Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A Statistical Review

Statistically, 2014 was more than just a return to form for me after an abbreviated 2013. Getting through all of 2014 without illness or serious injury allowed me to reach a personal-best 5,236 miles, topping the 5,113 miles I rode in 2011. I rode on 184 days—second all-time to the 204 days on which I rode in 2012—and with our weather, that’s saying something. I pushed my single-day mileage record out to 114 and set new marks for August and October. Here’s the month-by-month breakdown:

000 January
031 February
300 March
519 April
650 May
659 June
825 July
809 August
593 September
534 October
197 November
119 December

In recent years, working from home has greatly expanded the number of days on which an outdoor ride is possible. I’m not wasting time by commuting to and from the office, so more hours of daylight are available to me. I am also more willing to ride in the cold than I used to be. Here are the dates of my last outdoor rides since 2003, the year before I really dedicated myself to cycling and started to count the miles:

2003 Nov 16
2004 Oct 29
2005 Nov 19
2006 Nov 23
2007 Nov 10
2008 Nov 02
2009 Nov 22
2010 Dec 31
2011 Dec 18
2012 Dec 14
2013 Dec 28
2014 Dec 26

My new BMC road bike became my workhorse this year, taking the No. 1 spot away from my Diamondback cyclocross bike.

Year     Diamondback     Raleigh       Trek           BMC
         (cyclocross)    (road)        (mountain)     (road)
2014     1358             105          529            3244
2013     2341            1270          489
2012     2889            1462          654

I competed in 13 cyclocross races and 4 mountain bike races. That’s up from just 9 races in 2013 but short of the 20 I did in 2012. Prior to this year I had never reached the podium in cyclocross; now I have done it 5 times.

In 2013 I spent 26.5 hours on the trainer. This year I spent just 23 hours on the trainer, and I would have spent zero hours if I didn’t feel like it contributed to my fitness objectives. For cross-training, I went hiking on 12 occasions, went snowshoeing 8 times, and did 135 upper body strength workouts.

In 2015 I want to reach 50,000 career miles. I will need 5,234 to get there, and that’s almost a repeat of the record-setting pace I kept this year. It won’t be easy; that makes it a good goal. Competition goals for 2015 are still coming into focus. I will write more about those as the various racing organizations finalize their schedules.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Now I've Gone And Done It

Being on the podium in cyclocross was fun while it lasted.

I accumulated 15 points this year and that got me to the mandatory upgrade threshold. In 2015 I will race as a Cat 3—USA Cycling approved my upgrade request this afternoon. Among the Cat 3 Masters are a few guys with whom I know I can compete, but we will be fighting for pride and not for victories. Whether in the Elite Cat 3 race that is not age-restricted or in the Masters race that also includes Cat 1 and Cat 2, the only time I will see the leaders is when they lap me.

For the privilege of getting clobbered, I will pay a higher per-race entry fee. But I think I will like racing for 45 minutes instead of just 30, and I know I will like starting late in the day when the temperatures are higher.

Upgrading was my goal, and there is satisfaction in the achievement. But there’s also some trepidation. I don’t want to be only pack fodder. Training in 2015 will take on a more serious tone. And I hope that some of the other Cat 4 guys who are ready to upgrade actually will upgrade. Let no one call me a sandbagger, and let no one say that of you.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Oh, What Fun It Is To Ride!

"Enchanted" photo op at Regner Park.

Today’s ride was pretty neat. At 18 miles, it wasn’t a long ride. At 15 mph, it wasn’t a fast ride. But it was a bike ride outdoors on Christmas, something I had never done before. We briefly touched 39 degrees this afternoon in West Bend and the winds weren’t that bad; we never got the 30+ mph gusts promised by the weather forecasters.

On today’s ride I surpassed 5,200 miles, so for the first time I can say that I have averaged more than 100 miles per week for an entire calendar year. And I should add to that total tomorrow when the winds are even lighter and the temperature jumps above 40 degrees. That’s more than 15 degrees above normal. Even Saturday may offer an opportunity to ride, but proper winter chill will return on Sunday.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Presenting The 2015 Cheesehead Roubaix

The 6th Annual Cheesehead Roubaix will begin at Newburg Fireman’s Park on Sunday, April 26, at 9 a.m.  Inspired by Spring Classics like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, Cheesehead Roubaix is a 63-mile ride that features almost 10 miles of dirt and gravel. The ride will test your fitness with rough road conditions and about 2,000 feet of climbing.

There will be a mid-ride rest stop courtesy of our friends from Belgianwerkx. Registration is not required for Cheesehead Roubaix, but please let us know you plan to attend so that we can ensure there’s enough food and drink for everyone. Join the fun at the Facebook event page, send me email or leave a comment below.

Cheesehead Roubaix is designed for self-sufficient cyclists. The rest stop will be your only support. The ride uses only open public roads and park paths. You are responsible for your own safety and conduct, and you are expressly not exempt from Wisconsin traffic laws. Represent the sport well.

Please visit the Cheesehead Roubaix website and print out your own copy of the cuesheet and map. The website also offers a data file for Garmin GPS devices.

For the third straight year, Moroder Photography will be on hand to preserve your Cheesehead Roubaix memories.

Cheesehead Roubaix is free of charge, but please consider making a voluntary contribution to the Newburg Fire Department to show your appreciation for the use of its facility. Last year we collected more than $300 for the department. There will be a donations jar in the parking lot prior to the ride.

See you on April 26!

Monday, December 15, 2014

More Thoughts On The Bike Park

I have done some additional reconnaissance since last Thursday, when I wrote about the potential for a permanent bike park at West Bend’s Park Site O. I also received some suggestions from interested cyclists, one of the most intriguing of which was to include the woods when designing the cyclocross course. My original draft of the cyclocross course looked a lot like Badger Prairie, but a short dash through the woods would make the course look a lot like Cam-Rock. I think that’s a good thing.

Imagine the start/finish near the parking lot and a counter-clockwise rotation. The blue dot represents the likely location of a double-entry pit area for some future race. It comes at about 0.4 miles and 0.9 miles of each lap. In the woods, by avoiding the conifers and staying among the deciduous trees we easily could maintain a 10-foot-wide corridor for the course. Much of this course hugs the perimeter of the prairie, making the job of grass cutting as easy as possible. Parts of the course that traverse the interior of the prairie would require more careful mowing. At the end of the lap the course makes several trips up and down the hill. For cyclocross, Park Site O would be a challenging venue.

But as a venue for mountain biking, I would like to see Park Site O develop in a beginner-friendly way. Think of it as an alternative to Glacial Blue Hills, which is an intimidating place for newbies. At Park Site O, the quarter mile of cyclocross course that passes through the woods could be the backbone of the mountain bike trails: a gentle introductory trail to which we could attach a couple of more challenging, singletrack loops.

In the map below, I have tried to show the property boundary (red) and the location of Quaas Creek (blue).

I think the woods to the north are off-limits and that’s a shame because trail-building would be easy work there. The southwestern third of the property would be an easy place to build too … once you reached it. At least one bridge over Quaas Creek would be needed and I don’t know where it would be best situated. There are wetlands and other areas of heavy vegetation along the creek. The northwestern section of the property would be difficult to develop, but not impossible. I think we could get about half a mile of mountain bike trails out of Park Site O before we had to bridge the creek, and maybe 2 miles overall. You could weave around every tree just for the sake of making the trail longer, but on very non-technical terrain that would be silly. And once it’s built, it needs to be maintained, so let’s keep it simple.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Busy On 12/13/14

I chose the 29er for today's all-conditions ride.

