handled it better this year than I did in 2012. Emerging from the woods meant another blast across the open field, then a gentle gravel road climb that eventually kicked up to the highest point on the course, very near the pinnacle of the old ski hill. On all three laps I grabbed places from riders who struggled on the steepest part of the climb.

The descent that followed was lightning fast. I passed no one on this section and was passed only once: a much younger rider with a shorter history of pain flew by on the last lap, but only after we had verbally negotiated exactly where and when. It was no place for impatience or foolish risk-taking. The traverse across the bottom of the hill included just enough elevation change to challenge tired legs. Riders were reluctant to hit it hard, knowing that they needed to save something for the tough climb that began each new lap.

I started Lap 2 hot on the heels of age group rival Ernie Huerta (Vision/Wheel & Sprocket). Staying with him seemed like a good idea. But as the fastest riders from later waves began to overtake us, they created gaps between us that eventually grew too large. I still had Ernie in sight early in Lap 3 and I had worked my way up to teammate Mike Laufenberg. I thought if I could pass Mike, then I could get up to Ernie again and try to drop him on the final trip back from O’Malley’s. I wouldn’t overtake him on the technical descent, and I certainly wouldn’t outclimb him to the finish line. But in the singletrack there were few opportunities to pass and I needed extra time to get around Mike. Ernie went on to finish in 12th place in our age group, just 40 seconds ahead of me and with Jody Arlen (Lucky Brake), Jeff Hatton (Titletown Flyers), and Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) sandwiched in between. I think I had Top 10 legs today, but it didn’t quite work out. That’s racing.

Chris Harold (Activator) was the age group winner and 7th overall in 1:16:56.6. Chicago’s Janusz Rajski, 36, had the fastest time overall at 1:14:45.2.

Larry Hipps was the top Team Pedal Moraine rider in Sport today, placing 5th in our age group and 27th overall with a time of 1:19:17.4. Zimmermann, 7th in our age group and 39th overall, finished in 1:20:20.3. Scott Palmersheim was 8th in the 50-54 age group and 82nd overall in 1:23:12.7. I finished in 1:23:58.1. Laufenberg was 15th in the 40-44 age group and 109th overall with a time of 1:25:11.8.

The series moves to Suamico next Sunday for the Reforestation Ramble on a course that has been good to me. I already feel well-prepared, but I won’t take my training lightly in the week to come.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Scenes From Cyclocross Practice

Cyclocross returned to Royal Oaks Park in West Bend this evening as eight riders began to sharpen their skills and their fitness for the upcoming WCA season. The course was nearly identical to the one that was developed last year: just short of 1 mile in length with a mix of surfaces, two barrier sections, a couple of tight corners, two fast descents and one tough climb. Cyclocross can be described as a race of transitions, and if you look at how fast I was going from moment to moment, you’ll be convinced that is true:

Being able to dismount, negotiate an obstacle, and then quickly remount is a critical skill and an important part of our practice sessions:

Team Extreme's Brian Petted

And, of course, cyclocross is known for its fun and friendly atmosphere. No gathering of ’cross racers would be complete without some time for conversation about racing plans and equipment choices:

John Beiswenger (unattached), Steve Cummins (Team Pedal Moraine) and Jeff Wren (Team Extreme)

We’ll be back at Royal Oaks again next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. for Round Two. Feel free to join us. If you don’t want to ride, consider showing up just to heckle. Good-natured teasing of the racers is a cherished part of the atmosphere at any cyclocross event and not something we can easily simulate by ourselves!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Going All-In … Maybe

The cyclocross season begins just four weeks from today and my enthusiasm for it is not what it should be. That could begin to change next Tuesday when practices resume at Royal Oaks Park, but unless something dramatic happens I am probably looking at a limited schedule this year.

Arguing against going all-in for cyclocross is the schedule itself. The Wisconsin Cycling Association plans a 16-race series, ending with the state championships on Dec. 7. In 2011, I got as far as Nov. 5 before pulling the plug. Last year, I was done on Oct. 27. My enthusiasm drops with the temperature, and this year the Cat 4 Masters races have been moved to 9 a.m., the first timeslot of the day. That puts me on the course for reconnaissance and warmups at about 8 a.m., and it will be damned cold. Even if I can dress for it, I can’t be sure the cold air won’t trigger my asthma. I don’t talk much about that. In fact, in the history of this blog I can find only one other reference but it’s something with which I have to contend. And then there’s the travel time and expense. I’m not yet sure where the state championship will be held, but to attend each of the other 15 races would mean 1,562 miles in the car, round-trip. That’s about 26 hours in the car for about 7.5 hours of racing, and it includes some really early mornings to reach places like Verona and Lake Geneva by 8 a.m. If the state championships are in Verona—where the sun will rise at 7:16 on Dec. 7—I would literally have to be on the road in the dark to get there on time!

