Saturday, November 29, 2014

5,117 ... And Counting

Possibly the 2 most important miles I have ridden so far this year ...

With 22 miles split between my mountain bike and my cyclocross bike, today I reached 5,117 miles, year-to-date. That’s a personal record, beating the 5,113 miles I rode in 2011. For the first 20 miles of today’s ride I used the mountain bike, taking advantage of its wide tires as I passed through a succession of city and county parks where some of the trails were still covered with snow.

The 2 miles I rode on my cyclocross bike were at Dretzka Park in Milwaukee, a preview lap of next Saturday’s state cyclocross championship course. With temperatures in the low 40s today, the snow melted quickly (though not completely) and the course was muddy but rideable. If the weather forecast is correct, then the course should dry out during the next week.

Now that I have seen the course, I really want to race it. The course is not super-technical and it features a long climb that should be a good place for me to distance a couple of my rivals. But I haven’t raced since Nov. 8, my training volume has decreased and my weight has increased. I need a good week of training, outside, to give me the confidence to do well next Saturday.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bike Friday

Forget about Black Friday insanity at the “big box” stores. Get over to Pedal Moraine tomorrow between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., or on Small Business Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for great deals and service from people who care about your cycling experience.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The WORS That Could Happen

What? No Sunburst Showdown?

This morning the Wisconsin Off-Road Series announced its 2015 schedule, an interesting mix of old and new. I wasn’t really part of the series this year—I did only the WORS Cup short track race and the Reforestation Ramble—but I might do more next season.

Waukesha will replace Franklin as the home of the Colectivo race. I skipped Colectivo this year because the cyclocross season was already in progress, but I am likely to do next year’s race. Some WORS venues are open only on race weekends or located far from home, while Minooka Park is a place at which I could practice several times to improve my odds for a good result. I have heard nothing but positive things about Minooka Park since August when it was used by the nascent high school mountain biking league in what many of us suspected was a trial run for inclusion by WORS.

Cyclocross likely will be my main goal again in 2015 and that probably means no WORS races for me after Aug. 23. At least for now, I am not very interested in the details of the Sep. 27 WORS race … and I don’t know whether you should read anything into the placement of the number 11 on the map above.

I won’t be 50 years old until June but I can race the entire 2015 WORS season in the 50-54 age group. That gives me a little extra motivation to chase series points. After upgrading to Cat 2 (Sport) for the 2013 season, I was a mid-pack finisher in the 45-49 age group. The 50-54 age group has its share of really accomplished racers—a few of whom I am unlikely to challenge—but I could be in the hunt for occasional trips to the podium and a Top 5 overall placing on points.

Every new season is fun to think about but things rarely go as planned and what sounds good today might sound ridiculous 6 months from now. There are a couple of WEMS races that are every bit as important to me as my favorite WORS events, and the 2015 WEMS calendar isn’t out yet. The dates are unlikely to conflict but it’s too early for me to make any real commitments.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Less To Worry About

Sunday’s cyclocross race in Madison has been cancelled. The city’s parks department worried that the race would cause too much damage to Hiestand Park. Southern Wisconsin is about to go from frozen and snow-covered to 40-something and rainy. A couple of hundred racers turning several hundred laps on soggy ground is a recipe for deep, muddy ruts. I was probably going to skip the race anyway and now I don’t have to keep watching the weather forecast and delaying my decision.

So, that’s it for the 2014 WCA season except for the state championships. My participation in the finale is far from guaranteed. Even with a poor performance I could wrap up the top spot on series points in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ standings. But if it’s too cold and/or too wet on Dec. 6, then I simply won’t bother. As I have noted before, there’s no prize for amassing the most points in my category. In the meantime, I will keep training. On Saturday I should have an opportunity to ride outside for the first time since Nov. 9. The trainer workouts I have done since then have been a poor substitute.

Having this week off from work but feeling stuck indoors, I completed a bunch of household projects. Most of these initiatives were motivated by Thanksgiving—the house needs to be at its best when we receive guests next Thursday—but a few were motivated by boredom. It’s hard to fill the time that work and cycling usually demand; I probably should have more than one hobby. Anyway, I took care of some things myself and I hired an electrician for the rest. Now there are new ceiling lights in the family room and the home office, a new outlet under the kitchen sink to bring the garbage disposal back online (no more stretching an extension cord across the floor), an up-to-code GFCI outlet next to the sink in the main bathroom, and other improvements. The house is cleaner, safer, more efficient and more attractive.

