Thursday, July 31, 2014

Short Track At New Fane?

Earlier this year I mentioned the potential for short track cross country (STXC) mountain bike racing at Pleasant Valley Park. At roughly 1.2 miles, my original concept for the course is probably too long, but I still haven’t had a chance to test it because those trails are so frequently closed by rain. What if there were another option? Why not New Fane? Why not this?

Imagine a starting chute on the east side of the parking lot. The race would begin with a flat-out sprint over cut grass to create separation before the clockwise loop through the prairie. Returning through the treeline, racers would gain a little elevation before the right-hand turn that takes them back to start another lap.

In the past, the DNR allowed the WEMS race to use a short section of the hiking trail. If such permission could be secured for STXC, then no new trail would be needed. Otherwise, as shown in the picture, temporary turf trails could be cut into the grass parallel to the hiking trails. All along the course there is vegetation that could be cut back to create more passing lanes, but doing so wouldn’t change the character of New Fane. Overall the trail system would remain a wooded, singletrack haven.

WORS attracted a big crowd of STXC racers in Portage back on July 11, a Friday. The WORS Cup is the only sanctioned STXC race in Wisconsin this year, and I think there’s an under-served market for this style of racing. But just like Pleasant Valley, New Fane has limited parking and couldn’t handle a WORS crowd. STXC could be something that the local racers just keep for themselves.

But there’s a subset of the WORS crowd that might really benefit from STXC at a smaller venue: high school kids. The WORS Cup featured 34 juniors on the short track. I assume that most of them travel with their teams or their families, reducing the demand for parking. Is New Fane big enough for a high school race? We’ll know more when we see the participation figures from this year’s races.

Mountain bike racing is generally not a spectator-friendly sport. A full, 5-mile lap at New Fane would take most high schoolers around 30 minutes and for almost that entire time they would be deep in the woods, hidden from view. Virtually all mountain biking venues are like that. But STXC on a course of only about half a mile—a race that lasts, say, 20 minutes + 1 lap—would provide plenty of action for spectators watching from the area around the pavilion. And with races of such short duration, you could run separate heats by gender and ability. You could even run multiple shorter heats in which the top finishers advance to the finals.

What if New Fane were the only STXC date on the interscholastic calendar, starting in 2015? What if it were, in fact or in essence, the state championship? Look at the roster of teams registered for the 2014 season. That’s a lot of kids from Washington and Ozaukee Counties. Give them home field advantage! Grow a couple of state champions and see what that does for participation.

Bringing STXC to New Fane is a challenge for which Team Pedal Moraine is uniquely suited. Many team members already contribute to the development and maintenance of those trails, and we know most of the coaches in the new high school league. At the cost of additional volunteer hours, the benefit to the team is the visibility that comes from hosting such an event. We need to attract a new generation of racers to take the team into the future, and there may be no better way than to get involved at the high school level. A scholastic racer in the fall could be a TPM racer in the spring and summer, and then a valued teammate for decades after high school.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Circling The Wagons

How quickly things can change. I spent yesterday afternoon comparing hotels and entertainment options. I spent this afternoon comparing used cars and financing options. A never-before-seen dashboard light alerted my wife to a problem with her car, and the dealership’s repair estimate is greater than the car’s value. Long story short: it’s time to replace the car, and doing so will be such a large expense that I must abandon my August vacation plans.

My wife’s car is a 1998 Toyota RAV4 that we bought new. It was great for years, but now it really shows its age. It needed a major engine repair in 2013. That was one of our biggest bills in a very expensive year. Until this weekend, 2014 had been a year with no nasty surprises. We weren’t merely on secure financial footing; we were really getting ahead of the game. This new setback won’t break us, but it will require a quick restructuring of our priorities.

Vacation has to go. I had planned to take the family to Pennsylvania, Aug. 9-17, but now I will spend the time at home. That’s actually better for my cycling ambitions, as all of those days now offer training opportunities. On Tuesday the 12th, for example, I can attend cyclocross practice at Royal Oaks Park. By staying home I will sleep better, eat better, ride more, and save something like $1,000.

