Sunday, May 31, 2015

Salvaging The Weekend

Friday was a rainout. Saturday too. In fact, Saturday was so awful that our wind chill dropped to 39 degrees in the middle of the afternoon. It was one of those days that makes me wish I lived almost anywhere else. At 39 degrees, we were 33 degrees below normal. But I continue to believe that “normal” is an inflated number around here, rarely achieved and almost never exceeded. I remain mystified at how we can so frequently be below it without pulling the average down.

Today we made a modest comeback by staying dry and reaching 55 degrees, but that’s still 18 degrees below normal. I did a 28-mile road ride to finish May with 691 miles and bring my year-to-date total to 2,039. It was my 73rd day of riding so far this year, which is exactly the number I had at the end of June last year. My per-ride average was a little higher last year, so I was at 2,159 miles midway through 2014. Any way you look at it, I’m about a month ahead of last year’s pace.

Friday and Saturday were my only consecutive rest days this month. I was not super motivated to ride today as I pulled on my thermal gear, but I had a reasonably good ride once I committed to it. The weather forecast for the upcoming week is much more favorable and staying motivated should be easy. I haven’t been on the mountain bike since last weekend, but there might be a lot of mountain biking in store for me during the next week.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

AAA For Effort

You may know AAA as an organization that provides insurance, roadside assistance, route planning and other valuable services for drivers of motor vehicles. Through its magazine, AAA Living, the organization also recommends interesting places to visit and things to do. Some of the content is seen by all subscribers; other content is seen only by subscribers in certain regions. If you live in Wisconsin, your May/June edition includes this:

The Adventure Cycling Association loves Wisconsin. And not just any place in Wisconsin, but Washington County specifically. Two separate sessions of the Introduction to Road Touring course will take place on our roads: June 13-18 and June 20-25. Florida, Oregon and Virginia also will host sessions of the course, but only we get two sessions. Each is limited to 18 riders and the first one already has sold out. The Adventure Cycling Association has been coming to Washington County since at least 2011, allowing riders from all over the country to see what a great cycling environment we enjoy.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

2015 Stump Farm 100

Team Pedal Moraine's Bill Nigh accepts his medal for a strong 3rd place finish in the 30-mile category.

Last year in the WEMS race at Suamico, I placed 24th out of 40 in the men’s 30-mile category. Today in my first race of 2015, I placed 18th out of 33. Just like last year, I chased but failed to catch Jeff Wren (Team Extreme). It’s nothing short of incredible how many times we have finished consecutively in mountain bike racing and in cyclocross. Sometimes he gets the better of me; sometimes I get the better of him.

The Brown County Reforestation Camp has many miles of singletrack and cross-country ski trails that can be arranged in countless ways. Today’s configuration emphasized the singletrack, left out a couple of the tougher hills, and was a big hit with the racers. I don’t think I have ever done the same race twice on those trails, and that’s OK … though it would be nice to compare lap times from year to year.

My lap times this year were 51:39, 52:53 and 58:11. I was delighted to complete the final lap in less than 1 hour, because I was running on empty and starting to cramp. My total time was 2:42:43. Wren finished in 2:38:50. Johnny Hudson, a Cat 1 from Illinois, won the 30-mile category in 2:08:17. Ryan Rollins, a Cat 1 from nearby De Pere, took 2nd place in 2:13:25. Team Pedal Moraine’s Bill Nigh, also a Cat 1, was a close 3rd in 2:13:59 and was a model of consistency, completing laps of 44:38, 44:48 and 44:33. I’m left to wonder about my precipitous drop in performance on Lap 3. I slept well on Friday night and I felt like my nutrition and hydration strategy was sound. But almost exactly 2 hours into the race, I was swamped by fatigue. It wasn’t a true bonk—I was able to push on—but I was keenly aware that I was losing time.

The open racing format of WEMS ignores USA Cycling categories, grouping together racers of all ages and abilities. I didn’t expect a big result. The place I got was the one I deserved. It was a good workout, good fun (even the suffering), and a good way to get back into racing after a 6-month break. My 2014 cyclocross season was far from my mind this afternoon as the temperature reached 79 degrees. The next race on my 2015 calendar is, of course, subject to my availability as I continue to search for a new job.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Testing, Testing ...