If I say, “Saturday, December 13,” you probably do not think, “A full day of cycling in Wisconsin,” but that’s exactly what today was.

As I ate breakfast I watched the live webcast of Scheldecross from Belgium. That new Chromebox makes the viewing experience so much better, and I get to enjoy it again tomorrow morning for Zilvermeercross.

After breakfast I checked out the Milwaukee Area Bike Swap. The event has been running every winter since 2008—it was held in the UW-Milwaukee student union through 2012, then moved to Riverside High School—and it has always been on my calendar, but this was the first time I actually went. For $5 it was cheap bike-related entertainment and a chance to see some friends. There were many great deals, but I didn’t need anything.

Returning to West Bend early in the afternoon, I did a 1-hour ride with Jeff Wren through Royal Oaks Park, then up the Eisenbahn for a few miles, then through Glacial Blue Hills and Regner Park. We were wind-blown and mud-spattered, but happy to be riding outside this late in the year.

At 4 p.m., I joined four other people for what might prove to be the final meeting of the Washington County Bicycle Club. We agreed to cease operating as a formal club, but we are hopeful that the creation of a standing Saturday ride will give area cyclists a framework in which they can come together as a group. Some of the details still need to be worked out and that probably will happen after additional discussion on Facebook. Basically, what was the WCBC is now a Facebook group. West Bend has a standing Thursday evening ride that exists outside of any club structure. Our hope is that the Saturday ride also will organize and regulate itself without formal leadership.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Imagining A Permanent Bike Park For West Bend

Last Saturday the Daily News ran an article about Park Site O, almost 78 acres of city-owned land for which West Bend has no development plans. It’s a nice property whose size and natural features are nearly identical to those of Regner Park. But unlike Regner, Park Site O is a somewhat isolated property without residential neighbors. Since the city acquired the property in 2002, there has been no public demand for development. In the Daily News article, the city’s Director of Parks, Recreation & Forestry said he thinks development of Park Site O could still be at least a decade away.

Back in 2011, I was thinking about Park Site O as a potential bike park. Clearly, some of that was just fantasy. As cool as it would be to have a velodrome in West Bend, usage would not justify the construction and maintenance costs. But what about a permanent cyclocross course, singletrack for mountain biking, and a pump track? Those possibilities have more realistic requirements—just labor, really, not materials.

I can imagine Park Site O as the new home for cyclocross in West Bend, a replacement for Royal Oaks Park and potentially a venue for sanctioned racing. The Royal Oaks practice course has served us well for the last three years but it is too short to host an actual race and there’s no off-street parking. At Park Site O the entire course could be established with a lawnmower, and barriers—perhaps just small logs dragged out from the woods—could be left in place permanently. The course would be available anytime, not just for an hour or two on Tuesdays in August and September. Creating the singletrack would be mostly an exercise in raking leaves and removing fallen branches. There are few rocks at Park Site O, and little elevation change. And the pump track doesn’t have to be an expensively manufactured feature like the one in Port Washington; it could be constructed out of dirt. The pump track would have a very small footprint and could be placed anywhere with level ground. I don’t yet know exactly where the singletrack would go. The cyclocross course might look something like this:

It would be contained within a rolling, open field:

Trails in the field would connect to singletrack in the woods beyond. The woods to the north and immediately to the west consist of widely-spaced trees and few natural obstacles. You could create beginner-friendly trails almost anywhere within them, and that would be a nice complement to the more challenging trails of the city's Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area.

Turning Park Site O into a bike park would be a big job and certainly is not something I could do alone. But it is an idea that might excite the local cycling community. We'll see. In August I contacted Parks, Recreation & Forestry to see whether I might use Park Site O for cyclocross practice and that idea was well-received. The prospect of development without cost should excite City Hall. The city also can take comfort in knowing that if someday it decides to use Park Site O in a different way, all of my proposed changes would disappear after a few months without maintenance. The goal, of course, is to create something so worthwhile that lots of people will use it and be willing to take care of it for years to come.

Friday, December 5, 2014


I delayed the call as long as I could, but I think I knew for at least the last few days that I wouldn’t be lining up tomorrow at the state cyclocross championships. I won’t blame the lingering soreness in my left hip and my lower back from a little crash on Tuesday’s training ride. After resting on Wednesday, yesterday I got on the indoor trainer for an hour without any real discomfort. And while the weather forecast isn’t to my liking—at 9 a.m. tomorrow the wind chill will be around 20 degrees—I still might have done the race if I felt prepared.

The big problem is that I have lost so much fitness since my last race and I know I would not be competitive. I have ridden just 103 miles since Cam-Rock Cross on November 8 and my indoor workouts have not been sufficient. Weight is up, fitness is down, and psychologically I am unable to rally myself.

My 2014 race season is over but I have not given up on riding. We will have some days in the high 30s and maybe even the low 40s during the next week or so. There’s no pressure to train now—I don’t expect to race again until at least May—but the deeper into the winter I ride, the better prepared I will be for next season. Slow base miles will be just fine for a while.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cycling At 1.4 GHz

The components.

Cyber Monday was good to me. My new toy arrived today: an HP Chromebox. It’s a stripped-down personal computer with a wireless keyboard, a wireless mouse, and an HDMI output. Basically, it’s a web browser for my living room TV. For just $149.99, I could not resist.

The purchase was motivated almost completely by my love for cycling. I don’t watch a lot of television, but I do watch a lot of bike racing on the Internet. That has meant hundreds of hours in the home office—where I spend too much time already—staring at a 22-inch monitor. Now I can watch bike racing on a much larger screen and in greater comfort.

Up and running!

If you are familiar only with the cycling coverage from American TV networks, then you might be surprised by the quantity and quality of live webcasts. Some of my favorite events are available only on the Internet, but even televised races can be better online. Tour Tracker is a great alternative for races like the Tour of California, the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge, providing many additional hours of coverage, tons of on-screen information to augment the commentary, and (usually) video that continues during commercial breaks.

Today I can only play around with YouTube videos of completed races, but this weekend there will be live cyclocross to enjoy!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

5,117 ... And Counting

Possibly the 2 most important miles I have ridden so far this year ...

With 22 miles split between my mountain bike and my cyclocross bike, today I reached 5,117 miles, year-to-date. That’s a personal record, beating the 5,113 miles I rode in 2011. For the first 20 miles of today’s ride I used the mountain bike, taking advantage of its wide tires as I passed through a succession of city and county parks where some of the trails were still covered with snow.

The 2 miles I rode on my cyclocross bike were at Dretzka Park in Milwaukee, a preview lap of next Saturday’s state cyclocross championship course. With temperatures in the low 40s today, the snow melted quickly (though not completely) and the course was muddy but rideable. If the weather forecast is correct, then the course should dry out during the next week.

Now that I have seen the course, I really want to race it. The course is not super-technical and it features a long climb that should be a good place for me to distance a couple of my rivals. But I haven’t raced since Nov. 8, my training volume has decreased and my weight has increased. I need a good week of training, outside, to give me the confidence to do well next Saturday.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bike Friday

Forget about Black Friday insanity at the “big box” stores. Get over to Pedal Moraine tomorrow between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., or on Small Business Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for great deals and service from people who care about your cycling experience.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The WORS That Could Happen

What? No Sunburst Showdown?

This morning the Wisconsin Off-Road Series announced its 2015 schedule, an interesting mix of old and new. I wasn’t really part of the series this year—I did only the WORS Cup short track race and the Reforestation Ramble—but I might do more next season.

