Thursday, May 29, 2014

2009 Superfly For Sale

If you are in the market for an excellent mountain bike at a price that won't break the bank, then check this out. One of my Team Pedal Moraine friends is selling his 2009 Gary Fisher (Trek) Superfly hardtail 29er. The bike is posted on craigslist for $1,850 but there is some wiggle room in that price for a local buyer. Purchased new in 2010, this carbon fiber bike has not seen a ton of use and has been very well maintained. Give it a new home!

Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 Gravel Metric

That's me in Team Pedal Moraine orange, fording Steward Creek at mile 49. (Matthew Jarrett photo)

On Sunday I returned to DeKalb IL for the Gravel Metric: 68 miles of gravel, dirt, turf, and (rarely) pavement. In 2010 I rode the inaugural Gravel Metric. It was great to go back and I was rewarded with a course that was better than the original.

Jeff Wren of Team Extreme accompanied me on the drive to DeKalb. Each of us was armed with a cyclocross bike, but our tire choices made a big difference shortly after we waved goodbye to the police escort that had guided us out of the city. Jeff’s road tires were too skinny and too highly pressurized to be effective on the sometimes extremely primitive country roads and farm tracks. With my cyclocross tires, I worked steadily through slower traffic, unaware that Jeff had stopped to lower his tire pressure. That was the end of our collaboration on the ride.

Or was it a race? No official results were kept, but Jamey Driscoll and Ben Berden were in attendance and made a point of beating everyone back to DeKalb:

If you don’t recognize those names, then you probably don’t follow professional cyclocross. Driscoll took 4th place in January at the national championship in Boulder CO. Berden is a Belgian with numerous European and American victories, including the cyclocross race at Sea Otter on April 12. At the Gravel Metric there were 360 riders and some were clearly in it just for fun, but many were racing or at least training hard.

I went as hard as I could for as long as I could, finishing in 4:14 with an average speed of 16.1 mph. That put me 45 minutes behind the chase group that finally had succumbed to Driscoll and Berden with 15 miles to go. At roughly the 60-mile mark I just couldn’t push the pace anymore. I lost a few positions before the finish line at the city limits, but I still was squarely in the top half of the field. Jeff arrived a little while later and we headed to the party tent for food and drinks. People were still on course as we left DeKalb.

Even after the post-ride party, I was 7 pounds lighter than I had been when I rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m.  A good breakfast, two Hammer Gels and two bottles of Nuun got me through an effort my Garmin estimated at 4,272 calories, but I surely would not have refused another bottle. The Gravel Metric, though, is completely unsupported and runs on roads that have no stores where riders could refuel or rehydrate. It’s a tough event but one for which I am well-suited: I’m a good rider on bad roads who can produce steady (if unspectacular) power for long distances and whose upper body doesn’t wear out.

The Gravel Metric was the highlight of my 3-day weekend, but there were other noteworthy moments. The weekend began with a well-attended, well-executed Washington County Bicycle Club ride. Those 45 miles on Saturday set me up for a good performance on Sunday. This morning I officiated a time trial at Sandy Knoll County Park, then hurried home to watch the USA Cycling National Championships from Chattanooga TN. Alison Powers won the women’s road race to become the first person to hold all three championship jerseys: criterium, time trial and road race. The men’s road race was marred by a high-speed crash that left newly-crowned TT champion Taylor Phinney with a broken leg. Eric Marcotte won in an exciting bunch sprint after a manic final 4 kilometers.

Last week I covered 224 miles in 14 hours, doing a mix of mountain biking, road riding and gravel grinding. It was my heaviest training week since July 2013. This week also will be a period of high mileage and saddle time, then I will taper for the June 7 Stump Farm WEMS race. I want plenty of endurance for my first mountain bike race in 9 months, but I also want some snap in my legs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Approaching Optimal Operating Temperature

What a gorgeous Tuesday! It was West Bend’s first 80-degree day since Sep. 19, 2013. Early in the afternoon I did a 46-mile, out-and-back Eisenbahn State Trail ride on my cyclocross bike, evaluating its readiness for Sunday’s Gravel Metric. The bike performed well and I felt pretty good too. Look at the consistency of my effort over the entire distance:

Split 1: My house to Campbellsport
Split 2: Campbellsport to Eden
Split 3: Eden to Campbellsport
Split 4: Campbellsport to my house

An average moving speed of 16.4 mph isn’t too shabby over 46 miles of a mostly gravel surface. I want to ride well at the Gravel Metric and today’s training ride was a good confidence booster.