Lately I have been feeling really good in the saddle, and that’s not completely unexpected because I now have almost 2,000 miles in my legs. I have been riding strongly against my own numbers from earlier this year and in comparison with a few of the local guys.

Am I “good” right now or did I simply spend a lot of time in my sweet spot during the last week? A long-distance ride on a gravel rec trail, a couple of laps on the mountain bike at New Fane, 30- to 40-mile road rides without a lot of climbing … that’s what I do. Doing it reasonably well shouldn’t be a surprise. But I suspected I was coming into good form, so today I tested myself in a way that isn’t subject to a lot of interpretation: an individual time trial.

I rode for 45 minutes to warm up, then hit my Trenton Time Trial course:

I knew almost immediately that I was not on a personal record pace, but I finished the 3.7 miles in a respectable 10:38.0 (20.88 mph). The PR that I established last July still stands: 10:09.4 (21.86 mph). Today’s ride was my first this year on my Raleigh Competition. It’s still set up as a standard road bike though I continue to flirt with turning it into a dedicated TT machine.

With the TT completed, I rode for another 25 minutes to cool down. Today’s effort was intentionally short and easy—except for the TT, obviously—because tomorrow I will test myself again: I will be at Suamico for the 30-mile WEMS race. I didn’t want to take a rest day in advance of a nearly 3-hour race effort, running the risk of coming out flat, but I didn’t want to exhaust myself either.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

2015 Ride Of Silence

On Wednesday evening I participated in the Ride of Silence, a group ride whose purpose was to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured and to raise awareness among motorists that bicycles belong on our streets. Mountain Outfitters owner Kevin Schultz led almost 50 riders on a 6-mile route that included West Bend’s busiest streets: Main, Paradise, and Washington. This year’s ride went from idea to reality in a matter of days, but the turnout was strong and there is good reason to expect the ride to be even bigger in 2016. The Ride of Silence is held annually across the United States and around the world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Weighing In On The Richie Porte Controversy

At the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday, the UCI penalized Team Sky’s Richie Porte for receiving a wheel from Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke. Porte got a flat tire near the end of the stage and was desperate to limit his time loss. Despite having teammates nearby, Porte accepted Clarke’s wheel. Both later claimed they were unaware of the rule that prohibits such exchanges across teams. There would have been no violation if Porte had taken a wheel from one of his own teammates.

Porte began Stage 10 in 3rd place, just 22 seconds behind race leader Alberto Contador. The 2-minute penalty on top of the time lost to the flat tire has seriously damaged Porte’s chances of winning the Giro, dropping him into 12th place, 3:09 behind Contador. The impact of the penalty on the general classification contributed mightily to the outrage than has come from Porte’s fans. It’s hard to imagine that the incident would have attracted any attention if the wheel exchange had occurred between riders with no GC ambitions.

Yesterday’s enforcement of a little-used rule was not unique: Romain Sicard was punished for the same violation at the 2009 Tour de l’Avenir. Sicard won the race anyway, and the Tour de l’Avenir doesn’t have the status of the Giro d’Italia, so few people took notice. But no one now should say that he is unaware of the rule. It’s nothing new.

Some of Porte’s supporters argue that the rule should not have been enforced because of its effect on GC. Other fans argue that the rule should not have been enforced because it negated a gesture of sportsmanship by Clarke. I disagree. To me, rule enforcement needs to be impartial and applicable to all riders in all situations. I applaud Clarke for wanting to help his friend, but he might have rendered assistance in another way. Had Porte accepted a teammate’s wheel, Clarke could have contributed to the pacemaking that brought Porte back up to speed. One of the reasons we appreciate sportsmanship is that it cannot be assumed, and gestures like Clarke’s are sweeter by their rarity. Somewhat lost in the uproar is the fact that Clarke was assessed the same 2-minute penalty. Fans who are outraged on Porte’s behalf seem to have little to say about justice for Clarke. The difference, of course, is that Clarke occupies a lowly spot in the overall standings and his time loss means nothing to his Giro objectives.

