Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A Statistical Review

My 2015 was a triumph of consistency. I rode 6,236 miles to establish a new personal record, beating last year’s mark by exactly 1,000 miles. I rode on 215 out of 365 days this year, beating my old record of 204 (set in 2012). But that works out to just 29 miles per ride, which is no great feat. My longest ride was 69 miles, one of only six metric centuries. Getting to 6,236 was a slow, steady climb. Here’s how it happened, month-by-month:

241 January PR
050 February
538 March PR
519 April
691 May
816 June PR
884 July
826 August PR
675 September
501 October
350 November PR
145 December

According to Garmin, I rode for a total of 396 hours, 9 minutes, 6 seconds. That’s almost 59 more hours than last year (337:16:12).

I competed in 10 WCA cyclocross races and 3 mountain bike races (2 WEMS, 1 WORS). Moving up to Cat 3 for cyclocross—which in Wisconsin means racing against Cat 1 and Cat 2 guys as well—was an interesting challenge for me … with no noteworthy results. But my victory in the Reforestation Ramble mountain bike race was enormously satisfying!

For what it’s worth, I set new best times on my most often repeated training rides. In April I covered the Eisenbahn State Trail from Main Street in Campbellsport to my home in West Bend in 48:25 (15.6 miles @ 19.33 mph), and in July I went from my house to Campbellsport in 51:17 (15.6 miles @ 18.25 mph). Those were cyclocross bike efforts on a mostly-gravel trail. In September I recorded my fastest-ever lap on the mountain bike trails at New Fane: 24:27.

I spent just 2 hours on the indoor trainer this year, and I’m totally OK with that. The mild weather of January 2015 called me outside more than ever before. I might have done more on the trainer in February, but by then I was scrambling to find a new job. I went hiking just 7 times in 2015, down from 12 last year, and I went snowshoeing just 2 times, down from 8 times in 2014. Those stats, too, were influenced by the greater frequency of my bike rides. I completed 124 upper body strength workouts, down from 135 last year. In November I had a little crisis of motivation in the home gym. Things are back to normal now.

I hesitate to set any mileage goals for 2016. This year’s grand total went so far beyond my previous record that I may never reach it again, much less surpass it. Given that the bike riding will more-or-less take care of itself, maybe the only number I should worry about is my weight. As 2015 ends I am 193 pounds. I was 198 on this date last year. In 2015 my weight ranged from a high of 204 in March to a low of 185 in November. As extreme as that sounds, it’s normal for me. Gaining weight since the end of the cyclocross season—especially with Thanksgiving and Christmas in the interim—was not a surprise. My first challenge in 2016 will be to hold off any additional pounds!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

N+1 … -X?

This deep into December, every outdoor ride could be the last outdoor ride of the year. Today’s ride was just my fifth this month and the first on my BMC since November 3. Usually I’m done with the open road by now, opting instead for routes through heavily-wooded parks as a concession to the wind and to limited daylight. Such rides are better on the cyclocross bike or the 29er. Today was dry and relatively warm, so 30 miles on the road was the right call. It’s good to have options.

Lately I have been thinking that maybe I have one too many options.

Do you know the punchline to the joke about the ideal number of bicycles any given cyclist should have? It’s N+1, where N is the current number of bicycles in the cyclist’s inventory. I have four bikes: one for mountain biking, one for cyclocross, and two for the road. Since getting my BMC at the beginning of 2014, I have ridden my Raleigh just six times: four times last year and only twice in 2015. On each of those occasions I might have chosen the BMC instead. The Raleigh is a great bike, but it’s redundant.

For 2016 I would like to have a new cyclocross bike, something with a lighter frame, disc brakes, and maybe a 1x11 drivetrain. That’s no small expense, so I’m thinking about selling the Raleigh to offset a chunk of it. And there is a good case for selling my current cyclocross bike too. After all, if I didn’t ride two road bikes then why should I expect to need two cyclocross bikes? By itself, neither the Raleigh nor the Diamondback will yield enough cash to pay for a new cyclocross bike. Selling both would still fail to cover the entire cost, but it would get me respectably close. In 2012 I sold two bikes for which I no longer had a clear need, and I made enough money from those sales to buy my 29er.

I like bikes—that should be pretty obvious—but I am no collector. I don’t want a garage full of them. In truth I probably could get by with just a cyclocross bike and a mountain bike. For now, at least, I have no plans to unload my BMC. It’s too nice, and though I ignored it for almost seven weeks I was quickly reminded today why it is the bike I ride the most.

Today’s ride brought me to 6,210 miles, year-to-date. With just 26 more I will be 1,000 miles ahead of last year. It would be kind of neat to say that I beat my previous personal record by 1,000 miles. The week ahead should be warm enough for a little more riding. Minor goals are still goals, after all.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Apostates

We’re only two weeks from the end of 2015, my 12th year as a dedicated cyclist. As I have noted before, this journey really began in 2003 but I don’t count that year. I wasn’t a cyclist in 2003; I was just a guy on a bike. When I make dinner, am I a chef? When I put a bandage on a skinned knee, am I a doctor? Of course not.

By late summer 2003, I had developed an appreciation for riding that wasn’t there at the start. I knew that in 2004 “getting a little exercise” wouldn’t be good enough. But there was no dramatic moment of conversion, no Road to Damascus vision. Cycling as a vocation—and assuredly it is, though I derive no income from it—presented itself slowly. And it showed up later in life than it might have. In 2003 I was 38 years old, an age at which many people are settled into comfortable routines that don’t easily accommodate new passions.

My passion for cycling emerged at a time when many of my new friends and acquaintances were already losing their enthusiasm for the sport. Their greatest successes were behind them and they were dealing with their decline … some with more grace than others. A new world was opening for me, so of course my enthusiasm was high. Twelve years on—or 13, whatever—I am still discovering cycling, still making fitness and performance gains, and still looking to the future. Some of my friends, though, are done.

What makes people walk away from cycling? The common thread seems to be that they no longer can perform at the level they once knew. And when they go, what makes them go so completely? It’s one thing to give up racing, but quite another to give up riding altogether. How sad that seems.

My own path to competitive cycling was a long one. I was 41 years old at the 2006 Omro Classic, the now-defunct Wisport race in which I made my debut. And then I merely dabbled in racing until 2011, at which time I added cyclocross and mountain biking to the mix. For the last five seasons I have been “one of the guys” and I can’t imagine giving that up.

Three years ago I walked away from softball, a game I had loved since 1982. First it took a back seat to cycling, then it became something in which I no longer could find enjoyment. I still loved the sport and I still could play well, but the composition of my team was changing in a way I couldn’t support. Switching teams might have extended that career, but I was content to walk away and reallocate the time to cycling. And there is a team aspect to cycling, but I could enjoy the sport without it. Going solo as a softball player doesn’t work. Going solo as a cyclist is almost inevitable.

But not in 2016. I remain committed to racing and to Team Pedal Moraine. For as long as I continue to race I hope to be part of a team. After that, I hope to keep riding, and to remain a fan of bicycle racing, and to continue to be an advocate for the sport. It’s the closest thing I have to a religious calling, and too beautiful to betray.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Presenting The 2016 Cheesehead Roubaix

The 7th Annual Cheesehead Roubaix will begin at Newburg Fireman’s Park on Sunday, April 24, at 9 a.m.  Inspired by Spring Classics like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, Cheesehead Roubaix is a 63-mile ride that features almost 10 miles of dirt and gravel. The ride will test your fitness with rough road conditions and about 2,000 feet of climbing.

Cheesehead Roubaix is free of charge, but please consider making a voluntary contribution to the Newburg Fire Department to show your appreciation for the use of its facility. There will be a donations jar in the parking lot prior to the ride. Last year we collected $1,044. Thank You! According to the fire department, portable toilets will be available at the park—that’s a new amenity for 2016—and it looks like there will be beverages for sale at the concessions stand when the ride is done.