Waukesha will replace Franklin as the home of the Colectivo race. I skipped Colectivo this year because the cyclocross season was already in progress, but I am likely to do next year’s race. Some WORS venues are open only on race weekends or located far from home, while Minooka Park is a place at which I could practice several times to improve my odds for a good result. I have heard nothing but positive things about Minooka Park since August when it was used by the nascent high school mountain biking league in what many of us suspected was a trial run for inclusion by WORS.

Cyclocross likely will be my main goal again in 2015 and that probably means no WORS races for me after Aug. 23. At least for now, I am not very interested in the details of the Sep. 27 WORS race … and I don’t know whether you should read anything into the placement of the number 11 on the map above.

I won’t be 50 years old until June but I can race the entire 2015 WORS season in the 50-54 age group. That gives me a little extra motivation to chase series points. After upgrading to Cat 2 (Sport) for the 2013 season, I was a mid-pack finisher in the 45-49 age group. The 50-54 age group has its share of really accomplished racers—a few of whom I am unlikely to challenge—but I could be in the hunt for occasional trips to the podium and a Top 5 overall placing on points.

Every new season is fun to think about but things rarely go as planned and what sounds good today might sound ridiculous 6 months from now. There are a couple of WEMS races that are every bit as important to me as my favorite WORS events, and the 2015 WEMS calendar isn’t out yet. The dates are unlikely to conflict but it’s too early for me to make any real commitments.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Less To Worry About

Sunday’s cyclocross race in Madison has been cancelled. The city’s parks department worried that the race would cause too much damage to Hiestand Park. Southern Wisconsin is about to go from frozen and snow-covered to 40-something and rainy. A couple of hundred racers turning several hundred laps on soggy ground is a recipe for deep, muddy ruts. I was probably going to skip the race anyway and now I don’t have to keep watching the weather forecast and delaying my decision.

So, that’s it for the 2014 WCA season except for the state championships. My participation in the finale is far from guaranteed. Even with a poor performance I could wrap up the top spot on series points in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ standings. But if it’s too cold and/or too wet on Dec. 6, then I simply won’t bother. As I have noted before, there’s no prize for amassing the most points in my category. In the meantime, I will keep training. On Saturday I should have an opportunity to ride outside for the first time since Nov. 9. The trainer workouts I have done since then have been a poor substitute.

Having this week off from work but feeling stuck indoors, I completed a bunch of household projects. Most of these initiatives were motivated by Thanksgiving—the house needs to be at its best when we receive guests next Thursday—but a few were motivated by boredom. It’s hard to fill the time that work and cycling usually demand; I probably should have more than one hobby. Anyway, I took care of some things myself and I hired an electrician for the rest. Now there are new ceiling lights in the family room and the home office, a new outlet under the kitchen sink to bring the garbage disposal back online (no more stretching an extension cord across the floor), an up-to-code GFCI outlet next to the sink in the main bathroom, and other improvements. The house is cleaner, safer, more efficient and more attractive.

Home improvements are hugely satisfying at any time of year, but never more than during cold weather months when I’m bored and feeling sorry for myself. Periods of bad weather are also good times to expand my music collection and during the last two weeks I added another 21 titles: an eclectic mix of stuff as old as July 1970 and as recent as 10 days ago, totaling 16 hours of entertainment. Now that I have listened to each title once, I will revisit those I really enjoyed. Too much idle time makes me grumpy, so the combination of the home projects and the new tunes has helped to keep the blues away during this separation from cycling.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Rest Day Without Regrets

With snow on the ground and wind chill in the teens, today’s Kringle Kross in Hales Corners went on without me. Actually, it went on without a lot of series regulars. Some of them were turned off by the weather, no doubt, while others raced in Iowa at Jingle Cross, a 3-day event that attracts many of the top domestic pros. Whatever the case, in several of the categories at Kringle Kross one could reach the podium simply by finishing the race. I didn’t feel the slightest bit of regret this morning as I sat in my home office watching a Superprestige series cyclocross race from Belgium. And later today as photos of bikes caked in snow and mud began to appear in my friends’ Facebook posts, I was even more certain that I had made the right choice for myself. I know a few people who love such conditions and I hope they had fun, but I am not one of them.

There is some hope for warmer weather by next Sunday when the WCA season continues in Madison. To stay ready I will use my indoor trainer, because I cannot work with this:

Those air temperatures are bad enough; calculate the chilling effect of such high winds and this week is really going to suck. But I need to keep enough motivation to push through those trainer workouts. Next Sunday might be OK. I don’t believe it, but I have to believe it. I haven’t ridden outside since last Sunday, Nov. 9. If I have ridden my last outdoor miles of 2014, then this will be my earliest end to a riding season since Nov. 2, 2008.

I am keeping my fingers crossed … if only because the shared warmth will delay the onset of frostbite.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Another Stay-cation

Halfway through this week, my thoughts already have turned to next week and the opportunities it presents. I will be away from work but not away from home, as there is no place that meets my roadtrip criteria of warm, close and cheap. Even places as far south as Dallas and Atlanta cannot promise a full week in the 50s, which isn’t that warm anyway. I guess I’m stuck with sub-freezing temperatures and high winds, the kind of weather that is literally good for nothing and emphatically poor for cycling. I am unlikely to ride in those conditions. I would reach for the snowshoes, but there’s no snow.

So, what are my opportunities for outdoor recreation next week? Hiking is the obvious choice. It’s the epitome of close and cheap. And while there is no warm option, hiking at least will keep me out of the wind. Without leaving town I could do a 2-hour hike on the hilly and heavily-wooded Ice Age Trail:

That’s 6.2 miles of excellent cross-training, and I have never done the whole thing at once. The Ice Age Trail is going to be more than 1,000 miles long someday. About 600 miles are in service now, but in some places there are significant gaps between the finished segments. We’re lucky to have a lot of completed trail nearby and much of it is still unfamiliar to me. There are long, unbroken sections of the Ice Age Trail in the Northern Kettle Moraine. My goal for next week is to explore them.

I have not abandoned my cycling ambitions. There are cyclocross races on each of the next two Sundays, then the state championships on December 6. I am neither “in” nor “out” right now, so I will continue with indoor trainer workouts to stay ready. And with 64 more miles of outdoor riding I would have a new personal best for mileage in a calendar year. Just give me a break with the weather. In an average year we would have highs in the 40s until almost the end of November. That would be good enough, but there’s nothing like it in the forecast.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

2014 Cam-Rock Cross

Post-race, home-brewed goodness by Ian “The ’Cross Examiner” Prust. Photo by Steve Cummins.

Winter is coming. We could feel it in the stiff wind out of the northwest today at Cam-Rock Cross in Cambridge, and the forecast for the next 10 days is a downward spiral that is likely to end with snow on the ground and temperatures that would be cold even for January. I don't handle the cold very well. But if today’s race was my “last hurrah” of 2014, then I am almost completely satisfied with what has been my best cyclocross season ever.

I took 3rd place out of 19 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ group on a course that was nearly perfect for me: plenty of hammer-down sections and a couple of technical challenges that were real problems for some of my closest rivals. I extended my series points lead but I probably will need to do at least 1 of the final 3 races to keep it. And I don’t know if it’s worth keeping. There is no season-end award for the points leader in my category; it’s just a bragging rights thing. But maybe next week’s arctic blast will be fleeting and we’ll go back to our usual bad weather before the season ends. I don’t want to be done yet.