At least for now, I don’t expect our automobile drama to limit my bike racing schedule. What could throw a wrench into those plans is the prospect of yet another business trip. My boss introduced that possibility during a meeting on Thursday. I might be heading to Atlanta for a week in October, the busiest month of the WCA cyclocross season.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunny, Warm And Bicycle-Free

Perhaps the only time it is good to be a Fred …

This would have been an excellent day to be on the bike, but I needed a day off.  Here’s why:

  • 7/16 — 35 miles with Ozaukee Bicycle Club
  • 7/17 — 32 miles on West Bend’s Thursday evening ride
  • 7/18 — 47 miles on the Eisenbahn State Trail, to Eden and back
  • 7/19 — 63 miles, 30 with the Washington County Bicycle Club and then 33 solo
  • 7/20 — 66 miles with the Cream City Cycle Club

That’s 243 miles—almost 14.5 hours in the saddle in the last 5 days. Back-to-back metric centuries are actually very rare for me, and Sunday’s ride was uncommonly hilly: more than 3,300 feet of climbing, according to the Garmin of one of my fellow riders (my Garmin always under-reports elevation data). Feeling a little fried yesterday, I promised myself some rest today no matter how nice the weather or how likely the possibility of rain on Tuesday.

If rain does come tomorrow, then I may take a second rest day and I won’t be any worse for it. But if there’s an opportunity to ride, then I surely will. Tomorrow is probably going to be the hottest day we get all year and I don’t want to miss that.

On Wednesday and Thursday I expect to do group road rides. Friday might be a mountain biking day if I can’t use the trails tomorrow. On Saturday I will officiate at the third of four Washington County Bicycle Club time trials before I head out for my own ride ... road, rec trail or mountain bike. The state road race championship is on Sunday. I won’t be in it, so maybe I will do another very hilly road ride in sympathy. Doing hills is almost never a bad choice in my loosely-structured training plan.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Celebrating The Steilacoom

Here is my Diamondback Steilacoom in action last September at Sheboygan. (Nathan Phelps photo)
I am honored to be featured this month as one of Diamondback's "Cyclists Just Like You." Click here to read the article.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 WCA Cyclocross Schedule

09/06 Sat - Sheboygan
09/14 Sun - Lake Geneva
09/27 Sat - East Troy
10/04 Sat - Kosciuszko Park, Milwaukee
10/11 Sat - Grafton
10/12 Sun - Verona
10/18 Sat - Sun Prairie
10/19 Sun - Doyne Park, Milwaukee
10/25 Sat - Washington Park, Milwaukee
10/26 Sun - Fitchburg
11/01 Sat - Estabrook Park, Milwaukee
11/02 Sun - Waterloo
11/08 Sat - Cambridge
11/16 Sun - Hales Corners
11/23 Sun - Madison
12/06 Sat - State Championships @ Dretzka Park, Milwaukee

Saturday, July 12, 2014

2014 WORS Cup

(Lynne Senkerik photo)
On Friday afternoon I went to Cascade Mountain in Portage, site of the WORS Cup. Formerly known as the Subaru Cup, the WORS Cup is a 3-day mountain biking event consisting of short track, Super D, and cross country. For me, the first order of business was to pre-ride the cross country course to see what I would be facing on Sunday.

Things did not go well. Cascade Mountain is a ski hill and the cross country course includes a lot of technical descending. That’s a hole in my skill set. The climbing didn’t bother me, but I knew there would be no way I could handle some of those descents at race speed. Today’s rain was only going to make the situation worse on a course that dries slowly. I resolved not to attempt the cross country race. It’s better to admit my limitations than to risk an injury that would wipe out my cyclocross season. The Super D race? I can’t imagine ever putting that on my calendar.

My decision to skip Sunday’s race was simultaneously a relief and a source of disappointment that was taking too much of my attention later on Friday afternoon when I should have been thinking about nothing but the upcoming short track race. And it didn’t help that the organizers were once again behind schedule with the race program. Just like 2013 at Nordic Mountain, staying warmed up became impossible as the start of my race was delayed again and again. I was in kind of a bad mood when I reached the starting grid.

As soon as the race began, the dark thoughts disappeared and I was all business. I started reasonably well and was running in the Top 15 for the first 2 laps. I lost a few places on Laps 3 and 4, then found myself in a small group with Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) and Demetrius Banks (Team 360 / La Crosse Velo).