There will be a mid-ride rest stop courtesy of our friends from BELGIANWERKX. Please let us know you plan to attend so that we can ensure there’s enough food and drink for everyone. Join the fun at the Facebook event page, send me email or leave a comment below.

Moroder Photography will be on hand again to preserve your Cheesehead Roubaix memories. Check out these awesome images from last year!

Cheesehead Roubaix is designed for self-sufficient cyclists. The rest stop will be your only support. The ride uses only open public roads and park paths. You are responsible for your own safety and conduct, and you are expressly not exempt from Wisconsin traffic laws. Represent the sport well. Please visit the Cheesehead Roubaix website and print out your own copy of the cuesheet and map. The website also offers a data file for Garmin GPS devices.

See you on April 24!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Picture Of Boring And Gray

The only thing worse than riding on days like these … is not riding on days like these.

We’re in another one of those weather funks that are common to Washington County: day after day of gloomy clouds, temperatures in the 40s, and a sensation of dampness even when there’s no rain. Last week I rode my bike for just 3 hours. This week I rode my bike for just 3 hours. I’m calling it “training” but it probably isn’t. My week starts on Monday and ends on Sunday, but there’s no reason to think I’m going to ride tomorrow. Looks like we’re going to have an all-day soaker. Could be worse: could be snow.

With my outdoor activity level falling precipitously, I have been turning my attention to the smallest details of my life in an effort to stave off abject boredom. Two weeks ago I was almost giddy with delight when I made a new label for my home’s circuit breaker panel. Today I discarded all of my old audio cassettes, a dusty pile of junk that warranted only a few MP3 replacements. On Monday I will go to city hall to pay my property tax bill, and won’t that be fun? I’m also thinking about going to the hardware store to make another set of house keys, but I’m not sure my heart can take it.

Back on Nov. 19, I mentioned that I was getting into reading again. I have knocked out 4 books in the last month and I expect to finish 1-2 more before the end of the year. No Oscar Wilde, though; I am working through the African adventure novels of Sir Henry Rider Haggard … and it just occurred to me that my choice might have been inspired subconsciously by a desire for hot, sunny weather. Around here, we won’t see anything like that for months.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Nicki Lock Rocks Jingle Cross!

If you don’t think of Iowa as one of America’s bike racing hot spots, then you don’t know Jingle Cross: three days of racing, including a UCI C1 race for the pros on Saturday. What does C1 mean? It means heavy hitters like defending national champions Jeremy Powers and Katie Compton show up in search of prize money and UCI points that will be useful later at the world cyclocross championships. World and national championships aside, C1 events are second in prestige only to World Cup races. North America has just one of those: CrossVegas. Jingle Cross wants to join that illustrious company in 2016. If that happens, you'll see not just the top domestic professionals racing in Iowa City, but also the top international pros.

Of course, not everyone is a pro and Jingle Cross attracts a big field of dedicated amateurs. Many of my friends and rivals were in action over the weekend, but nobody put up a result as impressive as West Bend’s own Nicki Lock (Belgianwerkx). On Saturday, Nicki won the women’s Cat 2 race … in familiar company. Sharing the podium with her were Delafield’s Heidi Beck (Twin Six / Milwaukee Bicycle Co.) and Belmont’s Kayla Doan (KS Energy Services / MOSH / Team Wisconsin). Heidi is our state champion for 2015. Nicki had not beaten her all year, and Nicki was just 1-6 against Kayla. But on a muddy course on Saturday, Nicki had the right stuff. Congratulations!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Recoil Cross

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.

If you’re the lead character in the 1999 movie “Fight Club,” then eventually you’re going to realize that you are fighting against yourself. Today as I lined up for my final cyclocross race of 2015, I already knew that I was fighting against myself. The dry, 34-degree air was triggering my asthma and I didn’t have my inhaler. But I felt honored to be at Recoil Cross and I didn’t want just to walk away, so I banged out a couple of laps before calling it a day.

What? You haven’t heard of Recoil Cross? That might be because it was an unsanctioned race on private land in Beechwood, an unincorporated community that you may or may not be able to find on a map. It’s home to the equally underground Beechwood Blaster mountain bike race. Fight Club wouldn’t be Fight Club if you couldn’t talk about it, because there has to be some way to bring in new people. And Beechwood wouldn’t be Beechwood if it were weighed down by entry fees, waivers, insurance, USA Cycling categories, minimum course width requirements, or prohibitions on dogs running next to the racers. You can talk about Beechwood, but only to people who will be cool about it.

My participation at Beechwood was a surprise; I didn’t hear about the race until Tuesday. (I know a guy who knows a guy.) Until that email arrived, I thought my racing season had ended at CamRock back on November 14. But “free” and “close” go a long way with me. My two practice laps plus my two race laps plus a few extra miles of messing around yielded a much better workout than I otherwise would have gotten today, even if I wasn’t able to give 100 percent.

There were about 30 racers overall, including some of the state’s fastest female racers. For people like Wisconsin’s top pro, Brian Matter, Beechwood was an off-week training opportunity in a season that still holds more goals. Jingle Cross, a UCI event, takes place in Iowa next weekend. Our national championships will be held January 5-10 in Asheville NC. The cyclocross season isn’t over for everyone, and today you could tell who was still in race mode and who was just having fun. Whatever your objectives today, you were welcome. Beer and conversation flowed freely around a campfire when the race was over. I missed the state championships and the end-of-season party last weekend at Waterloo, so today’s event allowed me to finish the season on a good note. It was fun in the company of friends.

Just enough friends. Too many cooks spoil the soap.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rack ‘Em Up

I admit it: I am really reaching for motivation. I found just enough over the last two days to set a new personal record for miles in November. I now have five new PRs this year:

01/2015  241
02/2012  137
03/2015  538
04/2010  650
05/2009  750
06/2015  816
07/2011 1,020
08/2015  826
09/2009  800
10/2014  534
11/2015  333
12/2012  175

My old record for November was 330, set in 2012. So, I haven’t crushed it … and I won’t, but I might ride a little more before the end of the month.

December only appears to be “low-hanging fruit.” No one should underestimate what it might take to surpass 175 miles in this climate.

My year-to-date total is 6,074. That already tops my old record of 5,236, set in 2014.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Grease Is The Word

Today I lined up my bikes for a little maintenance: fresh grease for the pedals and seatposts. The work was easy, but it’s also easy to overlook these tasks. Years ago when I wasn’t as mindful of maintenance, I had a pair of pedals so firmly attached to the crankarms that I thought I would never separate them. I was lucky to solve that problem, but not without a ton of effort. I never have had a seized seatpost, which can be a very serious issue. Attempting to free a seized seatpost is hard work at best and an equipment killer at worst. It takes maybe 5 minutes per bike to pull, clean, grease, and re-install the pedals and seatpost, and a single $6 tube of grease like Park Tool’s excellent PPL-1 will last for years. As the late, great Sheldon Brown said, “28 grams of prevention are worth 454 grams of cure.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

With Necessity Even The Gods Do Not Contend

Public discourse this week has focused largely on religion, particularly on the merits of Christianity and Islam. Sorting out that mess is far beyond the scope of my little cycling blog, but I will say this: religious and secular laws alike must bow, as they always have, to the laws of nature, to those things that are truly necessary. For example, no religion compels its adherents not to eat. You may not be allowed to eat certain things, or at certain times, or in certain places, or in the company of certain people, but you are allowed to eat.

In identifying a hierarchy of needs applicable to all of us, psychologist Abraham Maslow provided a reminder that humans are animals first. And like all animals our most basic physiological needs must be met before we can trouble ourselves with the complexities of society. Expressed graphically, Maslow’s hierarchy is a pyramid where things like food and water are the foundation. Progressing through less concrete layers, we eventually reach the top: self-actualization. To put it simply, that’s the point at which the individual has made his greatest effort to reach his greatest potential. Self-actualization is completely subjective. You decide what you want to be, and you decide the criteria by which you succeed or fail. That’s a classically liberal goal with infinite possibilities, but the well-worn path of the suicide bomber remains open to the unimaginative.