Today’s race began with a furious dash to the first turn, which bent to the left at nearly 180 degrees. Seven of us negotiated it cleanly while the rest of the field stacked up. For a lot of guys, the race was effectively over at that moment. Joe Vadeboncoeur (unattached), Barney Sheafor (Trek Midwest Team), Michael Mayer (Trek Midwest Team), West Bend's Troy Sable (unattached), Larry Gundlach (MadCity Racing), Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) and I were away. But soon Gundlach faded, a surprise since he rode so well just last weekend to win the Battle of Waterloo. Badger and I were nearly dropped on the first climb, but I worked my way back to Badger and then we bridged up to the others.

Halfway through Lap 1 we reached an interesting obstacle: a small log followed just a few feet later by a much larger log. Just as I had in practice, in the race I was able to ride over both logs. But it didn’t escape my notice that several of my rivals were forced to dismount. By remaining on the bike I was able to accelerate up the little climb on the other side of the logs while others struggled to remount and resume. By Lap 3 it looked like Vadeboncoeur, Sheafor and Mayer were gone. I was running with Sable and Badger when again I hopped over the logs and shot up the hill. That got Sable off my back but Badger was still too close for comfort. Trying to shake him propelled me forward early in Lap 4. I couldn’t lose Badger on the short hill early in the lap—it just wasn’t hard enough—but then I caught Mayer for 3rd place and that was very motivating. Crossing the logs for the final time, I hit the gas on the climb and got a good gap on Mayer and Badger. Heading for the final turn, I could see Sheafor just ahead but I ran out of racecourse. Vadeboncoeur took the win today, his 2nd win in the series this season. Mayer held off Badger for 4th, followed by Gundlach and Sable.

Oh, and …

On Friday afternoon I reached 5,000 miles of cycling, the 3rd time in the last 4 years I have hit that mark. I likely would have gotten there last year if not for the month lost to a collarbone fracture. My last mileage goal for 2014 is to exceed 5,113 and make this my all-time best year.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

One Step Closer

At 9 a.m. on Saturday I was in my home office watching streaming coverage of Koppenbergcross from Belgium. I had decided on Friday evening that I would not compete in my own cyclocross race at Estabrook Park in Milwaukee. The weather forecast was unfavorable, and it proved correct: wind chill in the 20s. That’s just too cold for me. Maybe I will get there someday—in my evolution as a cyclist I have dramatically expanded the temperature range in which I operate—but I’m not there yet.

When I awoke today the temperature was just 27 degrees but the hour-by-hour forecast promised sunny skies and a reasonably quick warmup, so I headed west for the Battle of Waterloo. I had previewed Firemen’s Park in September when I was in Waterloo to watch the Trek CXC Cup, but I couldn’t be sure where the course would go. What I found today was a course that suited my abilities well and contributed to my best-ever finish: 2nd place out of 13 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ race. After four 4th-place finishes and three 3rd-place finishes this year, it was great to take an extra step up in the standings.

Early in the race I flirted with the idea of reaching the podium’s top step. I got a very good start and led the race for half a lap before Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) and Larry Gundlach (MadCity Racing) dropped me into 3rd place. The three of us stayed close together and started to open a serious gap on our pursuers. If Lap 1 was a manic sprint to break free from the pack, then Lap 2 was a time for the leaders to look for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There seemed to be no place on the course where Gundlach was clearly superior or inferior to me, but Badger wasn’t climbing as well as I was. It was Cross-Shooshko all over again, but today I had to lose him before the last lap or Gundlach would simply ride away. On Lap 3 I dropped Badger and accelerated up to the leader. Gundlach and I ascended the big run-up together but I couldn’t overtake him. As the final lap began I was a couple of seconds behind, and I just never found them.

Today’s race was a return to form after a couple of disappointing results last weekend. I felt good physically, I handled the bike well on a course with several technical challenges, and my race tactics were sound. But I still have never raced later than Nov. 5 and the forecast for the next event on the WCA schedule—Cam-Rock Cross on Nov. 8—is far from ideal. Maybe I can make cold weather acclimation part of my training plan in the week ahead.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Did I Happen To Mention ...

Those of you who have ridden on the road with me this year know that I bought a new bike at the beginning of March. For the rest of you, this is news. Is it weird that I haven’t written about this until now?

My BMC granfondo GF02 has an anodized aluminum frame, a BMC carbon fiber fork and seatpost, an Easton carbon fiber handlebar, and the full SRAM Red 10-speed group. The bike came with Mavic Ksyrium Equipe S wheels but currently they are on loan to my cyclocross bike. Fully assembled, the BMC weighed in at just slightly more than 15 pounds. It’s an amazing machine … but not $5,500 worth of amazing. That was the full retail price. I paid only $1,600 cash by buying at the end of the 2013 model year and from a bike shop that was going out of business.

I wasn’t really in the market for a new road bike, but I couldn’t pass up that deal. As the name suggests, the BMC granfondo GF02 is an endurance road bike with somewhat less aggressive geometry than bikes like my Raleigh Competition, which has gotten almost no attention this year. The BMC is simply a better fit for the kind of riding I do most. But the Raleigh is too nice to be relegated to only indoor trainer duty, and I keep thinking about turning it into a time trial bike.

The BMC isn’t just another bike in the stable, it’s the workhorse. As today begins, I have ridden 4,900 miles in 2014. Almost 3,200 of those miles have been on the BMC. I am not looking forward to replacing high-end SRAM Red components as they wear out, but so far I am enjoying the ride.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Worrisome Weekend

Jeff Wren leads Troy Sable in the elite Cat 4 race as the bagpipes play at Celtic Cross.

The final race of my 2012 cyclocross season was the Halloween Classic at Washington Park in Milwaukee. I went into it feeling burned out and I performed badly, losing to a couple of guys who had never beaten me before. I think I had decided to pull the plug on my season before I hit the finish line.

On Saturday, this year’s edition of the Halloween Classic was a little less unkind to me but I still didn’t get the result I wanted: 7th out of 19 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ race. Anthony James (Team Extreme) took 1st place over PJ Braun (Heavy Pedal Velo) and Andrew Stevens (Rat City Racers). Thomas Clark (Heavy Pedal Velo) took 4th place and wasn’t very far ahead of me early in Lap 2. Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), Troy Sable (unattached) and I were chasing Clark when I slid out in a tight corner. I got back on the bike quickly and never lost sight of Wren and Sable, but I couldn’t get back up to them. On Lap 3 I was really just holding off a challenger from behind.

That was a disappointing result, but not nearly as disappointing as taking 7th out of 14 today at Celtic Cross in Fitchburg. James won again; I haven’t come close to beating him in any of our head-to-head meetings this season. Again I chased Sable (5th) and Wren (6th) without success but at least I could see them. The top 4 finishers were completely out of sight by the time I started my final lap.

The futility of my efforts is the point that was really driven home this weekend. This season I wanted to accumulate upgrade points, but now that I have enough of them I don’t want to upgrade. I didn’t even challenge for a podium spot this weekend, much less a victory, so what sense does it make to move on to an even more demanding level of competition? And what sense does it make to keep racking up WCA series points when there’s no season-long prize in Cat 4 Masters?

I did 8 races in October. There are 5 scheduled for November, 3 of which are in the Madison area and I am beginning to tire of the pre-dawn drive to the race venues. This was a gorgeous weekend but next Saturday and Sunday won’t be so nice. My motivation is waning and I might skip next weekend’s Masters races in favor of the elite (not age-restricted) Cat 4 contests. My fellow West Benders, Wren and Sable, have been racing Masters 45+ and elite Cat 4 all season. They get mid-pack results in the elite race and I figure I can too. If I already do not have a chance to win the Masters 45+ race—and I do not—then I have nothing to lose by jumping in with elite Cat 4 and at least I’ll be a little warmer due to the later start time.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Paucity Of Podium Appearances

Plain vanilla: Enjoyable in moderation, but anesthetic to the palate in excess.
Remember what I said a few days ago about being a consistently good but never great cyclocross racer? It happened again this weekend. Don’t get me wrong: being consistently good is better than being just average or consistently bad. And I probably never will be consistently great, but at this point I would settle for occasionally great.