But the different objectives of the two riders are independent of the rule in question. Justice was served. The UCI does bear some responsibility for the controversy though, because it has been inconsistent in other matters. With every “sticky bottle” and “magic spanner,” the UCI fosters an expectation that rules won’t be enforced when the outcome would be unpopular. It’s the inconsistency that needs to change. The impartial and universal enforcement of well-crafted rules is the answer.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Alberto Contador And The Designated Hitter

Every sport has its marquee athletes, the superstars who attract attention from the media and from the fans and, therefore, money from the sponsors. It’s good for business to maximize the exposure of such athletes; it’s bad for business when they are unable to compete due to injury or other factors.

The biggest stars in the National Football League are the quarterbacks. In recent years, the league implemented several rule changes to keep them on the field. Some are intended to prevent injuries—e.g., the “in the grasp” rule that brings play to a halt without requiring that the quarterback be tackled. Other rules produce more plays on offense by stopping the clock—e.g., allowing the QB to spike the ball or, if outside the pocket, to throw an intentionally incomplete pass without penalty.

Major League Baseball, it could be argued, takes the concept another step by allowing some of its star players to avoid the parts of the game in which they do not excel. Under the designated hitter rule—in use since 1973 for games played in American League stadiums—pitchers are not required to hit. Hitting is something most pitchers do poorly, so the DH rule ensures more offense and allows pitchers to remain in games when they otherwise would be removed for a pinch hitter. The DH rule also allows pitchers to avoid baserunning, another activity that can result in injury. And the DH rule has created a lucrative niche for players who can hit well but whose defensive skills would make them a liability at any position on the field.

Cycling has a rule that provides some protection for riders who suffer misfortune in a stage race. It says, in part:

“In the case of a duly noted fall, puncture or mechanical incident in the last three kilometers of a road race stage, the rider or riders involved shall be credited with the time of the rider or riders in whose company they were riding at the moment of the accident.”

The rule is an acknowledgment of the dangers the riders face in the final moments of a stage designed for a bunch sprint. (The rule does not apply to mountaintop finishes where riders typically arrive individually or in very small groups.) But while the rule can allow riders to remain competitive in a multi-day race when otherwise their time losses would be too large, it applies only after misfortune strikes.

Alberto Contador, the greatest Grand Tour rider of the present generation, crashed in the final meters of last Thursday’s stage of the Giro d’Italia. Wearing the pink jersey of race leadership, Contador was near the front of the race when a multi-rider crash swept across the road and knocked him to the ground. Contador injured his left shoulder and there was serious doubt that he would be able to start Friday’s stage, but he was able to continue through the weekend. Today is the first rest day of the three-week race and it should bring Contador, still the overall leader, closer to full health.

Without Contador the Giro would be far less compelling. In 2014, both Contador and top rival Christopher Froome crashed out of the Tour de France. Vincenzo Nibali rode well and may have won the race anyway, but there’s no denying that the Tour was diminished by the absence of Contador and Froome. In the memories of many cycling fans, Nibali’s victory will always come with an asterisk.

In last year’s Tour, the injuries to Contador and Froome were not sustained while sprinting. Crashes and mechanical failures can occur anywhere on the course, and there’s no way to insulate every rider from every negative possibility. But given last Thursday’s events at the Giro, I think we soon might see an expansion of the three kilometer rule. It’s not hard to imagine a rule that allows riders to turn off the gas shortly before the finish line with no loss of time in the general classification. Fans want to see high-speed sprints and riders like AndrĂ© Greipel, Thursday’s winner, will continue to deliver. But in the mountains, where he struggles, Greipel will work with the other sprinters to avoid the time cutoff. No one will expect them to finish with the GC men, and the time they lose will have no bearing on the points classification. Why, then, should riders like Contador be compelled to mix it up with the sprinters on stages that don’t affect the general classification?

Personally, I don’t like the designated hitter rule. I think baseball is a better game when managers have to decide between offense and defense rather than always having the best of both. And I don’t like many of the rule changes in the NFL that have made quarterbacks and receivers almost untouchable. In cycling, if the general classification fight were over with three kilometers to go, we might just see more crashes at that point and fewer at the finish line. I don’t know what the UCI will do, but I think some kind of rule change is coming.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Back To The Wild Goose

Jeff Wren and I took on the Wild Goose State Trail today, a 69-mile, out-and-back adventure between Clyman Junction and Fond du Lac. It was my first time on the Wild Goose since crashing there in 2010. This time things went a lot better! The weather cooperated, I felt great and nobody got hurt. It was Jeff’s first ride since last Saturday’s mountain bike race at Greenbush and his legs didn’t want to wake up. Our moving average was just 15 mph but that’s fine. Because of the distance, it was still a good workout. For Jeff and for me, today’s ride was the longest of the year so far, surpassing the 63-mile Cheesehead Roubaix.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Fox Guarding The Hen House?

