Saturday, March 29, 2014

My 2014 Spring Break

I am back in West Bend after a solo road trip that took me to 10 different states plus the District of Columbia. I drove 2,398 miles and I had a very good time overall, but I didn’t do as much cycling as I would have liked: just 4 rides for a total of 102 miles. I’m still feeling heavy, slow and unprepared for the season ahead.

My itinerary took me to Charleston IL last Friday. I was able to spend a few minutes talking to a friend I had not seen since I moved away from there during my sophomore year in high school. I rode the Lincoln Prairie Grass Trail to neighboring Mattoon and back, then paid a short visit to Charleston’s bike shop. Neither the trail nor Bike & Hike existed when I lived there. In the evening I drove to southeastern Indiana and spent the night in the back of the van at a highway rest area near Cincinnati. I slept reasonably well … certainly better than I would have in a tent. I think the van is going to be a more comfortable option on WORS weekends.

Lexington KY was my next stop and while I was happy to explore the Legacy Trail and a number of city streets, I was disappointed. The trail was great but I wasn’t crazy about the city. Southern cities all seem to sprawl for no good reason. Having satisfied my curiosity about Lexington, I drove on. By the time I reached Cumberland MD, I was ready for dinner, a shower, and a proper bed. It was going to be a cold night, so I checked into a hotel.

On Day 3 I ate breakfast at the hotel and watched part of Milano-Sanremo, but that’s such a long race (294 kilometers!) and I couldn’t wait around for it to finish. I had to be in Arlington VA for a 1 p.m. ride with another friend from my high school days. He has lived there for many years and knows the Washington DC area as a bicycle commuter. Our riding styles were not exactly in perfect harmony, but we enjoyed a 2-hour tour that included several prominent buildings and monuments. After the ride I drove to my mother’s house in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were cold, windy and occasionally wet. I wasn’t especially interested in riding, so I passed the time by completing some home projects for Mom and by reconnecting with several members of my extended family. Last year, an 8.5-mile paved bike trail opened near Mom’s house and on Thursday I included it in the final ride of my vacation. I would have liked to ride elsewhere in Pennsylvania, but more rain moved in and yesterday I decided to return to Wisconsin ahead of schedule.

So, things could have gone better but I knew that the weather might not cooperate. With just four more weeks to prepare for Cheesehead Roubaix and just five more weeks to prepare for the WORS season opener, let’s hope for more consistently nice weather here in Wisconsin.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It’s 5 O’Clock …

And that means vacation has begun! I am looking forward to it despite a weather forecast that is somewhat colder than normal for this time of year. At least my destination cities will be warmer than West Bend. The high temperature in Charleston IL will be 67 tomorrow. I should see 59 degrees in Lexington KY on Saturday and 50 in Arlington VA on Sunday. Next Monday through Friday, I will be in Pennsylvania where temperatures will be in the 40s.

For this trip, the cyclocross bike is the best choice. You can see it in the picture above, secured by bungee cords to the front seats. The cyclocross bike gives me the widest range of training opportunities. By taking two different wheelsets—one with road tires and the other with knobbies—I will be able to handle both paved and unpaved surfaces. There’s no singletrack in my plans, just a lot of road and rec trail riding, and some of those rec trails are made of dirt and gravel.

Rubber “gym floor” mats will serve as a reasonably comfortable sleeping area. Being able to sleep in the van really appeals to the cheapskate in me and should open up some additional travel possibilities later in the year. On this trip I will work out any kinks so that I don’t find them on WORS weekends. If the rubber mats aren’t good enough, then I’ll buy an air mattress. I plan to sleep in the van at least three times during the trip, including the first two nights.

As my vacation begins, I have ridden just 150 outdoor miles in 2014. By the same date last year, I had ridden 200 miles. I’m not hopelessly behind last year’s pace. If I return on the 30th with a total of 403, I will be right where I was a year ago.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Will Live Video Make Race Courses Shorter?