So, for now, there are just three cyclocross races to which I feel committed: Grafton (Oct. 12), Doyne Park (Oct. 20) and Washington Park (Oct. 26). They are close to home, they are courses I have enjoyed in the past, and they are in a scheduling “sweet spot” between the end of the mountain bike racing season and the onset of winter. I’m betting on doing more than those three, but mountain biking is going to be the top priority.

Surprised? Me too, but something switched on during the Sunburst Showdown and now I have renewed energy for mountain biking. I’m tempted to go all-in for the five remaining WORS events:
  • Alterra Coffee Bean Classic (Aug. 18)—From what I have been able to gather, the new course will feature additional climbing and I seem to be getting up the hills better than many of my opponents.
  • Reforestation Ramble (Aug. 25)—All of those cross-country skiing trails give me a chance to hammer in the big ring. I was good there last year, winning my age group as a Cat 3. An extra lap isn’t going to bother me.
  • Treadfest (Sep. 8)—It’s another ski hill race where being able to climb is valuable … and it’s the only WORS course I missed in 2012.
  • Cascade CX For Kids (Sep. 29)—Brand new trails on yet another ski hill.
  • Wigwam MTB Challenge (Oct. 6)—With more doubletrack and, presumably, less flooding than in 2012, this could be an OK course for me.

By the end of the Sunburst Showdown, I had beaten several guys who usually beat me. In a couple of cases, I beat guys I had never beaten before. I am now in 15th place on series points. At Sunburst I beat the guys who occupy positions 5 through 9. Each of them has competed in 7 races already, while I have done only 4. Remember: 7 is the magic number in WORS. Once you have done 7 races, you can replace an earlier result with a better one, but otherwise you can accumulate only a handful of participation points for each additional race. I still have cards to play. Project my average finish over 7 races and I would be in 6th place. Finishing in the Top 10 would be a good showing for my first Sport campaign.

I am in for the Alterra Coffee Bean Classic. I am in for the Reforestation Ramble. Then let the chips fall where they may. It won’t be too late to recommit to larger cyclocross ambitions if my plans for WORS don’t work out.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

2013 Sunburst Showdown

Thanks to Jim Saueressig for this great shot of Mike Laufenberg, me, and Kevin Lisowe!
Of the 12 venues on the WORS schedule, Kewaskum’s Sunburst ski hill is easily the most unpopular. In past versions of the Sunburst Showdown, there just wasn’t enough singletrack. And it wasn’t clear where more could be added. Fortunately, Sunburst and the Attitude Sports race organizers were able to work with neighboring landowners to add significantly more singletrack for today’s race. If previous editions were too much like cyclocross with their seemingly endless sections of newly-cut grass trails, then this year’s edition was a proper mountain bike race.

I did three practice laps during Saturday’s pre-ride and went to sleep last night feeling confident that I could handle the climbing and the singletrack, including the technical descent on the south side near the finish line. It’s great to have a race so close to home! This morning I had breakfast, checked one last time to make sure the bike was ready, then hung out in bed until 10 o’clock. At 10:35 I left West Bend and shortly before 11 o’clock I hopped on the bike for a 30-minute warmup. I got to the starting line in time for the national anthem and within a couple of minutes I was racing.

Just 46 seconds into the race I was doing 25 mph and eating the dust of the series leaders whose call-ups had given them a clean getaway. And I literally mean eating the dust: we kicked up quite a cloud as we headed for the 180-degree turn that would send us back toward the Start/Finish and onto the first climb of the day. I don’t possess the world’s greatest track stand but I did come to a couple of significant pauses on the way up the hill as riders stalled in front of me. With the rapid descent that followed I got rid of those guys for good. Another traverse of the open face of the ski hill and another 180 put me on a tough climb with multiple switchbacks. Here’s what it looked like to me when I was cheering for the top-level riders later in the day:
Halfway up, that yellow sign reads, “Walkers must yield to riders.”
Even on Lap 1, this climb was hurting people but I felt pretty comfortable with it. Good to know for later …

At the summit we plunged into the woods for our first taste of the new singletrack. There wouldn’t be many positions won or lost here; it was pretty tight and most people were happy to use it for recovery. A super-fast, slightly-downhill section at the treeline ended with a 180 that sent us back up a gentle climb at the edge of a farmer’s field. This section proved to be a good place for me to get around slower traffic on all three laps. A short singletrack descent pointed us back onto the ski hill for a little down-and-up loop, then we returned to the woods for a singletrack climb littered with rocks and roots but familiar to me from my pre-ride. Good lines through that section allowed me to pull away from a few chasers. Next came a longer traverse across the face of the hill—a little down, a little up. It didn’t look like much but it would be super important on Lap 3.