Home improvements are hugely satisfying at any time of year, but never more than during cold weather months when I’m bored and feeling sorry for myself. Periods of bad weather are also good times to expand my music collection and during the last two weeks I added another 21 titles: an eclectic mix of stuff as old as July 1970 and as recent as 10 days ago, totaling 16 hours of entertainment. Now that I have listened to each title once, I will revisit those I really enjoyed. Too much idle time makes me grumpy, so the combination of the home projects and the new tunes has helped to keep the blues away during this separation from cycling.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Rest Day Without Regrets

With snow on the ground and wind chill in the teens, today’s Kringle Kross in Hales Corners went on without me. Actually, it went on without a lot of series regulars. Some of them were turned off by the weather, no doubt, while others raced in Iowa at Jingle Cross, a 3-day event that attracts many of the top domestic pros. Whatever the case, in several of the categories at Kringle Kross one could reach the podium simply by finishing the race. I didn’t feel the slightest bit of regret this morning as I sat in my home office watching a Superprestige series cyclocross race from Belgium. And later today as photos of bikes caked in snow and mud began to appear in my friends’ Facebook posts, I was even more certain that I had made the right choice for myself. I know a few people who love such conditions and I hope they had fun, but I am not one of them.

There is some hope for warmer weather by next Sunday when the WCA season continues in Madison. To stay ready I will use my indoor trainer, because I cannot work with this:

Those air temperatures are bad enough; calculate the chilling effect of such high winds and this week is really going to suck. But I need to keep enough motivation to push through those trainer workouts. Next Sunday might be OK. I don’t believe it, but I have to believe it. I haven’t ridden outside since last Sunday, Nov. 9. If I have ridden my last outdoor miles of 2014, then this will be my earliest end to a riding season since Nov. 2, 2008.

I am keeping my fingers crossed … if only because the shared warmth will delay the onset of frostbite.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Another Stay-cation

Halfway through this week, my thoughts already have turned to next week and the opportunities it presents. I will be away from work but not away from home, as there is no place that meets my roadtrip criteria of warm, close and cheap. Even places as far south as Dallas and Atlanta cannot promise a full week in the 50s, which isn’t that warm anyway. I guess I’m stuck with sub-freezing temperatures and high winds, the kind of weather that is literally good for nothing and emphatically poor for cycling. I am unlikely to ride in those conditions. I would reach for the snowshoes, but there’s no snow.

So, what are my opportunities for outdoor recreation next week? Hiking is the obvious choice. It’s the epitome of close and cheap. And while there is no warm option, hiking at least will keep me out of the wind. Without leaving town I could do a 2-hour hike on the hilly and heavily-wooded Ice Age Trail:

That’s 6.2 miles of excellent cross-training, and I have never done the whole thing at once. The Ice Age Trail is going to be more than 1,000 miles long someday. About 600 miles are in service now, but in some places there are significant gaps between the finished segments. We’re lucky to have a lot of completed trail nearby and much of it is still unfamiliar to me. There are long, unbroken sections of the Ice Age Trail in the Northern Kettle Moraine. My goal for next week is to explore them.

I have not abandoned my cycling ambitions. There are cyclocross races on each of the next two Sundays, then the state championships on December 6. I am neither “in” nor “out” right now, so I will continue with indoor trainer workouts to stay ready. And with 64 more miles of outdoor riding I would have a new personal best for mileage in a calendar year. Just give me a break with the weather. In an average year we would have highs in the 40s until almost the end of November. That would be good enough, but there’s nothing like it in the forecast.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

2014 Cam-Rock Cross

Post-race, home-brewed goodness by Ian “The ’Cross Examiner” Prust. Photo by Steve Cummins.

Winter is coming. We could feel it in the stiff wind out of the northwest today at Cam-Rock Cross in Cambridge, and the forecast for the next 10 days is a downward spiral that is likely to end with snow on the ground and temperatures that would be cold even for January. I don't handle the cold very well. But if today’s race was my “last hurrah” of 2014, then I am almost completely satisfied with what has been my best cyclocross season ever.

