Monday, August 31, 2015

Finishing August 2015 With A Personal Record

Today I rode 26 miles to finish August with a total of 826. That’s my best August ever, beating the 809 miles I rode last year. I also set new marks in January (241), March (538) and June (816), and so far this year I have ridden 4,565 miles. With four months remaining in 2015, it seems likely that I will surpass the personal-record 5,236 miles I rode in 2014.

Despite the mileage record, August ended gently. I had a streak of 200-mile weeks from July 20 through August 16, but then I tapered in advance of the Reforestation Ramble—just 143 miles that week, including the race itself—and last week I rode only 142 miles in 8.5 hours, my lowest saddle time since May 4-10. What can I say? The weather was a dispiriting string of obscenities:

Wearing thermal clothes and wondering if I should be using a headlight in the middle of the afternoon … not my idea of summer fun. Better weather will motivate me to ride more this week. Today’s miles were something of a bonus. Mondays are supposed to be rest days but I took last Saturday off. Tomorrow I will host another cyclocross practice at Royal Oaks Park. That’s an important workout, but it won’t produce a lot of miles. Wednesday through Sunday look pretty good right now. I will devote one of those days to mountain biking at New Fane, but otherwise I will be racking up big miles on the road. This could be the last week of 2015 in which we get more than one 80-degree day, and I plan to take advantage.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Working The Day Shift At New Fane

With rain on the way, I slipped two fast laps at New Fane into my Friday afternoon. Lap 1 was a very respectable 25:19. Lap 2 was a personal-best 24:41, a 3-second beating of the time I posted back on June 24. (If you follow me on Garmin Connect, Lap 2 looks like 24:45. I fumbled with the device as I completed the lap, failing to hit the correct button. Fortunately, I was able to use the website’s playback feature to pinpoint the moment I reached the finish line.)

In the WORS race on Sunday I had a body that cooperated and a bike that did not. Yesterday the bike got fixed: the new SRAM X9 shifter is a nice upgrade for the worn-out X7 that caused me so much trouble in the Reforestation Ramble. Today both body and bike did what I wanted them to do.

Last year I did 17 practice sessions at New Fane before competing in the Northern Kettles Fall Epic. This year the race is on September 19. Today’s visit to New Fane was my 17th of 2015, and with three weeks to go I should be able to do a few more pre-race practices. New Fane isn’t super technical, but like any mountain bike course it rewards those who ride it often. There are a couple of “home field advantage” spots where I can gain valuable time, and I’m not yet as quick as I could be.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

2015 Reforestation Ramble

Top step!

Trips to the Brown County Reforestation Camp in Suamico always refresh my memories of winning a mountain bike race there in 2012. Today I made some new memories and came away with first place in the Sport Men’s 50-54 age group!

I knew I was fit, and I was hugely motivated to do well in what will be my only WORS race of 2015. After Saturday’s pre-ride, I thought a Top 5 was a strong possibility. But as the race began I wasn’t thinking about my own results; my main goal was to help my Team Pedal Moraine friend Larry Hipps, who entered the day in second place in the season-long points competition. I wanted to beat Mike Owens (the series leader) and Butch Piontek (third overall), and I had their bib numbers written on a piece of masking tape on the top tube of my bike. If I could take points away from them, then Larry would be closer to the series championship.

As series leaders, Hipps, Owens and Piontek were called to the starting grid ahead of me, so my first task was to bridge up to them from a disadvantageous position. That turned out not to be a problem. Early in the first lap I put Owens and Piontek behind me. I got up to my teammate's wheel, let him know I was there, and then helped him to consolidate his position at the front of the race. West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) was there too, as was Chuck Cunningham (Gryphon Velo). With Hipps doing most of the work on the front, we had a strong 4-man group that was quickly getting away.

Then I had a moment of despair as my rear shifting went away. I have had some shifting trouble lately and the many mud puddles left by early morning rain turned that little problem into a big one. When I found myself stuck at the bottom of my cassette, I was forced to run up a sharp little hill. Nobody who watched me finish the race could have imagined that I was a pedestrian at the midpoint of Lap 1. In that moment I thought Hipps, Cunningham and Sable would start to distance me. Fortunately I found that I could, at times, get the shifter to respond. I was all over it for the rest of the race, and it never worked without a fight. Front shifting was just fine … and that was going to matter later.

Yeah, it was a dirty one!

A couple of miles into Lap 2, Sable and Cunningham took turns at the front. I stayed true to the plan, right on Larry’s back wheel. At one point, Cunningham’s lead grew too large for comfort and I thought the race might be slipping away, but Hipps brought him back. I had thought, briefly, about bursting past my teammate to chase Cunningham down. But neither Cunningham nor Sable can threaten Larry’s series standing. If one of them had won today, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

As Lap 2 wore on, Hipps didn’t have the same snap in his legs that he had displayed earlier. Laps at the Reforestation Camp are long—the ever-changing course was about 11 miles this year—and the distance was starting to tell. I wanted Larry to be the first man into each section of singletrack so that he could ride at his own pace. Out on the cross-country ski trails I shut down a handful of attempts by Sable and Cunningham to separate us. Hipps didn’t need to worry; I wasn’t coming around him and the others weren’t coming around me.