On Saturday at the Sun Prairie Cup, I was 4th out of 17 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ race. I started well and even led the race for a few minutes, but eventually I was passed and began to lose ground to Joe Vadeboncoeur (unattached) of Lake Mills and Jeff Schifano (unattached) of Oconomowoc, who finished 1st and 2nd, respectively. I didn’t race badly; they were just faster. Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) outsprinted me for the final podium spot, beating me to the line by about 6 inches after chasing me for 4 long laps.

Today at Gordeldiercross in Milwaukee, I was 4th out of 16 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ race. Anthony James (Team Extreme) took his 3rd victory this season, overcoming a brilliant start by Andrew Stevens (Rat City Racers), who settled for 2nd. West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) passed me for 3rd early in Lap 1. The hard chargers of the 45+ age group wasted no time reaching the tail end of the 35+ field, and searching for passing lanes through the slower traffic created gaps between us that ultimately could not be overcome. I spent the rest of the race picking off more of the 35+ guys, never really closing on Sable and never really feeling pressured by the racers behind me.

So, that’s a 4th place finish in each of my last 3 races, and my 4th such finish overall. I have made 3 trips to the podium this season as the 3rd place finisher. It would be so nice to stand on that top step, if just once, before I leave Cat 4 Masters behind. I am now in voluntary upgrade territory. I am not yet in mandatory upgrade territory. Moving up to Cat 3 still feels like too large of a leap. At least for next weekend I will remain in Cat 4, where by virtue of having been so consistently good but never great I am the Masters 45+ series leader:

If only that were worth something!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Chance To Shape The Future

I have said it for years: Washington County is a great place to be a cyclist. Of course, it could be even better. Next week, you and I will have a special opportunity to advocate the changes we would like to see:

It’s time to follow up on a survey conducted last year by the Planning & Parks Department. Here are some of the most interesting findings from that survey, reprinted word-for-word as they appear at the county’s website:
  • The five most frequently visited facilities in the County Park system: 1) Eisenbahn State Trail; 2) Ridge Run; 3) Glacier Hills; 4) Sandy Knoll; 5) Ackerman’s Grove.
  • The five most popular activities when visiting the County Park System: 1) Walking/running/jogging; 2) Hiking; 3) Biking; 4) Relaxation/stress relief; 5) Nature viewing/study.
  • The five most requested additional recreational activities/amenities: 1) Additional bike trails, 2) Lookout towers; 3) Trail signage displaying slopes, distances and trail surfacing; 4) Additional benches along trails; 5) Dog parks.
  • Nearly three quarters (460, 74%) of respondents were in favor of the County investing in additional countywide trails similar to the Eisenbahn State Trail.
  • Of the 459 responses, 94% (429) indicated that new trails should connect cities and villages throughout the County.
  • Of the 460 responses, 95% (438) indicated that new trails should connect major existing parks and trails throughout the County.
  • Of the 460 responses, 89% (408) indicated that new trails should connect to existing trails in adjacent counties.
  • When asked to provide comments regarding the County Park system the most frequent response indicated appreciation for parks and/or trails in general, the County Park System, or various aspects of the system. The second most frequent response was support for the enhancement of the trail system in Washington County. Respondents expressed support for expansion, connection, and improved access to existing trails; construction of new trails; more trails similar to the Eisenbahn State Trail; extension of the paved portion of the Eisenbahn State Trail; additional amenities along trails such as additional signage, waste collection receptacles, and benches; more off-road/unpaved hiking and biking trails; and various improvements to existing hiking and biking trails.
So, people really like the Eisenbahn and they want new connections between communities, parks and existing trails. Sounds good to me, but it’s important to remember that 92% of survey respondents were people who “expressed that parks and trails were either somewhat or very important to their quality of life in Washington County.” In the general population you should expect less support … much less once you present taxpayers with the construction estimates. This is a good time to remember your history: the Eisenbahn was an abandoned railroad corridor acquired by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, given to the counties of Washington and Fond du Lac to develop, and then partially paved with asphalt by the City of West Bend. There’s no harm in dreaming big, but understand that there is only so much Planning & Parks can do. Money is tight, nearly all land in Washington County is in private hands, and there will be opposition to almost any proposal.

I’m going to make a less ambitious but more achievable suggestion: allow bicycles on county park trails! This is just an administrative change. It can be done right away and free of charge. There’s potential for mountain biking at places like Ridge Run and Glacier Hills, and for winter fatbike riding at Sandy Knoll and Homestead Hollow. Several parks have great potential as cyclocross venues.

Can the county work with individual landowners and private groups like the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust to acquire easements for new trail connections? Example: Sandy Knoll and Lizard Mound are just a half mile apart, connected by a farmer's tractor path. A couple of signs and modest improvements to the path would create a convenient link.

Can the county begin a dialogue with the DNR to identify utility corridors, waterways, and abandoned railroad lines that could be used for new trail development? If someday there’s a chance to extend the Eisenbahn south to Jackson and beyond, let’s do it!

For what it’s worth, there aren’t that many miles of railroad in the county, and most of what remains in service has a north-south orientation. There’s already a strong north-south bias in our existing trail network. If you want an east-west bike trail someday—and OK, this more than qualifies as dreaming big—look to the power line corridors. As ambitious as this may appear, it would be easier to expand existing easements than to negotiate new ones with dozens of private landowners along some other route. (You need only look at the gaps in the Ice Age Trail to see how long and difficult the latter can be.) Could the county benefit from something like this?

That’s a potential power line trail across almost the entire county, starting in a residential neighborhood on the northwest side of Hartford and ending at the Ozaukee County line. Establish short bike lanes or bike routes to connect the trail to Slinger, West Bend and Jackson and you have tied together most of the county’s population centers. If you can get Ozaukee to buy into the program, someday the trail could intersect with the Interurban just west of Port Washington. It’s a seven-figure project—even if the trail were gravel, there would still be creeks and highways over which bridges would be required—but it satisfies many of the things that people say they want.

I will welcome any new infrastructure that eventually comes out of next week’s meeting, but I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I will be happy if all I get is access to existing trails that currently are closed to me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rethinking My Cyclocross Priorities

Do I want to become the fastest slow old guy or the slowest fast old guy? (Dave Thorpe photo)

When the current cyclocross season began I was determined to accumulate USA Cycling upgrade points as quickly as possible. I wanted to move up to Cat 3 to take advantage of the later start time and the longer race time. I reasoned that a 45-minute race at 2:30 p.m. would be better for me than a 30-minute race at 9 a.m. because I have the endurance for the longer race and I surely would benefit from warmer temperatures and a dry course. (At last Saturday’s race, frost still covered much of the course at 9 a.m.)

Now that I am just 1 point away from the voluntary upgrade threshold, I am less sure that I should upgrade at the earliest opportunity. I’m no sandbagger, lingering in a category I have outgrown just to scoop up easy victories. My results show something quite different:

In the Cat 4 Masters 45+ field, I am consistently good but never great. Are those the palmar├Ęs of someone who should upgrade into certain obscurity in the Masters 1/2/3 field? Should I choose to upgrade if I get one more 4th place finish? Should I be forced to upgrade if I get three more 3rd place finishes? I want to be competitive within my category, and right now I am. I’m riding my guts out just to make the podium; I haven’t really challenged for 1st place in any of my cyclocross races, ever.