Later I joined several of my Team Pedal Moraine teammates at New Fane for mountain bike time trials. Our two fastest racers were there and my times didn’t compare favorably to theirs, but I am showing improvement. On May 3—my first time on singletrack since my crash in Lake Geneva last September—I turned in laps of 31:30 and 31:50. On Sunday I cut my lap times down to 28:17 and 28:16. Today I completed my first lap in 26:59. I did a second lap just because all of the other guys were doing a second lap, but I was pretty well cooked. I completed Lap 2 in 28:37, a nice surprise. I could tell I was going slower and I thought my time would be much worse.

I still have work to do—I always will—but there’s measurable progress and that’s good motivation. With very favorable weather in the forecast for the remainder of the week, I’m looking forward to more hard efforts on the bike.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Beste Wensen, Niels Albert!

I can’t let today end without mentioning Niels Albert, whose retirement from the top ranks of professional cyclocross has shocked and saddened fans everywhere. The 28-year-old Belgian, a two-time world champion, has a cardiac arrhythmia for which there is no effective medical treatment. Continuing to race would literally put his life in danger, and he has made a wise but emotionally painful choice to walk away.

I don’t want to sound like I’m writing an epitaph—there is no reason to think Albert will not have a long and happy life—but I will remember him as a prolific winner who, on his better days, could simply ride away from Sven Nys, Zdeněk Štybar, Kevin Pauwels, Tom Meeusen and all other rivals. Albert wasn’t always the best starter, but if he got to the front of the race it was usually bad news for everyone else. What he lacked in flash he more than made up for with well-practiced technical competence and quiet determination. Hopefully he will find a way to stay close to the sport he loves.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

As If I Were Never Gone

It's now just a new set of grips away from race-ready.
I have to believe that after such a busy week and more than 2,600 miles of driving just to get to Tampa and then back to West Bend, most people would have taken it easy this weekend. Not me. There was too much bike stuff to do.

It began on Saturday morning with the first Washington County Bicycle Club time trial of the 2014 season. As the race official, I arrived early and drove the course, stopping at each corner to sweep away any debris. Four riders entered the TT, and that’s not a bad turnout when you consider the weather: a breezy 49 degrees. But the sun was out, the roads were dry and the TT was conducted safely. Three of the four riders were on TT bikes and wore aero helmets; the fourth ran a standard road bike and helmet. Any bike will do. This series isn’t about beating others. The goal is for individuals to better their own times. Saturday was a benchmark setting occasion for those who participated. We’ll do it again on June 14, July 26 and Aug. 30.

Next came a series of trips to Pedal Moraine. On the first visit I was rewarded with a Bontrager Ion headlight, something I had ordered a couple of months ago but was out of stock until last week. What a flame thrower! It’s amazing how compact and powerful bike lights have gotten in the last few years. I might do a nighttime Eisenbahn State Trail ride this week just to use the Ion! My second and third trips to the bike shop were kind of a comedy of errors but ended with the proper setup of my new mountain bike wheels, also from Bontrager. I’ve had them for weeks but I couldn’t get the tires to seat properly. I didn’t make too much effort to correct the problem because there was nowhere to ride, but things are different now that the trails are open for the season.

Putting new wheels on the bike meant that I simply had to go for a ride, so late Saturday afternoon I did two full laps at New Fane. I foolishly forgot my Garmin, so I don’t know my lap times. I’m sure they were not particularly fast.

Today began with streaming coverage of the Giro d’Italia during breakfast and the Tour of California during lunch. Today’s stage of the Tour of California was supposed to air live on NBC—not on NBC Sports Network—but Milwaukee’s WTMJ showed children’s programming instead. NBC affiliates in some other markets decided to show infomercials. Pathetic.

I went back to New Fane late in this afternoon and I didn’t forget my Garmin. My lap times of 28:17 and 28:16 were more than just remarkably consistent; they were consistent with times I was posting in mid-2013. And they were a big improvement over the 31:30 and 31:50 laps I rode back on May 3 when I returned to mountain biking after 8 months away. On Tuesday I will test myself at New Fane again.

But most of the coming week will be devoted to preparations for the Gravel Metric in DeKalb IL on Sunday. I had a blast at the inaugural Gravel Metric in 2010 and inexplicably haven’t been back. It’s a real “hard man” ride/race that will expose whatever weaknesses I have in my fitness.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Tampa Trip Recap

It’s good to be back in West Bend, despite the weather: overcast and only 50 degrees at 5 p.m. on May 16. I had much better weather everywhere else on my 2,600-mile odyssey.