Emerging from the last piece of singletrack, I positioned myself at Larry’s 5 o’clock: slightly to his right and back a few feet. Cunningham was on Larry’s wheel but would either have to pass me on the right—No!—or be content to follow a bit longer. Shortly before the last two singletrack sections, Sable had faded slightly and wouldn’t figure in the sprint. With 1 kilometer to the finish line, I was in the big ring and ready for whatever. I had practiced the finish on Saturday and knew I could let ’er rip all the way to the line. And that’s when strategy became tactics: Hipps was done. I could sit up, let Cunningham take the win, and roll in behind Larry to make sure he got the most points possible … or I could win. A split second of eye contact with Larry was all I needed, and I was off. Cunningham was well up for it, finishing just 0.8 seconds behind me. My winning time in the 15-man age group was 1:49:09.0. Hipps rolled in for third at 1:49:22.2, followed by Sable in 1:49:29.4. Piontek (1:52:06.4) and Owens (1:52:25.5) finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Overall, I was 37th out of 143 in the Cat 2 Sport class. Adam Altmann, a 16-year-old from Chippewa Falls, was first overall in 1:39:45.6. There’s no way I could have found almost 10 minutes to score an overall victory, but I rode a tactically brilliant race and overcame mechanical trouble to achieve a result with which I could not be more satisfied.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Looking Out For Number Two

Cheap, performance-enhancing, and UCI-legal!
In high school and for a couple of years after, I tried to turn myself into a runner. But it was fits and starts: I went through several rounds of committing and abandoning. The idea appealed to me more than the reality. I didn’t yet have the discipline I would acquire as a cyclist, that willingness to train even when I don’t want to train.

Rounds of commitment usually included new gear and a new training plan, but they always included new literature. Reading about running was motivational, and Dr. George Sheehan was the guru. His advice ranged from the metaphysical to eminently practical things like “Always compete on an empty stomach and an empty colon.”

Running and cycling aren’t the same effort. I can ride competitively with a little food in my belly and during longer efforts I can even eat while I ride. I’m not special in that respect; cyclists from charity tours to Grand Tours commonly take in calories during their events. But Sheehan’s advice about the empty colon is not just right, it’s almost self-evident. How many athletic efforts have been compromised by some sort of digestive distress? That kind of trouble should be easy to avoid.

For a couple of days in advance of a race, I eat bland. I don’t experiment a lot anyway, but as a race approaches I turn to super reliable things like breakfast cereal, scrambled eggs, pancakes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and other dead boring meals. And what goes in must come out, so I load up on fiber supplement. There’s no delicate way to discuss this topic, but it’s important. Under normal circumstances I don’t have any problems processing food through my digestive tract. So, the fiber supplement is just insurance. It’s part of my pre-race routine, and perhaps part of yours … I can understand why you might not be discussing this. But I can assure you it’s not part of everyone’s. Pre-race nerves and bowel movements seem to be closely linked, and I have seen plenty of guys running for the porta-potties just minutes before their races began. I don’t need that kind of pressure.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tubeless Debut At New Fane

In July I was turning solid laps on the mountain bike trails at New Fane. I was consistently below 26 minutes and even sub-25 minutes on a couple of occasions. But my tires were on borrowed time and when I turned a 27:05 on August 5, sliding through every corner and feeling lucky just to stay upright, I knew I had to do something.

Equipped with new tires and running tubeless at New Fane for the first time ever, today I completed Lap 1 in 26:12. On Lap 2 I followed a teammate who is new to mountain biking, and his pace wasn’t what mine would have been. On Lap 3 I followed training partner Jeff Wren, and we were flying. Unfortunately, I’ll never know how good that lap was because my Garmin turned off. I really think I made a run at my personal best of 24:44.

The important thing is that I rode well and the bike performed well. I’m confident on the bike again. That’s good in itself but it’s really important as I head into the weekend: I am registered for Sunday’s Reforestation Ramble in Suamico, which will be my only WORS race this year. With a good pre-ride on Saturday, I think I can challenge for a Top 5 in my age group.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Going Tubeless


Today I went mountain biking for the first time since August 5. That last occasion sucked. I completed just one lap at New Fane, slowly, and I couldn’t be persuaded to do another. The problem wasn’t my fitness; it was my tires. I knew for several weeks that they no longer were up to the task, and my confidence was just shot. I couldn’t corner properly and I had zero fun.