I will race with the Cat 4 Masters at Sun Prairie on Saturday, making every effort to get the last point I need to reach the voluntary upgrade threshold. If it doesn’t come there, then perhaps it will come at Doyne Park in Milwaukee on Sunday. I want to be able to upgrade on my own terms, so I will chase it until I get it. But then perhaps I should take an intermediate step up before condemning myself to permanent pack fodder status in Masters 1/2/3. Maybe I should compete in the open—i.e., not age-restricted—Cat 4 field. It’s a much larger pool of riders and making the podium would be almost impossible. Similarly, earning more upgrade points would be almost impossible. With my progress toward a mandatory upgrade on hold, I could get stronger and still enjoy the competition.

The open Cat 4 races begin at 10:30 a.m., so on a typical day I would race in conditions that are better than those at 9 a.m. but not quite as good as those at 2:30 p.m. That’s a compromise, but there’s compromise in all of these calculations and maybe the open Cat 4 race would be enough for me.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sock It To Me?

I ain’t cryin’, but I ain’t Laugh-In either.

This weekend could have been great. It wasn’t.

On Saturday at PumpkinCross in Grafton, I placed 6th out of 19 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ race. I began the day tied for 1st place on series points but I didn’t get a call-up due to a scoring error that I had brought to the attention of USA Cycling on Friday. Starting in the 2nd row, I never got close to the guys who eventually finished on the podium: Andrew Stevens (Rat City Racers), Anthony James (Team Extreme) and Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts). I have beaten Stevens and Badger this season, and now I am left to wonder whether I would have had a better result if I had not been forced to start from a disadvantageous position.

Today at Badger Prairie Cross in Verona, I placed 4th out of 13 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ race. Joseph Frost (unattached) of Rockford IL was 1st, followed by Joe Vadeboncoeur (unattached) of Lake Mills and Christopher West (Lakes Area Physical Therapy). The race sorted out early. Frost was gone on Lap 1. Vadeboncoeur and West dropped me on Lap 2 as I dropped Larry Gundlach (MadCity Racing), who started well but eventually finished in 7th place. Christopher Quinn (Team Magnus) was closing on me late in Lap 4 but ran out of time and had to settle for 5th place. Prizes went to the first 5 finishers and mine was a nice pair of DeFeet cycling socks. The style is something that I will actually wear and even the size is right … never a sure thing with feet as large as mine (12 US / 46 EUR). Taking 4th in the 13-man field gave me 1 more USA Cycling upgrade point. I have earned 9 of the 10 points I need to upgrade to Cat 3.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

2014 Flyover Silver Creek Cross

Don’t be fooled by the backdrop; this was not a WCA series race. (Jeff Wren photo)

The inaugural Flyover Silver Creek Cross race in Manitowoc was exactly what I thought it would be: a good opportunity to grab a USA Cycling upgrade point in a non-series event with a small turnout. I placed 3rd today in the 7-man Cat 4 Masters 45+ field. Thomas Clark (Heavy Pedal Velo) took the win, followed by Jeff Hatton (Titletown Flyers). Clark rode away easily after the first of three laps. Hatton and I battled throughout the entire race but no time ever seemed like the right time to pass him. If WCA series points had been at stake, then I might have been more aggressive. Under the circumstances, a lot of the fight went out of me when I knew I would finish in no worse than 3rd place.

I now have earned 8 upgrade points. The mandatory Cat 4-to-Cat 3 upgrade threshold is 15 points, and I could reach the voluntary upgrade threshold of 10 with my next race. There’s an unresolved question as to whether the 1 upgrade point I earned in 2013 can be applied this year, but that’s probably a moot point. I will have some discretion when it comes to the timing of the upgrade and it might not make sense to do it at the first opportunity. Ideally I will upgrade along with a couple of my rivals so that we can continue to race together in Masters 1/2/3.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

2014 Cross-Shooshko Cyclocross

Scones and gift cards for the podium! (Troy Sable photo)

A new venue in the WCA series this fall, Milwaukee’s Kosciuszko Park turned out to be a great course for me. I took 3rd out of 19 this morning in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ race. It was fun from start to finish.

The race began in the parking lot of Ben’s Cycle. We staged in the alley and then shot across 10th Street into the park. As the series points leader, I started from the most advantageous spot in the front row. But Andrew Stevens (Rat City Racers) quickly overtook me, followed by Jeff Gantz (Big Ring Flyers). Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) and West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) also started well. In the early moments it looked like things were sorting out and the winner would come from our group. But just before the halfway point of Lap 1, Anthony James (Team Extreme) shot around me and went straight to the front. It was an impressive move: James won the season opener at Sheboygan but had been sidelined ever since by back pain. I expected him to struggle with the very bumpy course surface at Kosciuszko Park, but when he went to the front he quickly gapped his pursuers. Gantz then crashed on a tight left-hand turn, effectively ending his podium bid. Badger was delayed by the crash and I moved into 3rd behind Stevens.

Badger recovered quickly, though, and made it back to my wheel. He eventually passed me when I had trouble clipping into my left pedal after dismounting for a barrier. Sable was still there, and Jeff Wandschneider (Belgianwerkx) was coming up fast. As Lap 3 began, James was long gone and Stevens was comfortably in 2nd place. In the fight for the last podium spot, Wandschneider turned up the heat. Sable faded but Wandschneider couldn’t shake Badger and me. Wandschneider later admitted he had miscalculated, expecting the race to be only 3 laps. As Lap 4 began, he was out of gas. I had been content to follow Badger and I thought I could take him in a sprint on the last straightaway if necessary, but my tactics changed when I saw him struggle with the first hill on the final lap. A few minutes later when we hit the base of the last hill, I attacked. Badger picked up the pursuit gamely and handled the remaining technical sections at least as well as I did, but I accelerated hard on the last two straightaways to open a clear gap before the finish line.

Today’s course rewarded steady, powerful pedaling. I can do that! The hills weren’t too long or too steep, but they became important to the race as rider fatigue accumulated. Barriers were placed in such a way that everyone took them slowly. There was no mud, no sand, and even the grass was dry. The air temperature was a chilly 39 degrees but I dressed well and was surprisingly comfortable throughout the race.

With 49 points each, Stevens and I now share the top spot in the series after 4 events. Badger is 3rd with 45 points, then James with 40, Gantz with 39, Sable with 38 and West Bend’s Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) with 36. In the Cat 4 Masters 55+ race today, Slinger’s Steve Cummins (Team Pedal Moraine) placed 2nd to retain his overall series lead.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Have you been to yet? Neat website. It allows you to analyze your cyclocross results several different ways, and it’s especially good at tracking head-to-head records against other racers. It’s also good for tracking your upgrade points, which is something the USA Cycling website doesn’t offer.

One of the most interesting features of is the Course Performance profile. It shows how your results were affected by these four broad questions:
  1. Was the course technical or easy?
  2. Was the course hilly or flat?
  3. Was the course tight and twisty or fast and open?
  4. Was the race held in wet or dry conditions?
The profile is a composite measure of performance that changes over time. Right now, mine looks like this:

I don’t think of myself as an especially adept technical rider, yet I score well on the first question. I do think of myself as someone who can outclimb most rivals, so I’m a little surprised at my slightly negative score on that question. I’m probably right where I should be on the third question: someone who would be better on a course that rewards steady pedaling over stop-and-go punchiness. I let my mouse pointer hover over the last criterion to show you the pop-up message. Course conditions are much on my mind today. I didn’t fare well on a wet course last month at Lake Geneva and I am not fired up about the possibility of wet conditions in Milwaukee and Manitowoc this weekend.