I keep a comprehensive To Do list but never once has it urged me to “work on self-actualization.” It often urges me to ride my bike, and that may be as close as I get to the top of the pyramid. My pyramid. Again, the goal is subjective, and I don’t have to be the Tour de France champion to be satisfied. Cycling is a physical manifestation of who I am. This week, then, has been a bummer because I haven’t been able to ride. Between bad weather and other circumstances, I haven’t ridden since Sunday and I don’t know when I will ride again. This is the week that winter weather arrives, just in time to wipe out my participation in the state cyclocross championships. The best I can do in freezing temperatures on a snow-covered course is not the best I can do. It’s pointless in a way that just lining up against racers of much greater ability is not.

The top of the pyramid is elusive by design, but sometimes even the less lofty layers are a challenge. When the foundation fails, it pulls everything down. For me there is relief at the end of the 2015 cycling season because less egocentric matters also demand my attention … and my money. I was very fortunate not to suffer any real setbacks during my period of unemployment earlier this year, but in the two months since I went back to work it seems like life has decided it doesn’t need to go easy on me anymore. Commuting 300 miles per week has revealed a host of problems with my vehicle that were either unknown or unimportant when I worked from home. Since mid-September I have replaced the tires, the battery, the engine’s oxygen sensors, and a headlight, totaling more than $1,000 in parts and labor. A few issues remain but they are not an immediate threat, and I have problems beyond the garage. My old desktop computer requires a reboot at least once a day. Cyber Monday was good to me last year when I had plenty of disposable income and it will have to be good again this year when I do not. I rely heavily on my PC, so there goes another pile of money. But the real budget killer could be my home furnace, which continues to provide heat but now makes unsettling noises that suggest an unfavorable change to its 20-year-old workings. Looking at the big picture, I didn’t spend a ton of money on cycling this year. Nonetheless, I’m glad to be done spending on it until 2016.

And cycling isn’t alone in the self-actualization layer; there are other pursuits that I consider central to my life and in the six weeks that remain this year I want to give them more time and effort. Earlier this week I finished my first book of 2015 and already I am halfway through the second. I used to read 25-30 every year. It’s time to rediscover the home gym, too, as my upper body strength training sessions have lacked focus and results in recent weeks.

If the weather improves between now and the end of the month, then I will get back on the bike to set a personal record for miles in November. But that’s a small prize for which I am not willing to do anything heroic. In the most likely scenario I will hike more than I ride between now and the end of the year. The simple act of walking through the woods takes me back to the idylls of my childhood in West Newton PA, where I was more fully self-actualized than I have been at any time since.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Records Falling, Enthusiasm Failing

See that map? The red lines represent the 32 miles I rode on my cyclocross bike today. Only a couple of them were at Hiestand Park, site of the penultimate WCA cyclocross race of 2015. I previewed the course, hated every inch of it, asked the USA Cycling official to remove my name from the start list, then went off in search of consolation. I had never seen the Hiestand course before, and I don’t expect to see it again.

Saturday’s trip to CamRock was a little disappointing too, though the course was very much to my liking. I rode well, probably even better than last year when I had a good result as a Cat 4. But I’m racing against a much stronger field now, and placing 18th of 26 overall in Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4, 13th of 15 Cat 3s, won’t impress anyone. Fellow West Bender Troy Sable (unattached) made the jump to Cat 3 a few weeks ago and he also is finding the competition to be much tougher and much deeper at this level. On Saturday, Troy and I were locked in a really good back-and-forth battle for most of the race. Unfortunately it ended with an anticlimax. I thought we had 1 lap to go when we approached the finish line for the last time, so I didn’t put up a fight when Troy passed me. It was stupid of me not to realize that a late pass by 35+ age group winner Scott Daubert (Trek Cyclocross Collective) had put us a lap down. Mike Curtes (Milwaukee Bicycle Co.) won the 45+ age group.

On Saturday I surpassed 6,000 miles of cycling, year-to-date. It’s my first time above the 6,000-mile threshold, a place I never expected to be back in 2011 as I was approaching my first 5,000-mile season. What did I say then? Oh, yeah: “The next plateau, 6,000 miles, is neither realistic nor attractive.”

Well, I really mean it this time: nuts to 7,000. That’s just excessive.

Saturday was my 205th day of cycling this year, breaking my old record of 204. So, today was 206 and anything more will be … more. But rain and much colder weather—perhaps even snow—will arrive this week and I am looking for the exit. Today’s experience in Madison was the biggest “fuck this” moment I have ever had as a cyclist. I am physically strong but mentally fatigued, and my participation in the state championship race next Saturday is far from guaranteed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It’s Not Repetition, It’s Discipline

This week my training has been … uniform. Let’s go with uniform. We have had good weather but there’s so little daylight now. I would like to go to bed soon after arriving home from my overnight job, but some days I stay up to complete chores, then I ride, then I sleep. It’s not ideal. Tomorrow and Friday will be exceptionally windy and not as warm, so I’m taking tomorrow completely off from cycling and on Friday I probably will content myself with a short indoor trainer ride.

Better weather will return for the weekend. It’s going to be dry, sunny, and 50-something in Dane County for CamRock on Saturday and TBD Cross on Sunday. I’ve been waiting for weeks for TBD to be determined, but it turns out the name of the event really is TBD Cross. I remember one day in elementary school when a kid wrote “Your Name” on the top of his answer sheet. He didn’t graduate with the rest of us and I lost track of him. Maybe he’s a race promoter now.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The 2016 WEMS Schedule

Late on Friday evening, the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series announced its 2016 race schedule. These are the same events we saw in 2015, but reshuffled so that they hit different spots on the calendar. Thunderdown in the Underdown will replace Romp in the Swap as the season finale and championship.

04/30 The Wild Ride Buzzard Buster @ Hatfield
05/07 Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge @ Greenbush
05/21 18 Hours of Alpine Valley @ Elkhorn
06/04 Romp in the Swamp Epic @ Wausau
06/18 Southern Kettles Classic @ Eagle
07/16 Stump Farm 100 @ Suamico
08/27 RASTA Rock N Root @ Rhinelander
09/17 Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane
10/08 Thunderdown in the Underdown @ Gleason

Stump Farm fell on May 23 this year, and the weather was nice enough but I am really looking forward to racing there next July. I hope it’s hotter than hell. Mark me down for the New Fane race, too. The other races in the series probably don’t fit my still-developing plans for 2016.

The Switch In Time That Saved Nine

Special thanks to Jon Holcomb! The former race director of the Wisconsin Off-Road Series (WORS) event in Sheboygan has stepped up to keep the Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge on the WEMS schedule. Team Pedal Moraine decided early last week that it would not host the race. Holcomb will rally GEARS (our regional IMBA chapter) and the FatKats Mountain Bike Club for trail preparation and race administration at Greenbush. WORS will drop from a 12-race schedule to a 10-race schedule in 2016, and WEMS was in danger of dropping from 9 races to just 8. It would have been a shame to see the Greenbush race go away.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

2015 Estabrook Park Beer Garden CX

(Steve Cummins photo)

In 2011 I had a disappointing day at the Estabrook Park cyclocross race in Milwaukee. On that occasion, my own inability to get clipped into my pedals ruined my start and put me hopelessly behind. Today I returned to Estabrook for the first time since that disappointment, only to have another.