I was outclimbing my rivals and used that ability to drop Banks early in Lap 5. I passed Wren at almost the same spot in Lap 6—the final lap—but he and Badger stayed close behind. On the last climb of the race I was still ahead and tried to stretch my advantage. Wren caught me on a loose gravel turn at the top of the hill and then passed me on the descent that followed. The last 100 meters were a straight shot. I went around Wren on the right while Badger passed on the left. It was a drag race to the finish line and I got there 0.1 seconds before Badger and 0.3 seconds ahead of Wren. It was great drama for 19th place out of 28 in the Cat 2, 45-54 age group!

Paul Roltgen (Brazen Dropouts) took the win. My Team Pedal Moraine friends Steve Kobs, Larry Hipps and Bob Zimmermann placed 3rd, 9th and 10th, respectively. My head-to-head win against Jeff Wren was the first time I have ever beaten him in a mountain bike race. In a short track race that was very similar to cyclocross, that’s a good sign. Jeff will be one of my main rivals this fall as I fight for upgrade points.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Return Of The Trenton Time Trial

Start/Finish at the corner of Rusco Drive and Oak Road.

In 2010 I introduced a members-only time trial series to the Washington County Bicycle Club. It flopped. But this year I decided to try it again and it has been worthwhile … not a runaway success, but worthwhile. Two dates remain: July 26 and August 30.

This year’s TT series uses a very different course than the one I created four years ago. The old course in the Town of Trenton was just 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) long. It was never meant to be used for a multi-lap TT of 20 or 40 kilometers. But like my new course in the Town of Addison, the old course was easy to navigate and easy to officiate because it consisted only of right-hand turns and there was no way for a rider to take a shortcut.

I thought I would use the Trenton TT course a lot to sharpen and test my fitness, but when the 2010 WCBC time trial series failed I abandoned the idea. On April 18, 2010, I set a time of 11:24 and then never attempted to beat it.

Until today. And I crushed it, turning in a time of 10:09. I feel confident that I can do a sub-10:00 TT on that course. Today I was delayed by a car at Maple and Paradise. It wasn’t a 9-second delay, but it was significant. Without it—and with a better showing up the hill to the final turn—I might have broken the 10:00 barrier.

I don’t do a lot of intervals … unless you count intervals of overeating followed by intervals of remorse. Today’s TT fit neatly inside a 28-mile ride that otherwise would have been just another endurance-pace exercise. I rode for nearly an hour to warm up for the all-out TT effort, then cooled down at the end. The total time of 90 minutes was typical for a weeknight ride, but the TT made the workout far better than it would have been otherwise.

I will do more of these as cyclocross season approaches. I might even try back-to-back TT efforts with just a few minutes of recovery in between. Having all-day endurance is great, but pushing out my lactate threshold would be a huge benefit in competition.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Counting On Contador

The Tour de France begins on Saturday and my pick to win the general classification is Alberto Contador. But if I am right, I will have to be patient: I don’t think Contador will take the maillot jaune until Stage 13 at the earliest. The beginning of this year’s Tour simply isn’t hard enough to create separation in the GC battle. Contador’s team, Tinkoff-Saxo, may even wait until Stage 16 or 17 to seize control. The leader’s team has to pull back every significant breakaway, and that’s a burden Tinkoff-Saxo might not want for more than a few days.

Contador beat a struggling Chris Froome, the defending Tour champion, by nearly four minutes in last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné. But no one should overlook Froome as the Tour begins; he’s still a serious threat with a very strong team. America’s best GC hope, Andrew Talansky, won the Dauphiné and could make the Tour de France podium, but I think his prospects for overall victory are slim. Another American, Tejay van Garderen, sacrificed his Tour ambitions last year in the service of his team leader, Cadel Evans. This year Tejay is BMC’s team leader, but he has not looked like a true Tour contender. Rui Costa, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde should be in the GC hunt until the end. Joaquim Rodriguez would need a huge lead coming out of the mountains: the GC battle will conclude with a long individual time trial in which he will lose a big chunk of time to Contador and Froome.

Wauwatosa’s Matthew Busche, the 2011 US road racing champion, will make his first appearance in the Tour de France. On a Trek Factory Racing team whose best GC prospect is Haimar Zubeldia, Busche might be free to go stage hunting.

NBC Sports Network will broadcast the Tour again this year. It’s the one race for which the network pulls out all the stops. Live coverage begins at 5 a.m. CDT on Saturday.