Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Little Things Add Up

Cycling in Washington County took a big step forward with the opening of the Eisenbahn State Trail in 2006. It took another big step forward in 2007 when the City of West Bend paved its section of the trail with asphalt. Those were enormous projects and undeniable successes. But sometimes it’s the little things that make an impact, and within the last week there were three initiatives that will make life easier for cyclists in our area.

Last Thursday Mountain Outfitters unveiled a new workstand in the courtyard behind the shop in downtown West Bend. The workstand features a variety of tools that can be used for minor repairs and adjustments.

On Monday the Department of Parks, Recreation & Forestry and a private contractor sealed numerous cracks in the Eisenbahn State Trail throughout West Bend. When the city decided to pave its section of the trail, it took over all maintenance responsibilities from the county. Paving was more expensive up front, but asphalt is cheaper to maintain than the crushed gravel surface you’ll find on the rest of the trail. Hard to believe, I know, but true.

And sidewalk construction has begun along River Road south of the high school, a tangible benefit from 2014 Resolution 66. When the sidewalk is complete, hopefully we’ll see more students choosing to ride bikes or walk to school.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Racing For The Flamme Buoyant

“Close enough” only counts for horseshoes and hand grenades, huh?
After watching Alberto Contador nearly crash out of this year’s Giro d’Italia, I wrote, “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.”

That’s exactly what happened yesterday in the finale of the Tour de France. The race for the general classification effectively ended as soon as the riders reached the finish line for the first of 10 laps around the Champs-Élysées. From that point, the GC men needed only to complete the race to lock in their final positions, however long it might take. That allowed them to stay safely out of the way of the sprinters, the only riders with any real interest in the stage. This year’s champion, Christopher Froome, finished Stage 21 in 136th place out of 160, and why not?

OK, so it was a rainy day and the roads were slick. OK, so the last stage of the Tour is largely ceremonial anyway. The decision to neutralize the race for the GC contenders while still allowing the sprinters to have their day was the right call and a sign of things to come.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Every Day I Love You Less And Less

“I feel a rat upon a wheel. I’ve got to know what’s not and what is real.”
The Tour de France ended earlier today. It’s the biggest bike race of the year, so I suppose I should say something about it. Here goes …

I wish the Tour de France were not the biggest bike race of the year. Say what you will about the green jersey, the polka dot jersey, and the other awards designed to spice up the race, the only thing that really matters is the general classification. And even that can be won by someone who never wins a stage. In this year’s Tour, eventual winner Christopher Froome crushed everyone on Stage 10. Good for him, I guess, but the “just don’t screw up” strategy on display in Stages 11-21 made for dull racing. I couldn’t get excited about breakaway winners so far down on GC that Froome and his rivals couldn’t be bothered to chase. Winning the Tour de France—or the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a España—has been reduced to a predictable formula, carefully dictated by team managers and power meters. Give me the one-day races, where racers still rely on instincts, where there are no consolation prizes, and where the TV announcers don’t have to apologize for a lack of action.

What did you think of this year’s TV coverage? I split my time between pirated Internet streams from Eurosport (thanks, Russian mafia) and NBC Sports Network (thanks, Cecil B. DeMille). Cripes, how many people does it take to describe a bike race? Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby and Sean Kelly were more than entertaining and insightful enough for me. Half of NBCSN’s broadcast was commercials and half of the rest was one commentator soliciting the opinions of almost a dozen others. But my biggest moment of dissatisfaction came on July 18 when NBCSN abruptly ended its coverage of Stage 14 when the GC men crossed the finish line. There were no podium presentations, no post-race interviews, and no analysis. If you wanted to see that stuff, then you had to stay up past midnight for the enhanced “primetime” coverage. And for what did NBCSN so hastily redirect its live programming? A NASCAR practice session. That’s how our sport rates on this continent. NBCSN’s next cycling event is the USA Pro Challenge from Colorado, a week-long stage race that begins on August 17. In the intervening weeks I will watch for Internet streams from the Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian (Aug. 1), the Tour of Poland (Aug. 2-8), and the Eneco Tour (Aug. 10-16).

We never get to see mountain bike racing on TV in America, so you might be surprised by the exceptional quality of the broadcasts from Europe. Give Red Bull TV a try. You can replay races from earlier this season or watch live coverage from Mont-Sainte-Anne (Aug. 1-2), Windham (Aug. 8-9), and Val di Sole (Aug. 22-23). Our top domestic series, the US Cup, is done for 2015 but watch for its return next year. Scott Tedro and the Sho-Air/RideBiker Alliance team have done a lot to bring UCI World Cup-style mountain bike racing to American audiences over the Internet. You can check out a very entertaining video archive here.

And if all those choices still aren’t enough to ease your post-Tour depression, on most days you can watch veteran WORS racer and all-around good guy Nathan Guerra doing Zwift workouts at home. Really.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Summer Treats

You could eat your fill of wild berries at New Fane right now.

Here at the end of the 29th week of 2015, I finally can say that I have gone an entire week without needing thermal clothing! Thursday offered the potential pitfall in what otherwise was a week of properly warm summer weather: in West Bend we had a 5-hour window in which the temperature topped 70 degrees. I did a 2-hour lunchtime ride, knowing that an already limp excuse for a July afternoon was about to turn into an ugly day for October.