It was no trouble getting clipped in as the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 race began. I made a strong start from the middle of the second row, putting some very good riders behind me. For a moment I dared to entertain the thought of a high finish. I was running with the big dogs … until I ran into one of the biggest. JW Miller (Erik's) has been a prolific winner in both cyclocross and mountain bike racing. But even the best make mistakes. On a course that narrowed quickly after the starting chute, Miller got entangled with a pole and some course tape and slowed abruptly. I was inches behind him and had nowhere to go but right up his back. In the seconds that we needed to separate, Miller and I lost a bunch of positions. He was bleeding a little and I thought I had done real damage to his bike, but he was able to resume.

Today’s field was very strong and I knew that the crash had ended any chance of a Top 10 for me. As I resumed, my first order of business was to retake the positions I had lost to my closest rivals. Brian Petted (Team Extreme), Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), Scott Willms (Emery’s) and West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) were ahead of me now. It took me a little while to move up, and I never did catch Sable, who would finish in 21st place, the last man on the lead lap. The race leader put me a lap behind as I was approaching the finish line for what otherwise would have been my bell lap. Knowing that the leader had just come through, I redoubled my effort to overtake Peter Tampa (Rat City Racers). I caught him on a sharp little hill with just a few hundred yards to go. That gave me 22nd place out of 29 overall. I was 13th out of the 14 Cat 3 racers. I had the legs to be 3 or 4 spots higher. Mike Curtes (Twin Six) took the win, followed by John Lirette (unattached) and Tedd Jacobson (KS Energy Services / MOSH / Team Wisconsin).

Today was my 200th day of cycling in 2015. This is just the second time I have reached 200 rides: I did 204 back in 2012 and that record should fall next week.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Better You Than Me

nine minutes thirty-seven seconds later ...
Yesterday was a Halloween of more tricks than treats. I went through the day dressed as a guy who couldn’t be bothered with the rainy, muddy, and chilly cyclocross race at Washington Park in Milwaukee. By late morning my Facebook newsfeed was filling up with pictures and videos of friends who seemed to revel in the filth, but I didn’t feel like I had missed out. By mid-afternoon my decision to stay home turned into a very good thing for my son, who called for my assistance when he got his first glimpse of the dark side of car ownership. I drove to his location, took a quick spin around a parking lot to understand his concerns, then followed him to the nearest service center. Tomorrow we will know whether he has a $100 problem or a $500 problem.

Yes, Saturday was ugly, but hopefully it was just one bad day in an otherwise nice sequence for this time of year. Friday was nice enough. Today was even better, and I got back in the saddle for a 27-mile road ride. I am now just 232 miles away from my first 6,000-mile season. Getting to 6,000 isn’t guaranteed; I rode just 316 miles in the final two months of 2014. But I will push myself a little bit in the week to come. The next four days will be dry and 60-70 degrees, probably our last stretch of such weather until next April or May.

There’s more at stake than a new mileage plateau. I want to hit the four cyclocross races that remain on the WCA schedule, starting with Estabrook Park in Milwaukee next Saturday. To be fit for that race, for the following weekend in Dane County, and for the state championships on November 21, I need to get my training volume back up. In the week that ended today, I rode just 74 miles in 4.5 hours. That’s my worst week since March 23-29.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The 2016 WORS Schedule

Today the Wisconsin Off-Road Series announced its 2016 schedule. Racers who have grown accustomed to a 12-event season were surprised to see just 10 events on next year’s calendar. Long-time favorites at Wausau and Rhinelander are gone; the remaining events from this year’s calendar will be back.

If you are a series racer, then you should know that WORS has not reduced the number of races that will count toward the season-long points championship. You simply will have fewer opportunities to get those Best 7 or Best 8 results, and woe to you if you have a DNF or other bad result that you need to replace.

The 2016 WORS schedule looks like this:

  1. Iola Bump & Jump @ Iola, May 15
  2. Battle of CamRock @ Rockdale, June 5
  3. Mt. Morris Challenge @ Mt. Morris, June 12
  4. Red Flint Firecracker @ Eau Claire, June 26
  5. Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic @ Waukesha, July 10
  6. WORS Cup @ Portage, July 22-24
  7. Hixon Forest Epic @ La Crosse, August 7
  8. Reforestation Ramble @ Suamico, August 21
  9. Treadfest @ Lake Geneva, September 11
  10. Sheboygan MTB Challenge @ Sheboygan, October 2

I haven’t done any planning, but my 2016 mountain bike season probably will include a mix of WORS and WEMS events with no series ambitions in either. I am likely to do the short track race at the WORS Cup, and I definitely want to go for another win at the Reforestation Ramble. Lake Geneva and Sheboygan are out because they will conflict with cyclocross. Eau Claire and La Crosse are probably out because they are on the other side of the state and I won’t have a big travel budget. The WEMS schedule has not yet been announced.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Heckle, Jekyll & Hyde

Gray skies are gonna clear up … (Nicki Lock photo)

It’s hard to believe, but the end of this year’s WCA cyclocross season is already in sight. In just four weeks we will crown our state champions. I won’t be one of them. But at least I feel like a Cat 3 again. Yesterday I was just a rolling roadblock.

Sun Prairie Cup

Saturday was weird. It was very warm early in the morning and then got progressively colder. That’s opposite of our normal weather pattern. It also was overcast and very windy, which is sadly common. I worked overnight on Friday, then hurried home to find carpool partner Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) already waiting in my driveway. We got to Sun Prairie and pre-rode the course. Standard stuff. When the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 race began, I got a decent start and was pretty happy with my position at the end of the first two laps.

And then it rained. It wasn’t a downpour by any means, but a persistent heavy mist that quickly changed the nature of the course. With so many off-camber features in play, racers soon discovered that they no longer could ride certain sections that they had ridden before. I fared worse than most, and with each position I lost I was less motivated to push on. The finish line couldn’t come soon enough. I took 21st out of 24 overall and was dead last among the 13 Category 3 racers. JW Miller (Erik’s) took the win, followed by Jeff Melcher (Team Pedal Moraine) and Arlen Spicer (Belgianwerkx). I can grind it out in the rain on level ground, but not on the sides of hills. It was just a bad race for me. In the parking lot, Timm Jacobson (KS Energy Services / MOSH / Team Wisconsin) said I looked skinny. It was the only compliment I got all day, and I wasn’t sure I deserved even that small kindness.

Celtic Cross

As it turns out, Timm was right. Today began with a weigh-in: 186 pounds, my lowest since … I literally don’t know. I bought a new bathroom scale in May 2014, replacing one that I knew was extremely inaccurate. I was 202 pounds at that time. So, I had a big bowl of cereal and two donuts for breakfast before heading to Fitchburg. And just before the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 race started I had a Coke and not one but two packets of GU. I wouldn’t want to leave myself under-nourished.

Racing in brilliant sunshine on a dry, flat course, I made a strong start. But early in Lap 1 my front wheel washed out on a deep bed of pine needles and down I went. That may have been the moment that ultimately cost me a Top 10 finish, though I recovered quickly. The rest of the race was bobble free. I rode strongly and confidently on a course that was more technical when it came into the WCA series last year. This year’s version was perfect for a hammer-down rider of modest bike handling skills. And there was something to play for all the way to the finish line. Close rival Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) pressed me hard on the final lap but couldn’t out-sprint me on the short straightaway after the final turn. I took 11th out of 20 overall and 6th out of the 10 Cat 3s. John Lirette (unattached) was today’s winner, followed by Miller and Spicer.

Up Next

On Saturday I plan to be at Milwaukee’s Washington Park for the annual Halloween Cross race. The atmosphere is always fun even if I don’t usually race well on that course. The last Milwaukee-area race of the season will be at Estabrook Park on Nov. 7, then we do a Dane County double on Nov. 14 and 15 with races at CamRock and at Madison’s Hiestand Park, respectively. The state championships will be held on Nov. 21 at Waterloo, the course on which I had my highest finish in 2014.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

2015 Grafton PumpkinCross

I guess this race just doesn’t like me.