I took 3rd place out of 19 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ group on a course that was nearly perfect for me: plenty of hammer-down sections and a couple of technical challenges that were real problems for some of my closest rivals. I extended my series points lead but I probably will need to do at least 1 of the final 3 races to keep it. And I don’t know if it’s worth keeping. There is no season-end award for the points leader in my category; it’s just a bragging rights thing. But maybe next week’s arctic blast will be fleeting and we’ll go back to our usual bad weather before the season ends. I don’t want to be done yet.

Today’s race began with a furious dash to the first turn, which bent to the left at nearly 180 degrees. Seven of us negotiated it cleanly while the rest of the field stacked up. For a lot of guys, the race was effectively over at that moment. Joe Vadeboncoeur (unattached), Barney Sheafor (Trek Midwest Team), Michael Mayer (Trek Midwest Team), West Bend's Troy Sable (unattached), Larry Gundlach (MadCity Racing), Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) and I were away. But soon Gundlach faded, a surprise since he rode so well just last weekend to win the Battle of Waterloo. Badger and I were nearly dropped on the first climb, but I worked my way back to Badger and then we bridged up to the others.

Halfway through Lap 1 we reached an interesting obstacle: a small log followed just a few feet later by a much larger log. Just as I had in practice, in the race I was able to ride over both logs. But it didn’t escape my notice that several of my rivals were forced to dismount. By remaining on the bike I was able to accelerate up the little climb on the other side of the logs while others struggled to remount and resume. By Lap 3 it looked like Vadeboncoeur, Sheafor and Mayer were gone. I was running with Sable and Badger when again I hopped over the logs and shot up the hill. That got Sable off my back but Badger was still too close for comfort. Trying to shake him propelled me forward early in Lap 4. I couldn’t lose Badger on the short hill early in the lap—it just wasn’t hard enough—but then I caught Mayer for 3rd place and that was very motivating. Crossing the logs for the final time, I hit the gas on the climb and got a good gap on Mayer and Badger. Heading for the final turn, I could see Sheafor just ahead but I ran out of racecourse. Vadeboncoeur took the win today, his 2nd win in the series this season. Mayer held off Badger for 4th, followed by Gundlach and Sable.

Oh, and …

On Friday afternoon I reached 5,000 miles of cycling, the 3rd time in the last 4 years I have hit that mark. I likely would have gotten there last year if not for the month lost to a collarbone fracture. My last mileage goal for 2014 is to exceed 5,113 and make this my all-time best year.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

One Step Closer

At 9 a.m. on Saturday I was in my home office watching streaming coverage of Koppenbergcross from Belgium. I had decided on Friday evening that I would not compete in my own cyclocross race at Estabrook Park in Milwaukee. The weather forecast was unfavorable, and it proved correct: wind chill in the 20s. That’s just too cold for me. Maybe I will get there someday—in my evolution as a cyclist I have dramatically expanded the temperature range in which I operate—but I’m not there yet.

When I awoke today the temperature was just 27 degrees but the hour-by-hour forecast promised sunny skies and a reasonably quick warmup, so I headed west for the Battle of Waterloo. I had previewed Firemen’s Park in September when I was in Waterloo to watch the Trek CXC Cup, but I couldn’t be sure where the course would go. What I found today was a course that suited my abilities well and contributed to my best-ever finish: 2nd place out of 13 in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ race. After four 4th-place finishes and three 3rd-place finishes this year, it was great to take an extra step up in the standings.

Early in the race I flirted with the idea of reaching the podium’s top step. I got a very good start and led the race for half a lap before Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) and Larry Gundlach (MadCity Racing) dropped me into 3rd place. The three of us stayed close together and started to open a serious gap on our pursuers. If Lap 1 was a manic sprint to break free from the pack, then Lap 2 was a time for the leaders to look for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There seemed to be no place on the course where Gundlach was clearly superior or inferior to me, but Badger wasn’t climbing as well as I was. It was Cross-Shooshko all over again, but today I had to lose him before the last lap or Gundlach would simply ride away. On Lap 3 I dropped Badger and accelerated up to the leader. Gundlach and I ascended the big run-up together but I couldn’t overtake him. As the final lap began I was a couple of seconds behind, and I just never found them.

Today’s race was a return to form after a couple of disappointing results last weekend. I felt good physically, I handled the bike well on a course with several technical challenges, and my race tactics were sound. But I still have never raced later than Nov. 5 and the forecast for the next event on the WCA schedule—Cam-Rock Cross on Nov. 8—is far from ideal. Maybe I can make cold weather acclimation part of my training plan in the week ahead.