But’s assessment of me is history, not destiny. If I can get through Saturday’s race, then Sunday’s race should be easy by comparison. And I think next weekend’s races on the hilly courses of Grafton and Badger Prairie should be good opportunities for me … if they’re dry.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 E.T. Twilight Cross

(Anthony James photo)

Despite the lingering effects of a headcold that tried to bring me down on Wednesday and Thursday, I had a good performance in Saturday’s WCA cyclocross race at East Troy. The weather worked in my favor: it was sunny and almost 80 degrees for my 2:45 p.m. start. Some racers didn’t like the warmth, and in retrospect even I could have benefited from a water bottle during the 30-minute Cat 4 Masters race. I placed 4th out of 22 in the 45+ age group.

Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) took the win. I knew he would be a threat, so early Saturday morning I wrote his name and number of a piece of masking tape and affixed it to my handlebar as a reminder not to let him get away. But he got a clean start while I got boxed in by riders on both sides, and I never really got close to him again. Michael Hartzell (Trek Midwest Team) finished in 2nd place and Jeff Gantz (Big Ring Flyers) took 3rd. I could see those two just ahead of me late in the race, but I couldn’t close the gap.

My finish was worth 14 series points, giving me a total of 34 and moving me into 1st place after 3 races. West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) was the series leader but didn’t compete on Saturday. Andrew Stevens (Rat City Racers) was 6th at East Troy and is now 2nd in the series with 32 points. Steve Cummins (Team Pedal Moraine) won the Cat 4 Masters 55+ race and continues to lead the series in his age group. I earned 2 more USA Cycling upgrade points at East Troy, giving me a total of 5 in my quest to upgrade to Cat 3. That puts me halfway to the voluntary upgrade threshold and one third of the way to the mandatory level.

Next weekend will begin with a WCA series race in Milwaukee on Saturday and end with a non-series race in Manitowoc on Sunday. The weather won’t be as kind to me—right now it looks like we’ll have temperatures in the 40s on both of those mornings—but it will be a good weekend if I can maintain my series lead and pick up a couple of additional upgrade points.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer Ends (Did You Even Notice?)

Remember this? No, you do not remember this.

Today is the first day of autumn, and it’s a nice one. This week’s weather is going to be more summer-like than much of summer itself. On our warmest day, July 22, we hit 88 degrees. But daytime highs in the 80s were rare. Summer began on June 21 and from that date through September 22 we reached 80 degrees only 17 times and we never had more than 3 consecutive days with highs in the 80s. We had 61 days in the 70s, 11 days in the 60s, and 4 days in the 50s. Our lowest summertime high was 46 degrees on September 12. This summer our chances of hitting 80 were only slightly greater than our chances of being stuck below 70. Other stats I wish I had kept? How many times did we reach 70 degrees for only a few minutes late in the afternoon before we fell back into the 60s? How many times was the high temperature recorded just after midnight, the residual warmth of the previous day? Having 61 “70-degree” days sounds great, but the reality was far less satisfying than the raw numbers suggest.

From June 21 through September 22, I rode 2,298 miles. Summer wasn’t a complete loss by any means, but for more than a few of those miles I was wrapped up in warmers and tights. I’m putting Global Warming on notice: make a more sincere effort to improve things around here by 2019. That’s when my youngest child will graduate from high school and I will consider myself free to relocate. I will be 54 years old and maybe my priorities will be a little different. But I can’t imagine that I won’t still be a cyclist, and I can’t imagine that I won’t still want to live in perpetual summer.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Waterloo: Knowing My Fate Is To Be With You

Be the only one in the picture: 10-time national champion Katie Compton

As the 2014 cyclocross season began there was some reason to think that I would compete in the Trek CXC Cup, held this weekend at the Trek corporate headquarters in Waterloo. If the event had been part of the WCA series, then I surely would have raced on Saturday and Sunday, despite the hefty entry fee of $37 per race. And I might have done reasonably well. My category did not attract as large a field as I predicted, and a couple of the guys who grabbed upgrade points by finishing in the Top 5 are guys with whom I have had good head-to-head success.

But I was happy just to spectate in Waterloo on Saturday afternoon, arriving moments before the start of the women’s pro race. Katie Compton was the runaway winner. Then came the men’s pro race, won convincingly by Jeremy Powers. Compton and Powers won again today.

After the men’s race I took a slow drive through Fireman’s Park, which will be the site of the WCA race in Waterloo on November 2. I haven’t raced there before and I don’t know exactly where the course will go, but the park looks like a nice enough venue. It has some elevation change, lots of different surfaces over which the course could run, and plenty of buildings and trees. If I had to guess, the course will be tight and twisty. I would fare better on a course with long straightaways and long climbs, but I will look forward to the Waterloo race anyway.

Training this weekend consisted of a 28-mile road ride on Saturday before my trip to Waterloo and a 41-mile road ride this afternoon. I had a solid week: 10 hours in the saddle and a total of 169 miles. The challenge in the week to come will be to curb my enthusiasm. The weather forecast is so ridiculously favorable that I will be tempted to ride much more than I should in advance of next Saturday’s cyclocross race in East Troy. That course should suit me well.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Strengthening The Foundation

How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat? 

I wish I could prepare for every event the way I prepared for last Saturday’s WEMS race at New Fane. Getting 10th place was a good result. I could not have done that well without a high level of fitness, but having a lot of experience on those trails was a huge advantage too. I have ridden at New Fane 18 times this year, covering 253 miles in 23:58:56. I figured out a lot of things in the 17 practices that led up to the race, but the race itself revealed one major oversight: passing. I executed several passes during the race and almost all felt unnatural because they took me off my well-worn lines. Passing just doesn’t come up that often in practice, so in 2015 I will make it a point of emphasis.

Preparing for cyclocross is an altogether different proposition. Nobody really gets to train on actual racecourses … except maybe the guys who practice at Badger Prairie in Verona. Tuesday practices at Royal Oaks Park have been good for my fitness and, to some extent, for my bike handling skills. We will practice just two more times this year at Royal Oaks. In October I will have to make my own short-but-hard weeknight workouts. I am always tempted simply to do long-steady-distance road rides, but I cannot deny that the shorter and more intense workouts have had a great effect on me. I can sustain hard efforts longer and recover faster, and I have dropped 6 pounds since cyclocross practices began on August 5.

But base miles still matter and this week I will get a lot of them. Today I surpassed 4,100 miles year-to-date, and that’s significant to me because last year I finished with exactly 4,100 after losing a full month of prime riding time to a broken collarbone. With no races on my schedule this weekend I should have 12-15 hours of saddle time for September 15-21, inclusive. I have done 100 miles in 6 hours so far. In October, every weekend will have cyclocross races on both Saturday and Sunday. Throw in the travel time between home and the race venues and it’s a big commitment. But as tempting as it may be just to be done when the races end, I will make myself spin out the legs on Saturdays and go for longer rides on Sundays. My training volume will inevitably decline as shorter days force me to do shorter after-work rides. Treating each weekend as an opportunity to train—not just as a time to race—will allow me to maintain a deep reserve of endurance.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

2014 Lake Geneva Cross

Two races into the new WCA cyclocross season, I don’t know where I stand. On Sep. 6 at Sheboygan I had a successful series opener: 3rd place out of 13 in Masters 45+ Cat 4. But today at Lake Geneva I finished firmly in the middle of the pack: 13th out of 27.