Last year at PumpkinCross, my chain rattled off during a bumpy descent and I had to dismount to fix it, losing a handful of positions while I was stopped. I was able to regain some of those positions, but that mechanical issue prevented me from having a much better result. And it didn’t help that I was overlooked for a call-up at the start of the race, despite being the series points leader at the time.

Today at PumpkinCross, a flat rear tire got me. I had started reasonably well and was running in the middle of the pack at the end of Lap 1. But I pinch-flatted early in Lap 2. It took a while for me to realize I had a problem, but when I did there was nothing to do but hoist the bike onto my shoulder and run to the pit area. It took almost 5 minutes from the time I started running until the time I was able to ride again: I resumed with a borrowed wheel from the SRAM neutral support mechanic. But the front of the race then lapped me and my main rivals were impossibly out of reach. Though I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to take a DNF, I needed more than that for motivation. On my final lap I spotted Kurt Greenslit (Colavita Racing), who had passed me during my run. Greenslit is an opponent I know well—today’s race was our 22nd head-to-head matchup—and I was confident I could close the gap and make the pass. Retaking that position was just a consolation prize, but it was good for my morale on a disappointing day.

I placed 23rd out of 30 overall in a race that was tough on equipment. Four riders failed to finish, and perhaps it was just foolish pride that prevented me from being the fifth. I didn’t quit when I easily could have, and that means something to me. I was 8th out of the 9 Category 3 racers in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 field. Team Pedal Moraine captain Jeff Melcher was today’s winner.

Without the flat tire, I might have finished 10 places higher today. I had a similar result at Washington Park in 2011. Things break sometimes, and it doesn’t pay to worry too much about what happened today.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The WORS Cup Effect

The 2015 season of the Wisconsin Off-Road Series ended in Sheboygan on Oct. 11, but for many racers the season was effectively over in July. In almost every category and age group, the winner of the year-long points title was the person who collected the most points at the WORS Cup, held July 24-26 at Cascade Mountain in Portage. As I will demonstrate, the manner in which WORS awarded points on that weekend had negative and presumably unintended consequences. Bluntly stated, the WORS Cup provided the margin by which some racers obtained state championships that should have gone to others.

Like all events in the series, the WORS Cup features a cross country (XC) race. But it also features Super D and short track cross country (STXC), races that aren’t just unique on the WORS calendar, but also are the only USA Cycling-sanctioned races of their kind in Wisconsin. This year WORS awarded double points to any racer who competed in the XC race and either Super D or STXC. You had to do your best in the XC race, then those points would double if you merely lined up for one of the others. The WORS Cup did produce deserving winners in every race, but one result should not count as two.

Let’s look at what happened to West Bend’s Julie Schmitt in the Citizens series for women, ages 45-54. The points championship was based on each racer’s seven best results. Julie competed in all 12 XC races and finished with 9 wins. Her seven best results were wins, and yet she didn’t win the series. The new state champion is Wausau’s Christine Kysely. Head-to-head, Julie was 12-0 against Christine and the time gaps were enormous. The closest race between them was at Rhinelander, where Julie beat Christine by almost 18 minutes. So, how did Christine amass 1496 points to Julie’s 1425?

Julie won the XC race at the WORS Cup but did not compete in the Super D or STXC. Christine was 3rd in the XC race. She then placed 4th out of 4 in her age group and 10th out of 10 Cat 2/3 women overall in STXC, and based on her participation in that race she doubled her 186 XC points and finished the weekend with a 372-200 edge on Julie. Again, by season’s end Julie had 9 wins and only 7 of them were fully accounted for within the format by which the series winner was determined; each of her other finishes added 5 participation points to her total. New victories simply replaced old victories: 200 + 200 didn’t add up to 400, it added up only to 205. There was no way to overcome the 172-point bump that Christine got at the WORS Cup, no matter how dominant Julie was at every subsequent event. That’s the WORS Cup Effect.

This can’t be what WORS intended. The WORS Cup doesn’t just devalue every other race in the series, it also forces anyone with overall series ambitions to race in at least one discipline that he or she probably experiences just once all year. In some categories, that means racing on two different days during the three-day WORS Cup weekend. For some people, the unique schedule of that weekend presents a real hardship. Whatever the case, winning the XC series championship should not depend on your participation in a Super D or STXC race. If the double points incentive exists only to increase participation in Super D and STXC, then it’s well-meant but ill-conceived. The better solution is to recognize Super D and STXC as disciplines apart from XC, to offer a series of such races that includes other WORS weekends, and to honor separate sets of champions for them. As things stand, it’s easy to imagine a WORS Cup where some XC racers cynically roll across the start line of the Super D and STXC races and then immediately take a DNF. In any other race that would be worth just 1 point, but at the WORS Cup it’s worth at least 100 and as much as 200 points. For as little as $20 and at no hazard to body or bike, you can greatly increase your chance of winning the series. Come on. Let’s fix this for 2016.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mid-Season Break

One of my goals this season is to compete in the Wisconsin state cyclocross championships. I have been racing cyclocross since 2011 but I have never lined up for the season finale. Usually that was because the weather was unacceptably cold. The -12 wind chill of December 2013 made it easy for me to stay in bed, and while that morning was uncommonly harsh it wasn’t alone in being too cold for me.

This year the championships will be held on November 21 and suddenly that’s just 6 weeks away. I don’t have any realistic chance to win the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 title, but I want to give my best effort. To that end, it might have made sense to line up last weekend for the Trek CXC Cup. The 2-day, non-series event carried UCI C1/C2 designation, making it the highest ranking cyclocross event in the state this year. Defending national champions Jeremy Powers and Katie Compton were there, and if it were good enough for them it should have been good enough for me, right?

Yes and no. Racing is the best training and being thoroughly flogged at the Trek CXC Cup would have been good for my fitness even if it had been crushing for my ego. But it’s not a bad thing to step back momentarily from high intensity efforts to let body and mind recover. My weekend training consisted of endurance-pace road rides. I finished last week with 10.5 hours in the saddle and a total of 179 miles. That’s good training volume for this time of year. This week I will do a couple of shorter, harder efforts to prepare for PumpkinCross in Grafton on Saturday.

My mother was in town last weekend for a rare visit, so there was never a doubt that I would skip the Trek CXC Cup. On Sunday morning, Mom sat down with me to watch the Bpost Bank series cyclocross race from Belgium and then the conclusion of Paris-Tours from France. I think she was less impressed with the racing than with the technology that brings European TV into my living room.

I surprised myself by emerging from last weekend without any weight gain. Mom’s visit included a couple of big restaurant meals of the sort that kill good diets, but I guess I did just enough riding to keep things in balance. I hit my lowest weight of the year last Wednesday and with proper training I could lose a few more pounds before the state championships. There are hills at Firemen’s Park in Waterloo, so anything I can do to increase power-to-weight would be a smart move.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cyclocross In Oshkosh, B’Gosh

Harder than it looks: Jeff Wren and I took different lines on the course's toughest hill. (Cindy Petted photo)

Historically, the WCA cyclocross series has been dominated by events in Wisconsin’s largest cities: Milwaukee and Madison. But this year the series has stretched its boundaries a bit. We opened the season last month in Manitowoc, and today the good folks in Oshkosh treated us to The People’s Cross, a race that will be remembered for its succession of steep hills.

Pre-riding the course early in the morning, my attempt at the first hill was unsuccessful. Picking a good line was important and I didn’t get it right until my second attempt about an hour later. I was able to ride everything else, so conquering the first hill gave me confidence that I would be able to ride it during the race. The “feel” of that first hill was very similar to the top of the sledding hill at Royal Oaks Park in West Bend, a summit I reached again and again during Tuesday practice sessions.