Because I will be away from home next Saturday, I will miss the webcast of the US Cup mountain bike race in Fontana CA. That will be the third race of the four-race series, with the finale scheduled for June 28 in Colorado Springs. I watched the first two races as they happened. The initial webcast was a little rough. I think there were just two cameras, so glimpses of the riders were few and far between. Today’s webcast was better: more cameras on the ground, plus occasional shots from a helicopter. In each case, play-by-play commentator Colt McElwaine deserves a lot of credit for keeping the webcast interesting during those long periods when the racers were out of sight.

As I watched the Mellow Johnny’s Classic back on March 1, I wondered whether live video coverage could affect how courses are designed. It’s an expensive proposition to outfit a long mountain bike course with cameras, so maybe it would make sense to create shorter courses to give viewers more opportunities to see the riders. That was the case today at the Bonelli Park race: laps of just 12-15 minutes, with lots of open areas that could be covered by a handful of cameras pivoting from fixed locations. It reminded me of the purpose-built mountain bike course for the 2012 London Olympics:

Is that the future? If the sport wants to attract spectators—both at the venues and for the broadcasts—then the answer might be yes. To monetize the fanbase, a race promoter simply cannot allow the racers to disappear into the woods for 90 minutes and then reappear for a 30-second dash to the finish line. Could you live with multiple short laps of a course that spends at least as much time in the open as in the woods? Is it still “real” mountain biking if some of the technical features are man-made, as they were at the London Olympics and today at Bonelli Park?

I don’t know. Cross country mountain biking is an endurance sport and it is just really damned hard to watch. You don’t want it to be transformed into a cyclocross or BMX race; those disciplines already exist. But if you want it to be financially viable at the professional level, then things have to change and the US Cup might become the engine of that change.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nice … For A Change

Riding counter-clockwise on this route made for a tough headwind on the way back home.

Today we reached 50 degrees for the first time in 2014. In fact, we briefly touched 54. Even with a pretty steady 12-15 mph wind that sometimes would gust above 20, this was by far the nicest day of the year. The brilliant sunshine and dry roads were a bonus. I outfitted my cyclocross bike with a set of road tires and enjoyed a 28-mile ride that included the last 5 miles of the Cheesehead Roubaix route. I might be out there still if I had not been hit with hunger pangs so powerful that they almost made me nauseous. And I had a big lunch today, so I don’t know what that was all about but this would have been a good day to have a Clif bar in my jersey pocket.

We still have not put winter behind us; today was a beautiful aberration. A snow shower is in tomorrow’s forecast and we’re expecting a high of just 18 on Wednesday. My Raleigh is still hooked up to the indoor trainer, and it will remain so until at least the middle of April. Last spring I did indoor trainer rides as late as April 10. You may recall that spring was not especially nice in 2013. It would be foolish to hope for anything better coming out of this winter. But today, at least, we got to feel good.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Russians Are Coming

Last known photo of Comrade Goofov …

You would think that the Russians would have enough on their plates as they try to tear down both the Sochi Olympic village and Ukrainian independence, but it seems they have time to read my blog. During the last week, Russian visitors to this blog have outpaced American visitors by a margin of more than 2-to-1:

I don’t understand the appeal, but if Jerry Lewis can be a comic genius in France and David Hasselhoff a pop music icon in Germany, then perhaps I can be a voice of reason for Russia. First lesson: If you are planning to visit/invade Wisconsin, then dress warmly. This week the weather is twice as warm in Moscow as it is in West Bend. In other words …

Она сосет здесь. Не подходи.

I think this is just a statistical bump in the road and soon my American audience will reclaim its rightful position atop the leaderboard. But it does make one wonder. If I disappear suddenly, check the gulags.

In the meantime, I am still doing my trainer rides and my upper body strength workouts, still waiting for another opportunity to ride outside, and still hoping that the weather forecast will improve for my upcoming vacation. This morning I had a routine annual physical examination by my doctor and all is well. Next Tuesday I will visit the dentist’s office where, I suspect, not all will be well but at least there will be a plan to make it better. Life—the life I want—is on hold and not even the impending return of Daylight Saving Time brings comfort. Another hour of after-work daylight should be welcome, but not if it’s just another hour of looking out at the ice and snow.