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.