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.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2014 Sheboygan Bicycle Co. Cyclocross Classic

(Nathan Phelps photo)

The 2014 WCA cyclocross season began in Sheboygan today and I raced well, taking 3rd place out of 13 competitors in Masters 45+ Cat 4. It was my first-ever trip to the podium in cyclocross and I was rewarded with a commemorative water bottle, a tire lever, a CO2 cartridge and, most importantly, a Twinkie.

With a better start I might have had an even higher finish. In the past, the WCA staggered the start of each age group in the Masters Cat 4 race: 35+ riders first, then a 30- to 60-second wait, then the 45+ guys, then another 30- to 60-second wait, then the 55+ racers. Today we were arranged by age group but then started simultaneously. I sort of expected my group to roll up to the line as the 35+ guys took off, but the race was fully on! I might have had better position going into the first turn if I had hit the gas right away.

The first turn was a 180-degree left-hander, and when we arrived there on Lap 1 we were still so bunched up that a conflict was inevitable. Somebody got tangled in the course tape and many of us, including Yours Truly, were delayed. When the blockage cleared we raced down a little hill to a double barrier that helped to create some separation. We strung out even further through a series of off-camber turns on grass that was still wet with dew. Then came a part of the course that suited me particularly well, starting with a fast gravel road descent and finishing with The Equalizer, Sheboygan’s super-steep dirt hill. I couldn’t ride up The Equalizer, but I sure could run it. I was getting close to the front of the race. As the first lap ended I could see the leaders just a few seconds ahead.

On Laps 2 and 3 the race really got strung out and I found myself in a fight for 3rd with Jeff Gantz (Big Ring Flyers) and fellow West Bend racer Troy Sable (unattached). On Lap 3 I overshot a wet corner and Gantz got around me. I needed almost a full lap to reclaim my spot, and when I did it seemed like neither Gantz nor Sable could go any harder.

As Lap 5 began I was surprised to find myself reeling in a couple of guys from my age group. I couldn’t understand how they had stayed in front of me, and clearly they were hurting as I passed them. I was spurred on by a sense of moving up in the standings. Only later did I realize that I had overtaken riders who had been lapped. That meant eventual winner Anthony James (Team Extreme) and PJ Braun (Heavy Pedal Velo Club) were still ahead. Braun reached the top of The Equalizer just as I reached the bottom, so I knew I had some work to do if I wanted to catch him before the finish line. And I was successful in closing the gap, but I needed another 50 meters: my out-of-the-saddle, big ring sprint came up about 2 seconds short.

Gantz held off Sable for 4th place. Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) finished next to give West Bend three riders in the top six. Slinger’s Steve Cummins (Team Pedal Moraine) won the 55+ age group. A flat tire spoiled the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3 race for West Bend’s Jeff Melcher (Team Pedal Moraine). Jeff had a brilliant start and appeared to be heading for the podium, perhaps for victory. Kewaskum’s John Beiswenger (unattached) took a solid 5th place in the Cat 5 race.

Third place in a field of 13 is good for 2 upgrade points as I progress toward Cat 3. I earned 1 point at Sheboygan last year, so with 3 points in hand I am now 7 points away from the voluntary upgrade threshold. Completing the upgrade this season is a worthy goal and extra incentive for me to fight hard for every position.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

See You In Line

Uh, no.

It is 11 p.m. Central and online registration for the season opener of the 2014 WCA cyclocross series has just closed. I intend to race on Saturday but I chose not to register online. As you can see in the picture above, online registration comes with no discounts: the race fee is still $25, just as it will be when I register in person. In fact, online registration is more expensive because of the service fee. And my registration would have been non-refundable if, for some reason, I can’t make it to Sheboygan.

I don’t mean to pick on the Sheboygan race; it’s not the only race for which online registration is a bad deal. But what’s the point? The fields won’t be so large that only by registering online could I secure my spot in the starting grid. Volunteers at the registration table will be happy to take my money on Saturday morning. Hell, I’ll even show up with a copy of the 2014 USA Cycling waiver already filled out. But that’s not me being a nice guy; that’s me making just a little extra effort now in order to save myself some time and hassle later. Even if I had registered online I would have to show up to sign the waiver and receive my numbers. Online registration should make my job easier but it especially should make the volunteers’ job easier, and that should be worth something. But it doesn’t, and it isn’t, and that’s a problem.