I didn’t want to spend the money on new tires, but I also didn’t want to stop riding. So, I upgraded to a set of Bontrager XR2 Team Issue tires and I’m running them without tubes. I expected my first experience with them to come at New Fane, giving me an easy head-to-head comparison with my August 5 ride. But today I couldn’t pass up the chance to return to Minooka Park in Waukesha, site of Sunday’s WORS race. I won’t be competing, but it was nice to see the course again. When I rode there on June 19 I got my first glimpse of tight, twisty trails that don’t suit my racing style. Even equipped with brand new tires that performed very well, I would not expect good race results. We’ll see what next year brings, but for now I will continue to regard Minooka as a fun place for a change-of-pace workout when New Fane gets a little stale.

With my new tubeless tires successfully tested at Minooka, I eagerly anticipate my next trip to New Fane. The Northern Kettles Fall Epic (WEMS) is just five weeks from tomorrow and, as always, I want to do well on my home course. But next weekend’s Reforestation Ramble (WORS) remains a possibility too. This week has given me some reason to hope that my employment crisis will be resolved soon, and even if it’s not I might line up on the familiar trails of the Brown County Reforestation Camp. That’s not a technical venue, so the chance of serious injury is low. My confidence in the bike has been restored, my confidence in my body hasn’t been in question all year, and my confidence in my job search is as high as it has been. Hopefully this sense of things moving in the right direction isn’t over-inflated.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I Can’t Get No …

"Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom!"

Summer in Wisconsin is like tantric sex: it’s not what you really want, but it’s better than nothing. Take this weekend, for example. Friday was gloomy with rain scattered throughout the day. I took some unscheduled rest and got mechanical work done on my 29er, my cyclocross bike, and my little-used Raleigh road bike. Saturday was gloomy still—the whole day looked like 8 p.m.—and it was 10 degrees below normal, but at least it was dry. I knocked out a solo metric century in under 3.5 hours. I have done one metric century per month for the last five months, beginning in April with Cheesehead Roubaix. Today’s weather was a little better. On my 35-mile solo road ride I surpassed 4,000 miles, year-to-date. That used to be a big milestone but now it’s just another statistic.

I’m riding strongly and I’m putting up big numbers: 11-12 hours in the saddle and 200+ miles, week after week. And yet I am struggling to stay motivated because it seems like all this training is building up to nothing. I really want to race but I keep denying myself because I still haven’t resolved my employment situation. With no job, bad insurance, and dwindling cash reserves, I should continue to regard racing as an unnecessary risk and expense. But if this year ends and all I can point to is one mid-pack race result, then I will be very disappointed no matter how much riding I do.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Start Of The 2015 CX Practice Season

Kewaskum’s John Beiswenger runs through the barriers.

Cyclocross practices have resumed at Royal Oaks Park in West Bend. This is our 4th season and it should be a great one, especially as there are no competing practices nearby. But we’re still more than 5 weeks away from the start of the Wisconsin Cycling Association season, so attendance was light yesterday. We had 6 racers, 2 of whom were brand new to cyclocross, and we spent a little more time than usual on skills before doing our 30-minute race simulation. Even the race simulation was something of an experiment: we did 4 laps of a new 1.5-mile course. I liked that better than 6 laps of the 1.0-mile course we used for most of our past practices. The extra length came from existing trails, so there was less to set up and tear down. Our new course feels like a mix of features from Badger Prairie and CamRock. Like our old course, it demands more climbing than most WCA courses and emphasizes aerobic fitness over bike handling. With no run-up or sand feature, Royal Oaks is not the most technical challenge … but it will whip you into shape.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Can I Help To Cheer You?

“You know where to put the cork.”

A week ago I offered some suggestions for beating the post-Tour de France blues. You had bike racing on TV for three weeks and then it ended and now you’re drowning in a sea of meaningless NFL training camp news. It’s hard, I know. But if you took my advice and tuned into the mountain bike races from Mont-Sainte-Anne yesterday, then you were entertained. And if you watched the Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian on Saturday, then you were even more surprised by Adam Yates’ victory than he was. The Tour of Poland started yesterday and will continue through Saturday, but the race I want to see is the one I forgot to mention in my earlier post: the Tour of Utah.

Check out Tour Tracker right now! It’s a great way to watch a bike race. In addition to live video and commentary, you have interactive maps, ride profiles and other information at your command. Fox Sports Wisconsin will air the Tour of Utah on a tape-delayed basis, starting tonight at 11 p.m. CDT. The race runs through Sunday. It’s a comeback race for Taylor Phinney and Peter Stetina and a chance to see Wisconsin’s own Matthew Busche, the current American road race champion.

But you won’t see Tommy Danielson, who was suspended this morning because of a positive drug test. He is denying any wrongdoing, hoping the B Sample will not show the synthetic testosterone that turned up in the A Sample. Danielson was the 2014 Tour of Utah winner, so there will be a new champion this year … even if some of the storylines sound like a broken record.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rob Hofmann

August 27, 1963—August 1, 2015

What a terrible loss for the cycling community in Wisconsin. Rob was a veteran of countless mountain bike races and group rides, and a dedicated bike commuter. He crashed last weekend and we knew the news was bad, but until this morning we dared to hope. Keep his family and his many friends in your thoughts.