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.