But let’s forget about Thursday evening, because Friday was pretty close to perfect for me. I rode 50 solo miles at an average of 19 mph in 86-degree splendor. Anyone who thinks my yearning for heat is some kind of affectation would have been convinced of my sincerity on that day, and when I arrived home I still had not finished my second bottle of sports drink.

On Saturday we fell considerably short of the extreme heat index numbers promised by the weather forecasters. Reaching a high of 81 degrees—that’s 1 degree colder than average for July 18—we were warm but not dangerously warm. I knocked out a 2-hour road ride and raced home anticipating a thunderstorm. But the clouds moved away and West Bend stayed dry. With the extra time that I might have spent on the bike, I mowed the lawn. Getting that chore out of the way is going to free up time for a longer ride on Monday, which is typically a rest day.

I’m counting today as my rest day. I did two laps on the mountain bike at New Fane but only the second one counts for training purposes. The first lap was punctuated with frequent stops to cut back vegetation that was encroaching on the trail. I like wild berries at least as much as the next person, but not when running into their thorns leaves me looking like I just lost a fight with a cat. Speaking of losing …

I still have no good news to report about my job search, so I have taken next weekend’s WORS Cup off my calendar. That’s the way it goes with job searches: the news is bad until it’s good. There really isn’t any middle ground.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Today’s post is all about 144. When I was in elementary school, 144 had special significance: it was the end of the “times table” that we used to learn multiplication by rote:

We suspected that there must be numbers beyond 12x12, but they were somebody else’s problem.
If you ride a bike in Washington County, then you know 144 as a state highway. And you probably avoid it. I usually do. Between Slinger and West Bend it’s kind of busy and as it passes Big Cedar Lake you have to assume that drivers aren’t giving the road their undivided attention. In West Bend, 144 runs along heavily traveled parts of Washington Street and Main Street, and finally Barton Avenue. As 144 leaves town to the north, it intersects with a bunch of roads that local cyclists enjoy: Wallace Lake, Newark, Forest View, County Highway A, Shalom, Boltonville Road, and Scenic/Jay. But 144 itself gets little bike traffic.

State Highway 144 goes where you want to go, but it may not be the best route.
It was easy—to say nothing of prudent—to avoid 144 when its shoulders were still narrow and broken. Between West Bend and Boltonville, the road was repaved a couple of years ago and the shoulders are now so wide that a cyclist can ride several feet to the right of motorized traffic. Despite the high speed limit, 144 is now arguably safer for cyclists than the much narrower town roads in that part of the county. Still, we avoid 144. Have we simply not broken an old habit?

I typically use 144 only to connect Wallace Lake and Newark. Yesterday I rode from Boltonville south to Highland Drive. I felt safe, but there was no disguising the fact that I was on a state highway. As a driver I appreciate wide pavement, gentle curves and gradual elevation changes. As a cyclist I know how those same features can become boring. For me, 144 is no longer off-limits, but it will never be as much fun as the neighboring town roads and county highways.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Independence Day Weekend, By The Numbers

You know what I was looking forward to as this weekend began? Sweating. July arrived with back-to-back days in the 60s. I took an overdue rest day on Wednesday. On Thursday I enjoyed a fast group ride with the guys from the high school parking lot, but I would have been miserable without arm warmers.

We got back into the 70s on Friday and I celebrated with 3 fast laps at New Fane: 25:07, 25:43 and 24:45. And I didn’t feel like I was really pushing myself. That’s a very good sign.

On Saturday I celebrated an 81-degree Fourth of July with a personal record on the Eisenbahn State Trail, covering the 15.6 miles from my house in West Bend to Main Street in Campbellsport in just 51:17 (18.3 mph). That beat my old record of 53:00, set on August 4, 2012. I continued up to the end of the trail in Eden, then turned around and finished the day with a total of 47 miles in 2:39:02 (17.7 mph). That’s moving on a mostly-gravel trail, and it’s a workout I really enjoy. But I do understand why almost none of my friends train on the Eisenbahn. You have to be in the right frame of mind to keep the effort up for that long on a trail that offers few visually stimulating distractions.

Saturday’s ride left me just 37 miles short of 3,000 miles, year-to-date, so today nothing short of 37 miles would suffice. I did 50 miles to surpass an even more interesting milestone: 6,000 miles in the last 365 days:

I had never done that before. My highest total in a calendar year is 5,236 miles, set in 2015. If you add my best January, my best February, my best March, and so on, my “ideal” year would be 6,800 miles. So, 6,000 in the last 365 days is pretty good.

We got to 81 degrees again today, and—I kid you not—some of the natives are complaining about the “heat wave.” Tomorrow might be even warmer, but on Tuesday and Wednesday we could be stuck in the 60s again and I will be picking my ride times carefully and avoiding Lake Michigan to enjoy the warmest conditions.

The week to come should be a good week for cycling, but for me it probably won’t end with the state road race championships. I can’t justify the cost. I spent the last half of June anticipating a job offer from a big company right here in West Bend, but my hopes were dashed on Thursday morning. If I don’t find a job very soon, the WORS Cup STXC will be the next event to disappear from my calendar. It’s a shame. With the fitness I have right now, I should be racing.