When the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 race began, I got an unimpressive start from the front row. Most of the guys who eventually finished ahead of me reached the first turn ahead of me. And just as I was starting to settle in, Quentin Gniot (Gryphon Velo Racing) shot past. John Lichtenberg (Diablo Cycling) came around next and quickly rode away. But approaching that first tough hill, Christopher St. Clair (Milwaukee Bicycle Company) crashed and interrupted Gniot’s momentum. For the next couple of laps, Gniot and I rode together and I was encouraged to be matching so strong a rider.

Then Gniot had his own miscue: a tiny bobble on the last hill of the lap. It was all I needed to get by him. As I began to pull out a comfortable advantage, Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) jumped into the gap. And Wren was bad news for me for a couple of laps. He went ahead of me for a little while but when I retook the position from him I was confident I would keep it. I had just a small lead when we saw the 2 laps to go sign, and I was sure the race leader would soon pass us. That would mean we really had just 1 lap to go, so I increased my effort to get rid of Wren as quickly as possible. But the leader never lapped us, so in fact we did complete 2 more laps and my advantage over Wren grew all the while. In the end I was 9th of 17 overall, 7th of the 11 Cat 3 racers. John Lirette (unattached) took the win, followed by Greg Ferguson (Trek Midwest Team) and Ted Schaff (Diablo Cycling).

The Trek CXC Cup—a 2-day, non-series event that will attract some of the top domestic professionals from across the US—will take place in Waterloo next weekend but I won’t be there. My next race will be Belgianwerkx’s PumpkinCross in Grafton on Oct. 17. It’s the closest race to home and it always features an interesting course.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two For One

This route, always run counter-clockwise, has been my weekday standard for years.

It was a day of milestones! With this afternoon’s 25-mile road ride, I surpassed 50,000 lifetime miles and brought my year-to-date total to 5,240, making 2015 my highest mileage calendar year. Here’s how it breaks down, season-by-season:

Year      Miles

2015      5,240
2014      5,236
2013      4,100
2012      5,005
2011      5,113
2010      4,650
2009      4,800
2008      3,787
2007      4,410
2006      3,161
2005      3,050
2004      1,454

Total:   50,006

It was kind of neat to hit these numbers with exactly three months remaining in 2015. I wonder how much I can add to my totals before the end of the year. My biggest concern, though, is staying race-ready throughout the remainder of the cyclocross season.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

At Sixes And Sevens

I was feeling strong on Saturday at Cross-Shooshko. (Nicki Lock photo)

Last weekend I skipped the WCA cyclocross race in Lake Geneva because I expected to be too fatigued to perform well on the Sunday after a 3-hour mountain bike race at New Fane. Perhaps I should have trusted my powers of recovery. At this weekend's races in Milwaukee, I had a lot of stamina and just enough technique to grab a pair of Top 10 finishes among the Cat 3 racers in the 45+ age group of the Masters 1/2/3/4 class.


I worked overnight on Friday and left the office in Brookfield shortly after 7 a.m. It wouldn’t have made sense to drive back to West Bend for just a few minutes at home, so I went to McDonald’s for hotcakes. Cheap and bland, you say? Exactly, I say: it was worth every bit of $2.49, a big 600+ calorie shot in advance of the race, and guaranteed not to upset my stomach. Shortly after 8 a.m. I checked in at the registration table, then turned a couple of practice laps on the Kosciuszko Park course. It was different from last year’s course and bumpy as hell, but I thought it suited me. I knew it would favor power riders who could stay on the gas and wouldn’t be too challenged by the course’s technical features. As the morning races began, I retreated to the parking lot and tried to relax in the back of my minivan. I had a pillow and a sleeping bag and I would have welcomed an hour of slumber, but it wouldn’t come. At least I was calm and quiet. I got back on the bike at 10:15 and spent the next hour warming up and touring the course when there were breaks in the racing.

The course improved dramatically as the morning dew yielded to the sun and wind. I got a good start and was able to hold fast lines through corners that had been slick during my practice laps. But midway through Lap 1 the race leaders were already out to a big lead and I seemed to be the first among everyone else. Nobody passed me in the second half of the lap, so I guess I was tapping out a reasonable pace. On Laps 2 and 3, John Lichtenberg (Diablo Cycling) and Reed Cornia (5Nines/Motorless Motion) were close behind me but all other rivals were fading fast. Lichtenberg came around on Lap 4 and I was almost glad for the opportunity to follow. We were well matched today—as we have been in many races over the years—and he couldn’t ride away from me. But I spent the remainder of the race trying to figure out how to get that position back. I was faster in some spots, but Lichtenberg was consistently better at getting back into his pedals and speeding away from obstacles. Barriers placed near the end of the lap were my undoing: I just couldn’t match Lichtenberg in that section and there wasn’t enough racecourse on which to recover lost time before the finish line.

I was 12th of 26 racers in Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4, 7th of the 11 Cat 3 racers. Arlen Spicer (Belgianwerkx) took the win, followed by Greg Ferguson (Trek Midwest Team) and Steve Sarver (Team Velocause). I overtook 9 of the 25 guys in the 35+ age group, despite starting a minute behind their wave. I rode a very strong race and my mid-pack result is no disappointment to me. The guys who beat me were really good.

Velocause Cross

Sarver, Spicer and Ferguson shuffled the deck on Sunday at Humboldt Park, finishing in that order while I placed out 15th of 30 overall and 6th of 13 Cat 3 racers.

The day began with McDonald’s hotcakes again … can’t recommend them enough! But getting something like 10 hours of sleep last night didn’t hurt. I had tons of energy today, and I needed it to ride well on a course that featured more elevation change, tighter turns, and more technical off-camber stuff than I had faced on Saturday. On the first lap I did my best to stay with the front runners. I rode well but not that well. I settled into a sustainable groove on Lap 2. By the midpoint of the race I was in a really fun fight with Chicago’s Jeremy Treister (Half Acre Cycling), whose son Solomon won the Juniors 15-18 race earlier in the day. I attempted to pass Jeremy on a couple of occasions as the race approached its conclusion, but he was tough to get around. Late in the last lap I got him on the second of two closely-spaced off-camber descents. When I shot up the short hill that followed, it looked like Jeremy couldn’t respond. Just to be sure, I jumped into the big ring for the first time all weekend and went into the drops for the fast dash to the finish line.

Up Next

Racing in the Milwaukee area on a Saturday after a Friday night shift is one thing; driving out to Dane County is another. The October 3 race at Badger Prairie is off my calendar. I will be back in action on Sunday, October 4, at The People’s Cross in Oshkosh. Then I will have a little mid-season break instead of participating in the Trek CXC Cup, October 10-11. My mother will be in town that weekend and I want to give her as much of my time as she can tolerate!

More immediately, the last of this year’s cyclocross practice races at Royal Oaks Park will be held at 5:30 p.m. this Tuesday. It could be a somewhat chilly finale to what has been a warm series, and we can work with the temperature drop. But rain could force a cancellation, so watch the Facebook page if there’s any doubt.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Recover, Recommit, Resume

It's not about how many times you get knocked down; it's about how many times you get back up.

Despite some soreness and stiffness—you would be hurting, too, if you had crashed yesterday afternoon in the WEMS race at New Fane—today I knocked out 27 miles on the road to surpass 5,000 miles, year-to-date. This is my fourth 5,000-mile season. I have done it every year since 2011, except for my injury-shortened 2013.

Two mileage goals remain. At 5,234 I will reach 50,000 “lifetime” miles. Those are all the miles I have recorded since becoming a serious cyclist in 2004. At 5,237 I will reach a level I have never reached in a single calendar year, beating the 5,236 miles I rode in 2014. If all goes as planned, I will hit those numbers next week, Sep. 28-Oct. 4.