Near the end of my ride on Monday, I traveled south through downtown West Bend on the Eisenbahn State Trail. Arriving at Water Street, I could see a big group of pedestrians ahead. I chose—not for the first time—to leave the trail rather than run a gauntlet of inattentive parents, reckless kids and unleashed dogs. Long experience has taught me that, on average, they were going to be more trouble than any motorists I would encounter on our “mean streets.”

Moments later I arrived at the intersection of Indiana and Kilbourn, a four-way stop. A car traveling east on Kilbourn reached the intersection first. The driver stopped, waited for me as I approached the intersection from the north, then motioned from his open window for me to continue. I stopped. The law required me to do so. If I take a few liberties on remote Washington County farm roads, I am conspicuously law-abiding in town. The driver continued through the intersection at my verbal request, then I took my turn.

I completed my ride without incident, which is only as it should be. I’m a safe and courteous rider and I was operating my bike in accordance with the same state vehicle code that applies to the motorists with whom I shared the roads. As a safe and courteous rider I chose Indiana instead of Main, two streets that are roughly parallel and equally close to home. Of course, they are not equally traveled by motor vehicles, so I chose the one with less traffic. I didn’t choose Main just to make the point that I have the right to be there. I didn’t need a bike route or a bike lane, and the dedicated non-motorized infrastructure of the Eisenbahn State Trail was, in this case, not the best choice for me.

Having choices is a good thing. But if only one road leads to your destination, then special accommodations for cyclists may make sense. I am not opposed to them universally, but they are not the panacea anticipated by many cycling advocates.

The League of American Bicyclists—a nationwide advocacy group—released its 2015 Bicycle Friendly State rankings on Monday and Wisconsin fell from 3rd to 9th. Why the drop? “Governor Walker has proposed a repeal of the Wisconsin Complete Streets law, cuts to state funding for bicycling and walking, and the elimination of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which often provides matching funds for trail projects.” So, based on a proposal that is still being debated in the state’s budget cycle, Wisconsin slipped down the list. Things haven’t gotten measurably worse, but the League thinks they will.

The League bases its state rankings on five broad categories:

  • Legislation and Enforcement
  • Policies and Programs
  • Infrastructure and Funding
  • Education and Encouragement
  • Evaluation and Planning

But there’s an even easier way to summarize the League’s priorities:

  • Money

Plainly stated, the League wants governments to spend more on cycling. You can’t have legislation, enforcement, policies, programs, infrastructure, education, encouragement (by government), evaluation or planning without funding.

Don’t look so surprised. After all, the League of American Bicyclists is a Washington DC-based lobbyist group. Like any corporate entity, its first priority is its own perpetuation. The oil and tobacco special interest groups are funded by sales of oil and tobacco products. The League is funded by ordinary cyclists, and the product is the perception of safety. For as little as $40 a year, you too can be persuaded to abandon millions of miles of roads to which you have a legal right so that you may confine yourself to a handful of protected lanes for urban commuters.

To the League of American Bicyclists, all cycling infrastructure is good cycling infrastructure, but a quick Internet search will provide many examples of bike lanes that are impractical or unsafe. To the League of American Bicyclists, all cyclists are good cyclists, but dumbing down the definition is a poor substitute for achievement. Everyone who rides has a responsibility for his/her own safety and conduct. Dedicated cycling infrastructure can retard the process by which good cyclists develop, creating a dependency on special accommodations. It’s better to master the skills—they are not many—to understand the law, and to treat other road users with respect. Doing those things will allow you to ride almost anywhere.

West Bend is still a great place to ride … even the Eisenbahn State Trail when it's not littered with pedestrians who probably should have their own protected walking infrastructure. (I kid, I kid.) Washington County is still a great place to ride. And if Wisconsin as a whole is somehow worse for cycling than it was a year ago, then the difference is not apparent to me.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Trading One Frustration For Another

I could feel the warmth in the woods today, but not the high winds!