My trip began last Saturday with a drive to the J. Percy Priest Dam in Nashville TN:

An interesting landmark in its own right, the dam is at the end of a paved bike path. I did a 30-mile, out-and-back ride that took me through downtown Nashville and brought me back to the dam at sunset. Then I got back in the minivan and drove to Chattanooga before calling it a day.

On Sunday I completed the drive to Tampa FL, arriving there in the middle of the afternoon. I settled for an 18-mile exploration of the neighborhoods near my hotel. On Monday my series of business meetings began, but I still had plenty of time for a ride. I didn’t want to navigate, so I did a 40-mile, out-and-back ride on the flat and fast Suncoast Trail. I had to buy a $2 day pass to park in the lot at the southern end of the trail, and I was impressed with the efficiency of the self-service system:

But also on Monday I developed a nasty blister on my left heel. The problem came from my seldom-worn dress shoes, not from any cycling mishap. I’m still hobbled, able to walk barefoot without discomfort but very sore when I have to wear shoes. I can ride without discomfort; that’s the most important thing.

Tuesday was my busiest day of work-related obligations and late in the day I did another short tour of the neighborhoods near my hotel. Rain washed out my plans for Wednesday, so I finished my trip with 102 miles. Thursday was just a driving day with no time for anything else. I did my best to keep up with the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California while I was away, watching Internet video streams from my hotel:

I’m 3 pounds lighter than I was before the trip. That’s mostly a product of better eating, and I’m proud of that because it’s tempting to just pig out at restaurants while traveling on the company’s dime. I contented myself with small meals … usually pretty healthy ones, with one or two exceptions.

In the week ahead I plan to get back into a rotation that includes road and off-road rides. I don’t have any mountain bike races on my schedule until June 7, but with only two rides on singletrack so far this year, there’s a long way to go. My fitness is pretty decent right now but my skills need to be sharpened.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Warming To My Work

We reached 79 degrees today in West Bend, our highest temperature so far this year. I celebrated that fact by riding 50 miles on my cyclocross bike to reach 1,000 miles year-to-date. Last year I didn’t reach 1,000 miles until May 13. Today I went up the Eisenbahn State Trail to Eden, but a simple out-and-back ride was going to leave me short of my mileage goal so I swung through Glacial Blue Hills on the way home. With an average moving speed of 15 mph, it wasn’t my fastest ride. It was a good effort, though, especially when you consider the return trip was into a strengthening headwind. I lost 4 pounds in 3:20 of ride time, all water I’m sure.

Tomorrow … well, I will do something tomorrow but it won’t be too strenuous. Early on Saturday morning I will depart for my business trip. I plan to stay in Nashville TN on Saturday night. I will complete the drive to Tampa FL on Sunday and remain there until next Thursday. Then I will hurry home to run the Washington County Bicycle Club time trial on Saturday, May 17.

The Giro d’Italia begins tomorrow with a team time trial. I’ve said it before: every Grand Tour should have one. The TTT is a special discipline that we get to see far too infrequently. Tomorrow is also the anniversary of the death of Wouter Weylandt. It was the worst moment I have ever seen as a cycling fan. Three years on, it still breaks my heart and that’s damned hard to do. But life goes on and yesterday there was some unexpectedly positive news about the woman involved in the Johan Vansummeren crash at last month’s Ronde van Vlaanderen. She is out of a medically-induced coma. Sounds like she still has a long road to full recovery, and maybe that’s asking for too much but at least there is hope.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Back On The Mountain Bike

Today I rode singletrack for the first time since I broke my collarbone in the WORS race at Lake Geneva way back in early September. A month after the crash, my doctor permitted me to resume road riding but not mountain biking. Then came winter. Then came a cold, wet spring. Trails in the northern Kettle Moraine State Forest didn’t open until last Friday and much of the past week was wet. Today was sort of warm, definitely dry, blissfully sunny and, still, horribly windy. It was a good day to ride in the woods where the wind couldn’t find me.

My lap times were 31:30 and 31:50, about 5 minutes slower than my race times on that course. But today wasn’t about seeing how fast I could go; it was about rediscovering my mountain biking mojo. I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t need a psychologist to talk me back onto the bike. But at the same time, mountain biking has its own set of demands and my skills were just a little rusty. I’m not starting over at Step 1; that’s the good news.

Five weeks from today I expect to do my first mountain bike race of 2014, the WEMS endurance event at Suamico. Those are trails with which I am comfortable … and on which I raced to the only victory of my cycling career. I think my fitness will be pretty good by then and my technical skills will be on the upswing if I follow my plan to practice often now that singletrack is available again.