In the week that begins tomorrow, I will adjust to my new overnight work schedule. That might play havoc with my energy levels for a few days, and Tuesday’s cyclocross practice should provide an early test. Hopefully I will be in some kind of groove by Friday because it’s another double race weekend in the WCA cyclocross series: Cross-Shooshko on Saturday and Velocause Cross on Sunday, both in Milwaukee.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

2015 Northern Kettles Fall Epic

(Jon Holcomb photo)

I prepare for the Northern Kettles Fall Epic like no other event. It’s the closest mountain bike race to my home and the racecourse is almost identical to the route that I ride about once a week all spring and summer. I know what I need to take there, and I know what it takes to perform well there.

So, imagine my disappointment when immediately after going through the registration line today I realized that I had forgotten to bring my helmet, shoes, jersey and gloves! It was an uncharacteristic mistake to say the least, but with a quick call home I soon was rescued by my son Ryan, who arrived with my gear about 20 minutes before the start. I might have had just enough time to drive home and get it myself, but the stress would have been awful. I used Ryan’s driving time to warm up … in running shoes and a T-shirt.

I got a good start from the second row. Some really good riders occupied the first row and, with one exception, I didn’t like my chances against them. Eventual race winner Tony Wagner (Linear Sport), John Muraski (Team Extreme), Ryan Pokorny (Team Extreme), Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), Greg Van Slyke (Pedal Moraine), and Kevin Momber (team affiliation unknown) all made strong starts. Early in Lap 1, Andy Crass (unattached) passed me and rode away with ease. I figured I might see Wren again—we train together and race against each other so frequently that I know how well we match up over the duration of a race—but the rest were gone. I completed Lap 1 in 25:02, my fastest lap of the day and 40 seconds quicker than the pace I would need to maintain to squeeze 7 laps into the 3-hour time limit.

At 26:08, Lap 2 was a little slower. I rode almost the entire lap with no one in sight ahead of me or behind, so pacing was difficult. But I rebounded on Lap 3 with a 25:53. I still had an outside chance of completing 7 laps.

I caught Wren on Lap 4 and noticed that he wasn’t going especially fast. I thought about passing him, but I needed a little break and just followed his wheel back to the finish line. We both stopped for just a few seconds to grab fresh water bottles, and we lost a position as Mike Roethel (Sheboygan Bicycle Company) pressed on. My lap time was an unimpressive 26:43.

As Lap 5 began I quickly rode away from Wren and worked my way back to Roethel. He was going well and I was content to follow, completing the lap in 26:31. That time included the water bottle stop referenced above. I was now a couple of minutes behind the pace I would need for 7 laps, but I resolved to complete Lap 6 as quickly as I could.

Before diving back into the singletrack early in Lap 6, I passed Roethel and started to pull away. And then I crashed on a fast descent. That could have been very bad, and I was a little shaken by the experience. Roethel reached me within seconds and stopped to ask if I were OK. I only guessed that I was, then waved him on. I restarted almost immediately but it took a couple of minutes for me to regain my momentum. I thought Roethel would ride away but he was fatigued and later confessed that he no longer could push the pace on New Fane’s short, punchy climbs. I needed half a lap to overtake him, then I finished strong. At 27:44, Lap 6 was my longest of the day. But when you factor in the crash and its aftershocks, I rode most of the lap at a pretty good pace.

I was 7th out of 25 men in the 3-hour division. My total time of 2:38:01 works out to a 26:20 per lap average, and I would have needed to average 25:42 to squeeze in another lap. Wagner did 7 laps in 2:50:25. Muraski placed 2nd with a time of 2:53:01, followed by Pokorny in 2:54:49. Momber was the fastest of the 6-lap men in 2:28:31, followed by Crass in 2:33:41 and Van Slyke in 2:35:18. Roethel placed 8th in 2:38:31, followed by Wren in 2:38:55. Sean Shields (Hampshire Cycle Club) completed the Top 10 in 2:41:04.

I didn't get the 7 laps I wanted, and I crashed, but I had a good race. Last year I completed 6 laps in 2:41:13, so today’s 2:38:01 is an improvement. And last year I finished 10th, right behind Wren. This year I beat my closest rival and climbed up the leaderboard.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pre-Race Personal Record

After work today I went to New Fane and surprised myself with two very solid practice laps in what was probably my last tuneup before Saturday’s WEMS race. Rain will arrive sometime tomorrow, and Friday could be a complete washout. I had not ridden at New Fane since Sep. 3. Seeing the current condition of the trails was important to my preparations.

I could not have expected a personal record, but that’s what I got on Lap 2. My time of 24:27 beat the old mark of 24:41 that I set back on August 28. At just 25:32, today’s first lap felt like a warmup, but seven laps at that pace probably would put me near the Top 5 finishers on Saturday.

The Northern Kettles Fall Epic will be my 20th trip to New Fane this year. When the race is done, I’m done with mountain biking until next spring. The good wheels and tires will come off, the backups will go on, and my 29er will be a recreation trail cruiser and (damn it all) a winter bike.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Back On The Chain Gang

On September 3 when I announced that I had found a new job, I expected my start date to be September 14. And because I will be working the Monday through Friday night shift, I expected my first after-work bike race to be this Saturday’s Northern Kettles Fall Epic at New Fane. Things are a little different: I started my new job this morning and I will spend the remainder of this week on the day shift. It’s a temporary scheduling change to allow for adequate training before I am asked to work overnight with little or no supervision. I didn’t know about the change until late yesterday—a circumstance beyond our control.

So, I didn’t sleep well last night and today I was at work from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. After work I had to do some banking and a few other chores, and before I was really ready for it, cyclocross practice was upon me. My fatigue was more mental than physical, however, and I was able to rally myself for a worthwhile performance once the practice race began. Four fast laps of the long course at Royal Oaks is a serious workout.

For the most part, spending this week on the day shift will benefit me. Tomorrow I will be able to watch CrossVegas after work and before bedtime. That wouldn’t have been possible if I were on the night shift this week. And I will finish my work week on Friday afternoon instead of early Saturday morning, so I should get adequate rest before Saturday afternoon’s race. It now looks like Cross-Shooshko (Sep. 26) will be the first after-work race.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pack Fodder … And Loving It!

(Melissa Putzer photo)

What a great start for WCA cyclocross this year! We had pleasant weather, well-executed events, and spirited racing to get everyone fired up for the long season ahead. I don’t have series ambitions this year but I am encouraged by my results so far.

Flyover Silver Creek Cyclocross

On Saturday in Manitowoc, I made my Cat 3 debut on a course that was outstanding in every detail. As a non-series event in 2014, the Manitowoc race garnered high praise for its course design. This year it was even better. It kept the most popular elements from last year and added a long run on the sandy beach of Lake Michigan. Cyclocross is often described as a race of transitions: a discipline that rewards those who can dismount, clear an obstacle, and then remount quickly. Manitowoc succeeded in presenting a fun challenge.

Moving into a higher level of competition after a strong 2014 season, I knew I would be challenged enough by the other men in the Masters 1/2/3/4 field. But I had a good practice lap and I didn’t have any more than the usual pre-race jitters. I was pleased with my start from the second row. Team Pedal Moraine’s Jeff Melcher quickly sprinted away from me and took some of the other top contenders with him while I held onto the wheel of Greg Ferguson (Trek Midwest). Staying with Ferguson for any length of time is an accomplishment, but when a rider fell in front of us about a minute into the race, Greg got around on the left while I was pinned against a post on the right. Then I lost contact with Paul Warloski (Milwaukee Bicycle Co.), and then PJ Braun (Fiets Club Flahute). The next couple of laps felt a lot like a Tuesday practice race at Royal Oaks Park as I tried to power away from Jeff Wren and Brian Petted, both of Team Extreme. By Lap 3 I had run through the slowest of the 35+ guys who started a minute before my wave, but I also had lost ground to a couple of 55+ guys who caught me from behind. The latter included Mike Bown (Belgianwerkx), with whom I worked to stretch my advantage over the pursuers from my own age group.