Today was the warmest day so far this year. In West Bend we hit 81 degrees, making this our first 80-degree day since September 28, 2014. And yesterday I was riding with knee warmers! Of course, at this time of year an 80-degree day comes with a downside: very high winds from the south. With sustained winds in excess of 20 mph and gusts above 30, I didn’t want to be on the open road.

Mountain biking is a great alternative when the winds are high, so today I joined a couple of Team Pedal Moraine friends at Greenbush, site of the Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge. I will be there on Saturday to help the team but I won’t be racing. My only attempt at racing the Greenbush trails was my very first mountain bike race, way back on May 29, 2011. Riding a borrowed bike that was too small for me, I completed one lap in 75 minutes and called it a day. I had done two practice sessions at Greenbush in advance of the race: a full lap in 80 minutes on May 24, and Loops 1 & 2 on May 27 before I ran out of daylight.

I considered my race performance to be so poor that I didn’t return to Greenbush until April 21, 2012. On that occasion I completed one full lap but I don’t know what my time was … not fast, I assure you. And, believe it or not, that brings us to today. I completed one lap today and my time of 59 minutes, 52 seconds is easily the fastest of the four laps I have completed all-time.

Race laps at Greenbush are slightly longer than practice laps, but in a race I would push myself a little harder than I did today. So, today’s time is a pretty good estimate of how I might perform in competition. On Saturday the fastest guys will turn 45-minute laps routinely. That’s far beyond my ability, and it’s important to remember that there are no age groups or USA Cycling categories in WEMS races. Limping along at about 1 hour per lap, I might sneak into the Top 20. That prospect isn’t exciting enough to pull me into the race.

Today I rode Greenbush better than ever before, but I didn’t ride it cleanly. I stalled on a steep, rocky climb and I balked at a technical descent. I’m just not comfortable there. With more experience, maybe I could be. But New Fane is much closer, much more fun, and certain to remain my first choice when I want to go mountain biking.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

End Of The Road For Racine Cyclery

Racine Cyclery, a family-owned bike shop since 1956, is selling off its remaining stock and soon will close forever. In 1982 I bought a black Raleigh Rapide from the store on Washington Avenue. I lived just two blocks away. Racine Cyclery was a Schwinn dealer when that meant something. I wanted a Schwinn—it was the high-status, “cool kids” brand—but comparable Raleighs were much less expensive. The Rapide should have been the bike that turned me into a serious cyclist. But when I got my own car in 1983, the bike started to collect dust. I rode it infrequently and then sold it when I moved to suburban Philadelphia in early 1988. I didn’t ride a bike again until 2003!

The Rapide was my first real road bike … at the bottom of Raleigh’s line, but a real road bike all the same. With its heavy steel frame and its stem shifters, it would be comically outclassed today. In the 1980s I had a faint notion of touring aboard the Rapide but I didn’t think of racing it. If I still owned it today, I might be able to use it as a dedicated indoor trainer bike. I am not nostalgic for the Rapide or, indeed, for Racine Cyclery. I wasn’t a teenage shop rat who knew the staff members by name. But I am sorry to see the demise of another independent retailer. We are fortunate to have three locally-owned bike shops here in Washington County. I am on a first-name basis with those guys, and you should be too.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Vision Thing

On Thursday I told you about my April outings at New Fane. Today I hit the mountain bike trails for the first time in May, driven there by very high winds that made the prospect of a road ride unattractive. And because it was Plan B, I arrived at New Fane alone and with no expectations. But for some reason I was way better today than I was on my previous visits this year. I turned in laps of 26:29, 26:31 and 27:37, all of which were faster than the 8 laps I completed last month.

Was it the temperature? We got close to 80 degrees this afternoon and I was able to ride in summer gear. That helped, but I don’t think it’s the whole story. I do know that posting a good time on my first lap inspired me to keep pushing on the next two. But I think the big change today was my vision. Most of my New Fane rides fall late in the day. Today I started at 3:30 when the sun was bright and high in the sky. I didn’t have any long shadows to decipher; the whole trail stood out clearly.

My all-time fastest lap at New Fane is 25:16, set last year on September 8. If I could ride at that level for 3 hours I would be a Top 5 contender instead of a Top 10 contender in the WEMS race this fall. But I won’t reach that level without hard work. Let’s see if I can consistently deliver sub-26:30 laps by the end of this month, then go sub-26:00 in June or July.