A long and technical descent followed. I had worked my way to the back wheel of teammate Mike Laufenberg, who began the day in 5th place on series points in the 40-44 age group. Mike is a consistently better mountain biker than I am and I was content to follow his lead. But early on the descent I dropped my chain and had to stop momentarily, losing 5-6 positions. I didn’t lose my cool, though, knowing that there was still plenty of racing to do.

Lap 2 began with another thundering run down to the first hairpin turn. I got back to Mike’s wheel and determined not to let anyone get between us. I had the extra incentive of spotting Jeff Hatton, a respected rival from Titletown Flyers, just a short distance ahead. I reached the first of the switchbacks behind Hatton and left him far behind by the time I reached the top. At that point I also had passed Mike, but he easily made his way back to me in the singletrack. We finished the lap without any new drama, which was just fine by me.

On Lap 3 I still had some punch going uphill; I was getting passed only rarely and not by the 45-49 age groupers. I no longer had a strategy, just a tactic: stay with my teammate and try to be the first one to enter the last section of singletrack. Of course, Mike also knew how critical the last traverse would be. With a well-timed move he passed me and used slower traffic to create a couple of seconds of separation. By the time I cleared the slower riders Mike was on that long technical descent for the last time. I was game for a sprint on the short finishing chute that followed. I closed quickly on Mike but came up 0.5 seconds short.

The race was great fun for me and a modest success. In just my fourth Cat 2 (Sport) race, I cracked the top half of the field for the first time. I was 11th of 22 in my age group and 54th of 127 overall. With a time of 1:11:08.5, I was 5:42.5 behind age group winner Brendan George of Deerfield IL. Washington County was well-represented: Chris Tamborino of Hubertus—fighting through a shoulder injury—was 3rd, Troy Sable of West Bend was 6th and Jeff Wren of West Bend was 7th. Team Pedal Moraine placed two men on the podium: Bob Zimmermann (4th) and Larry Hipps (5th), separated by just 0.3 seconds. Mike Laufenberg was 8th in his age group. Teammate Scott Palmersheim was 4th in the 50-54 group. The overall Sport-class winner was 29-year-old Mark Norton of Madison in 1:01:08.1.

Hate the Sunburst Showdown if you must—by the end of the race I had settled in very well and would have been happy to go out for another lap or two. After posting a 23:09 on Lap 1, I turned a 23:54 on Lap 2 and a 24:06 on Lap 3. I didn’t feel like I was fading but I was sure that other people were. Maybe I should be doing more WEMS races and trying to outlast my rivals instead of trying to outkick them!

This is not the time to worry about my 2014 schedule. The more immediate question is whether I will race at Franklin in two weeks. The Rock is another course with plenty of climbing, so racing there could be a good opportunity for me even if it’s not a major goal. The Reforestation Ramble (Aug. 25) is my “A” race on this year’s WORS calendar.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Race Through The Registration Lines

Do enough bike races and you might see the same registration process twice. Most registration tables are staffed by volunteers who perform that function just one time  per year. They do the best that they can and as racers we need to be patient and grateful. But we also can prepare ourselves better for the registration process to make life easier on the volunteers, on ourselves and on everyone in line behind us.

Even if you have pre-registered for an event, the organizers need your signature on a printed waiver. At a WORS race you can enter your series number into a computer that then produces a pre-filled form for you to sign. At many other events the volunteers will have an already-printed form in a binder. But what if the computer or printer doesn’t work on race day? What if your form is missing from the binder? Then you’re filling out a blank form and the registration process is slowing down for everybody.

Here’s one solution and something I do each season:

  1. Go to the USA Cycling website to obtain the current waiver (they change every year).
  2. Enter the personal information that won’t change during the course of the season. For me, that’s 14 out of the 18 data points I must eventually complete.
  3. Print out the partially-completed form. Make as many copies as you will need for the season. Or, save the partially-completed form as a PDF and print copies as needed. (You can’t do that directly from Adobe Reader, but when you select Print you may have a “Print to File” or similar option.)
  4. On the printed forms, write in the names and dates for each race, then add your signature.

This is literally a 5-minute job, after which you will be prepared for the entire season. No more hunting for a blank form or a pen with just minutes to go before the start of your race! You don’t need that stress, and neither does anyone else.