The biggest question is, “Who am I racing against?” Dan Cleveland of Wheaton IL was today’s winner in a field split almost evenly between racers from Illinois and racers from Wisconsin. The two guys who beat me last weekend did not start today. I grabbed 5 points to move into a tie for 2nd place in the series, which now is led by fellow West Bend racer Troy Sable on the strength of his back-to-back 5th place finishes. If history is any guide, then most of the visitors from Illinois were using today’s race to tune up for their own series—the Chicago Cyclocross Cup begins on Sep. 28—and they do not have WCA series ambitions. But until we get a little deeper into the season their presence in the standings will make it hard to pick out the real contenders.

I didn’t ride badly today, but course conditions were less than ideal for me. Lake Geneva features a lot of off-camber turns and early this morning the grass was exceptionally wet. A long straightaway that used to be covered in wood chips is now a strip of mud. Potential hazards were everywhere. For the most part I picked good lines and I never felt like I was in imminent danger of crashing; I just couldn’t go very fast. When I could apply power to the pedals I chased people down or outdistanced my pursuers, but such moments were rare.

Two racers from Team Pedal Moraine reached the podium today. Jeff Melcher was 3rd in Masters 35+ Cat 1/2/3, and Steve Cummins was 3rd in Masters 55+ Cat 4. Cummins won his race at Sheboygan and remains the points leader in his category. The series will continue in East Troy on Sep. 27 and I plan to be there.

But I am probably out for the Trek CXC Cup next weekend in Waterloo. There are no series points on the line, the races in my category start even earlier in the morning, the entry fees are significantly higher, and in a large field I would be challenged to finish well enough to grab any USA Cycling upgrade points. Put a chance for rain into that mix and I probably should find something else to do.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

2014 Northern Kettles Fall Epic

More than a month ago I said that I would love a Top 10 finish in this year’s Northern Kettles Fall Epic mountain bike race at New Fane, and today I achieved my goal.

The men’s 3-hour category was won by 37-year-old Vince Steger (Brazen Dropouts), a Cat 1 from Fitchburg, who turned 7 laps in 2:38:51. Ted Hanes (Team Fond du Lac Cyclery) was second: 7 laps in 2:43:03. Ben Schreiber (Linear Sport) was third: 7 laps in 2:43:39. Greg Van Slyke, Pedal Moraine’s outstanding mechanic, rode his fat bike to fourth: 6 laps in 2:33:10. Next up were Jeramey Werbelow (Team Extreme), Chris Tamborino (Expo Racing), Brett Edgerle (Fat Kats), and Pedal Moraine owner Mark Ramsey.

Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) took ninth place: 6 laps in 2:41:08. I was 10th in 2:41:13. Late in the final lap I was right on Jeff’s wheel, but another racer had to dismount to get over the last steep little hill and riding around him was clumsy. I ran out of racecourse before I could recover the lost time. That’s too bad, because late in the race I was really gunning for Jeff:

Jeff     Lap     Dave
26:08     1      27:14
26:01     2      26:41
26:25     3      26:47
27:11     4      26:55
28:00     5      26:47
27:23     6      26:49

Oh, well. In the end, it was really Lap 1 that I couldn’t overcome. I didn’t get an especially good start, and late in the first lap I had to dismount to get around a rider who stalled on a tricky hill. On the other laps I was a model of consistency. Those times are in line with recent practice laps at New Fane, and today’s laps were slightly longer because of an extra loop cut into the grass around the timekeeper’s tent. At the beginning of Lap 4 I paused to exchange an empty water bottle for a full one, so the actual ride time for that lap was 26 minutes and 40-something seconds too.

I performed well and so did the bike. But, in my mind, my 10th-place finish comes with a little asterisk. Dan Schaefer (Team Fond du Lac Cyclery) was off to a very strong start and almost certainly would have ridden to a Top 5 finish if not for a flat tire on Lap 2. He flatted again later in the race. These things happen and he knows that, and he will be back.

The 3-hour men's field was 35 riders strong, a good turnout for a WEMS race and probably at least a little bit the result of bad weather and course conditions in northern Wisconsin, where the popular Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival was held earlier today.

That’s the end of my 2014 mountain bike racing season. Cyclocross is the focus from now until the end of the year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Praise For Practice

"The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare." Juma Ikangaa

We had another good cyclocross practice at Royal Oaks Park yesterday. One of the racers—a guy whose cycling accomplishments are far more impressive than mine—told me that he was glad he had fought against the impulse to skip this week’s session. We all have days when we’re “not feeling it,” and sometimes the best cure is simply to get on the bike and see what happens.

Another of the Royal Oaks regulars told me that he thought our practice races were actually tougher than the WCA race in his category back on Saturday in Sheboygan. That’s mostly because he is a Cat 5 who spends his Tuesdays chasing guys from higher categories, but let’s give some credit to the course at Royal Oaks. It is uncommonly hilly for a cyclocross course and offers few opportunities to recover from big efforts.

In Sheboygan, yet another member of the Royal Oaks gang asked me about the willingness to suffer. I can’t remember the exact words … something like, “During a race, how do you silence the voice that tells you to stop putting yourself into such extreme physical distress?” For me, the competitive impulse reigns supreme during a race. But mental toughness can be trained. Hard efforts in practice make hard efforts in competition seem less extraordinary.

Seven racers who regularly attend the Tuesday practices were in action at Sheboygan. Their results varied widely but they all would agree that their experiences at Royal Oaks made them better prepared for actual competition. We will continue through Sep. 30. After that, there just isn’t enough sunlight at the end of the workday.

CrossVegas Streams Live Tonight!

There have been a few pro cyclocross races already this season, but nothing on the scale of CrossVegas. Each year the event serves as the unofficial kickoff to the domestic season, and the field always includes a handful of top European pros as well as the best Americans. You can watch the action live at tonight at 9:45 p.m. Central.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Looking Back And Looking Ahead

On this date last year I broke my collarbone, crashing in mountain bike race on the day after the cyclocross season opener. Yesterday I tempted fate by going mountain biking on the day after this year’s cyclocross season opener. But lightning didn’t strike twice; I emerged from my practice session at New Fane with no damage to bike or body. Did I ride with extra caution? No. There are a few spots at New Fane that I always treat with considerable respect, but I was moving well yesterday:

Lap 1 was a cold start: I jumped onto the trail without any warmup. At 25:16.0, Lap 2 was the fastest lap I have recorded this year, a 9.5-second improvement over the old mark. Lap 3 was actually faster than the graphic indicates. I missed the Lap button on my Garmin when I re-entered the parking lot and I captured 36 extra seconds of ride time. This is confidence-inspiring stuff in advance of the Northern Kettles Fall Epic, the WEMS race at New Fane next Saturday.

I am not likely to ride the mountain bike again until the day of the race. I am not likely to ride it very much after the day of the race, as I have decided not to do the WEMS Championship on Oct. 4. On that date the 3-hour race begins at 12 noon, not at the usual time of 3 p.m. It would be almost impossible for me to do a cyclocross race in Milwaukee that morning and then get out to Alpine Valley for the mountain bike race. There’s another cyclocross race on Oct. 5, so I will save my energy for it instead of exhausting myself.

Today I will rack up some road bike miles. Tomorrow is all about cyclocross practice. If Wednesday isn’t a rain-mandated rest day, then I will hit the road again and make Thursday my rest day. I will be on the road again on Friday, but not for very long. Adequate rest before next weekend will be critical. The 3-hour WEMS race at New Fane would be enough of a test by itself, but on Sunday morning I will be in Lake Geneva for a cyclocross race. It’s only 30 minutes, but a bigger objective.

Sometime this week I will surpass 4,000 miles, year-to-date. Sometime next week I will surpass 4,100 miles, which was my mileage total during my injury-shortened 2013 season.