When Melcher lapped me on his final trip around the course, I knew I had just seen the front of the race go by. That inspired me to lift my pace and stay with my team captain as long as I could. We were near the end of the lap when he passed, and with the sandy beach and some tight turns before the finish line, I could at least be someone his chasers would have to pass. But that possibility never presented itself. The winner of the 35+ group passed me at the very end of the race, but no one else did. Melcher enjoyed victory in the 45+ group while I finished 14th out of 22. Among the Cat 3s, I was 6th out of 9. It was the result I deserved. I was technically competent, I out-climbed many of my rivals on a grassy hill that is a long grind by cyclocross standards, and I settled into the rhythm of the 45-minute race. Racing in prior seasons as a Cat 4, all of my races were just 30 minutes. I have the endurance for the longer event … but I do need to get faster.

Sheboygan Bicycle Company Cyclocross Classic

Today in Sheboygan, the 35+ and 45+ age groups started together in the Masters 1/2/3/4 race but they would have benefited from a time gap like the one that was used in Manitowoc. With a big group of riders going into a tight left-hand turn early in Lap 1, I had to shoulder my way past a guy who got tangled in the course tape and was trying to remount. I had sprinted to that point with the guys who eventually would win the race, but that little delay allowed them to leave me behind. I wouldn’t have stayed with them for long anyway. Arlen Spicer (Belgianwerkx) was the class of the field and the easy winner. In fact, I was kind of hoping Arlen would be even faster. I’ll explain that later.

After losing the front of the race, I settled into a less frantic pace with Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), Chris McArdle (Colectivo Coffee) and Brian Wick (KS Energy / MOSH / Team Wisconsin). McArdle and Wick were part of the 35+ age group and good guys with whom to work. We stopped losing positions and then tried to claw our way forward. The course at Sheboygan was bumpy as ever but most of the corners were generous and everything was dry, especially the steep hill known as the Equalizer. For me—and, indeed, for almost everyone—the Equalizer is a run-up even under ideal conditions. On my first ascent I was running well with the bike on my shoulder when Wren stumbled in front of me. One of his pedals became trapped in the spokes of my front wheel and (it’s a good thing we’re friends) he resumed his climb at a steady pace as I worked my wheel free. The bikes were undamaged and we hadn’t really lost any time, but two incidents on Lap 1 were enough for me.

I was Mr. Clean for the rest of the race, riding away from Wren and McArdle after a couple of laps and then riding down Wick after he had pulled out a small advantage. Wick and I continued as a duo for a full lap and for the most part I was content to follow, but on the penultimate lap he was clearly fading. I went around and encouraged him to stay with me, but a gap soon developed. As I approached the finish line, I could see race leader Arlen Spicer overtaking Wick and I quickly calculated that if I sat up and allowed Spicer to overtake me, then my position would be locked in and I wouldn’t have to do another lap. As it turned out, I reached the finish line first and earned the dubious honor of being the last man on the lead lap. I could see no one ahead of me and the race was finished behind me, so I cursed my luck (verbally, to the delight of USA Cycling official Rich Weiss) and rode on. Late in the lap I chased down a rider who was clearly out of gas and I thought that perhaps there had been some reason to ride the extra lap as if it mattered, but the results later confirmed that I was lapping the poor guy rather than taking a position from him. When it was all over, I was 11th out of 20 in the 45+ group, 7th out of 9 Cat 3s.

Let’s Hear It For The Locals!

West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) won the Masters 45+ Cat 4/5 race in Sheboygan. Fellow West Bender Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) took third place and Germantown’s Scott Willms (Emery’s) was fourth. Wren, Sable and Willms then competed in the Masters 1/2/3/4 race where they finished 12th, 13th and 14th, respectively. It’s a big ask to give your all in the 30-minute race early in the morning and then come back later for 45 minutes against even tougher opponents.

What’s Next?

My worst cyclocross race of 2014 came at Lake Geneva on the morning following the 3-hour Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series race at New Fane. This year those events again fall on consecutive days, and I am committed to the WEMS race. I might skip Lake Geneva and then come back strong on Sep. 26-27 in Milwaukee at Cross-Shooshko and Velocause Cross. Lake Geneva will be the first event in the new Super Cup series-within-a-series that the WCA will try this season and the turnout should be huge. That’s exciting, but that’s not necessarily what I need right now as I continue to develop as a Cat 3.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cyclocross Eve … Eve

A week has passed since I announced the successful conclusion of my job search, and while I haven’t gone back to work yet—my first day will be next Monday—I have been busy with a lot of job-related activities. I’m going to work in Brookfield, but I’m going to work for a Michigan-based company with no local human resources department. All of the pre-employment paperwork was done via fax, email, or the company’s website, and drug screening was done at a local lab with which the company has a contract. (USADA, if you’re reading this, I did not return a “non-negative analytical finding.” And who talks like that anyway?)

Time spent on pre-employment chores hasn’t come close to the time I would have spent on hunting for work, and last week I got back to high-volume training with a 13.5-hour, 216-mile block that ended on Sunday. I took a rest day on Monday and then was more-or-less forced into another one by rain on Tuesday. Conditions at Royal Oaks Park were unsuitable for cyclocross practice, so I called it off. I didn’t want to damage the grounds and my relationship with the city’s Parks, Recreation & Forestry staff. Monday and Tuesday were my first consecutive rest days since May 29-30.

I got back in the saddle yesterday with a fast 50 miles on the road. Today I did 32 more. I plan to do something fairly easy tomorrow, including a final shakedown of the cyclocross bike to make sure it’s in top condition for the opening weekend of the WCA cyclocross season. I have pre-registered for Manitowoc on Saturday and Sheboygan on Sunday. We’ll see how I like being a Cat 3. The later start time and the longer race duration should suit me, but I don’t expect podium spots or upgrade points. And, well, the USA Cycling race predictor doesn’t think much of my chances either:

I actually may be more fit right now than I was at the beginning of the 2014 season, but the level of competition is so much higher. Being a mid-pack Cat 3 would be a good accomplishment and probably the best I can expect for a while. Maybe I’ll reach the podium again in 2019 when I move up to the next age group!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Crisis? What Crisis?

I have a new job! The offer came yesterday, exactly seven months after I was laid off by my previous employer. With my cash reserves nearly exhausted, I worried that I would have to settle for something very humble. And it’s true that my paychecks will be smaller, at least for a while, but I am excited about the potential to grow my new position into something great.

During my job hunt I applied for more than 60 different positions and went through more than a dozen interviews. I investigated many career fields, but I will remain an information technology professional. IT has put food on my table since October 1995. I’m going to work in the Brookfield data center of a Fortune 500 company that had outsourced most of its IT operations and now is bringing them back in-house. The staff will grow as the workload grows, and with my management background I will be well positioned for a new leadership role.

IT jobs can have undesirable schedules. My hours—11 p.m. through 7 a.m., Monday through Friday—wouldn’t work for everyone, but they will work for me. I have worked nights before and I actually sleep better during the day. And just consider the implications for my cycling objectives: every day will be free for riding, every weekend will be free for racing. Sure, it might be hard to come out of the Friday night shift at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning and get myself into race mode within just a few hours, but it can be done. My first night on the job will be September 14, so the first test of my ability to race after work will come in the WEMS race at New Fane on Saturday the 19th. But that’s a 3 p.m. start, so I should be able to get some sleep before the race. WORS races are always on Sundays, so they won’t be a problem. Cyclocross will be the toughest fit, especially if I want to attend races outside of the Milwaukee area.

If you read my blog frequently and/or know me in person, then you know the sometimes extreme attention I give to the subjects nearest my heart. I’m a meticulous planner who doesn’t like to leave anything to chance, and I’m always trying to see as far into the future as I can. I am immensely relieved that my employment crisis is over and all of its uncertainty is in the past.